Home / Politics / Policy /  Caste, class and the rise of the BJP in India

The rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the early 1990s is often ascribed to its campaign for constructing a temple on a disputed site in Ayodhya. However, the party also benefited from insecurity among poor upper-caste voters as they grappled with the rising power of the lower castes. Political scientist Pavithra Suryanarayan of Johns Hopkins University, in a recent research paper, maps the BJP’s performance in state elections between 1986 and 1995 against the caste-wise population pattern derived from the 1931 census. She shows that both poor and wealthy people from upper-caste backgrounds increasingly voted for BJP in elections held after 1990, the year when major affirmative-action policies were announced. She concludes that poor people can sometimes vote for right-wing parties despite the fact that such parties are often ambivalent towards pro-poor policies. She argues that such choices may be rational as they may help in defending upper-caste dominance in educational institutions and jobs, providing tangible benefits for the poor among the upper castes in the long run. Suryanarayan’s analysis offers several interesting insights but her assumption that the BJP is a right-wing anti-redistributive party may be debatable, given the party’s evolution as a rainbow coalition of Hindu voters in recent years.

Read more: When do the poor vote for the right-wing and why: Hierarchy and vote choice in the Indian states

All commentary about caste-based politics in India assumes that voters correctly identify the caste of candidates. This is not always true, according to a study by Milan Vaishnav, senior fellow in the South Asia Programme at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Using a 2010 post-poll survey in Bihar, Vaishnav claims that voters often misidentify the caste of their preferred candidate. The extent of error is not very large; while voters might guess the sub-caste, or jati, wrongly, they are often correct about the broad caste group. Yet, this is not a trivial issue, as politics in Bihar often revolves around sub-castes. The assumption of ‘identifiability’ of ethnic groups in electoral studies needs to be revised, Vaishnav argues.

Read more: Ethnic Identifiability in India

Are Muslims in European countries integrated or alienated? The answer is not a straightforward one, shows a study by the German non-profit organization Bertelsmann Foundation. Muslims are increasingly taking up languages of European countries as their own. Their educational and employment prospects are not particularly bad. In most countries, they spend leisure time with non-Muslim people even as they continue to be more religious than those from other faiths. Employment prospects for Muslims decline with increasing religiosity, although it is difficult to draw a one-to-one relation with religion for this. Although Muslim immigrants tend to be integrated by the second generation at the latest, they are not universally accepted. A section of Europeans belonging to other faiths remain averse to having Muslims as their neighbours. The report underlines the need to acknowledge cultural diversity rather than assimilation as the key to successful social integration.

Read more: Results and Country Profiles: Muslims in Europe

The extent of violence during the partition of India in 1947 varied across the country depending on the presence of military veterans among the minority and majority populations, according to Prashant Bharadwaj and Saumitra Jha, researchers with the University of California, San Diego, and Stanford University respectively. Men who had served in the British Indian army could organize their respective local communities better and also mount efficient attacks on the other. The abundance of veterans in undivided Punjab apparently explains ‘ethnic cleansing’, where the minority population on either side of the new border practically disappeared in a few years. Military training was not the only factor which determined the scale of violence; economic rivalry among different groups also influenced partition-related violence. Those who propose partition as a solution to sectarian conflicts in Iraq and Syria would do well to learn from India’s history, the authors argue.

Read more: Drawing the line: The short- and long-term consequences of partitioning India

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