The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) overwhelming victory in 2014 sparked claims of a change in the Indian voter’s mindset. Many claimed that the 2014 results showed that voters were now driven by an agenda of broad-based and inclusive development rather than caste and religion. However, a new study by Abhijit Banerjee, Amory Gethin, and Thomas Piketty, published by the Economic and Political Weekly, debunks these claims and shows how identity and religious-ethnic conflicts, rather than economic issues and social policy, determine India’s electoral choices.

Comparing data from national and state elections between 1962 and 2014 with electoral surveys and social spending data, the authors classify the support base and votebank for parties across the ideological spectrum. They find that the BJP and other right-wing parties, such as the Shiv Sena and the Shiromani Akali Dal, have drawn their support from the Brahmins and other forward castes. On the other hand, the Congress, centre-left and left parties have drawn their support from Muslims and lower caste Hindus.

Additionally, the authors find that these patterns have remained broadly constant over time, despite a spike in lower caste support for the BJP in 2014.

Moreover, the authors argue that economic policy had no impact on voters’ choice. The study finds no correlation between developmental expenditure and support for a political party. The only social policy issue that drives voting behaviour is reservation in government jobs and educational institutions, the authors find. Other religious and communal issues, such as cow slaughter, the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, and triple talaq, drive the polarization of the vote base, the authors argue. As we approach the 2019 elections, this study is a stark reminder of how communal issues will influence the electorate.

Read: Growing Cleavages in India? Evidence from the Changing Structure of Electorates, 1962–2014

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