Photo: PTI
Photo: PTI

Opinion | Asserting Hindu identity through a welfare state

The overall base of the BJP today represents a spectrum of support from all castes

Way back in the late 1990s, responding to the challenge of the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Sangh Parivar floated the Samajik Samrasta Manch to build harmony within the Hindu society, particularly to contain the politics of the SP and the BSP.

The outreach involved community meals, cultural events and larger co-option into the electoral system. The efforts were met with moderate success—the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lost power in 2004 while the SP and the BSP continued to be on the ascendant.

In 2014, for the first time, the BJP managed to mobilize larger support across the spectrum. In the past five years, the BJP has demonstrated that it has achieved the consolidation of the Hindu society—I don’t mention identity.

The 2019 elections emphasized a consolidation over and above what had been achieved in the 2014 elections. Various surveys conducted by VMR across states—Uttar Pradesh and beyond over a period of time—indicated a slow consolidation of less privileged sections of the Hindu society in favour of the BJP.

States like Jharkhand indicated that scheduled tribe communities other than Santhal and Ho had turned completely in favour of the BJP.

We did not quantify their impact then. But today, the results show that it was substantial, almost making it something like what the Congress was once upon a time.

The performance of the BJP today speaks volumes about the way a samras Hindu samaj (harmonious Hindu society) has been achieved, though it was achieved without firebrand saffron.

It’s a welfare state-led initiative that has led to the coming together of a larger social bloc, welded together by a leadership that grows the narrative, and a narrative that further strengthens the leadership.

VMR surveys before and during the polls found that the BJP had become the party of first choice for as many as 63% scheduled caste voters averaging across the nation, without being an explicitly Dalit party.

Among the most backward classes, the support level for the BJP was higher than 75%, akin to the support level of upper castes. While Hindutva served to keep a common discourse among them, it was not the glue, and certainly not the fundamental factor determining their association with the BJP.

The overall base of the BJP today represents a spectrum of support from all castes, most showing support levels in excess of 50%, and the not-so aligned communities like Yadavs around 20%.

Even among the Muslims, the party showed support levels varying between 11% and 16%. The five years of Prime Minister Narendra Modi government have achieved what several rath yatras could not. How did this happen?

We have a few theories. Demonetization actually had far wider dividends than most analysts have attributed to it. Demonetization followed the opening of several zero-balance bank accounts earlier. Demonetization in the eyes of the poor man was an equal engagement with the banking system—something they had just been initiated into; an engagement as equal as the more well-off communities. Direct benefit transfers—either for Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana or for gas cylinders—further formalized their participation in the banking system.

Toilets are often under-focused when it comes to the lens of most analysts. Few people remember how BSP chief Mayawati doubled her vote share in Uttar Pradesh in her four-and-a-half months in power between June and October 1995. She built toilets in all government and municipal schools during that brief span. It showed her voters that she cared. This time round, the common refrain with regard to the Prime Minister was —“At least someone who cares for us."

A very interesting correlation is that the BJP’s vote share in West Bengal even two years into the Modi government in the May 2016 elections was just about 10%, a drop from 17% of 2014. However, post-demonetization in November 2016, the BJP emerged as the opposition to the Trinamool Congress in almost every bypoll and Panchayat elections.

Today, that has manifested in a handsome tally of 18 seats in West Bengal. Such an aggregation has taken place across various social segments post-demonetization and post the penetration of welfare state schemes among the weaker sections of the Hindu society, and which was not possible earlier only based on the plank of Hindu nationalism.

One believes that aggressive Hindutva posturing and controversies around the likes of Sadhvi Pragya only keep the discourse going. Their purpose is symbolic and more optical than substantive. It is the more socialistic, government-heavy welfare state that has actually created a samras Hindu Samaj—A dichotomous truth one must now take cognizance of.

The author is director of VMR and M76 Analytics.

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