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Did BJP just Cut the Branch it was Sitting on or Plant a New one to Climb on

November 18, 2018

SC ST act

The BJP arrived in 2014 with a consolidated Hindu vote riding on the call for a development-driven and corruption-free model of governance that appealed to all sections of society alike. On record, this government has seen lesser communal disturbances in its present tenure. Yet a section of civil society and public intellectuals have again been explicitly critical of the BJP’s policies and may have created a chink in BJP’s consolidated Hindu vote armor. Two Bharat bandhs, multiple award wapsis, and some stray vigilante incidents later, BJP has a lot in its hands.

What’s the act and the fuss with its amendments?

The obvious and innocuous answer would be for the edification of historically marginalized sections of the society. The presently debated act originated in 1989 after the failure of previous legislation post-independence to achieve their intended objective to protect the marginalized communities. However, less debated the necessity for the act may be; its success and use as apolitical tool by successive governments remains a hotly debated issue.

The Elephant has two set of teeth; one to show off and the other to chew with.

This old Indian adage is clichéd yet quite apt for this act. Data shows that this act has in-fact been quite ineffective with a conviction rate of as low as 25% and occurrence of fraudulent cases to the tune of 13% of all registered cases. While this may also be due to ineffective execution, a cursory look at the changes to the act just before 2014 elections by UPA and the recent ones by BJP clearly indicate that they are not really intended to remedy that. So, when it comes to this elephant, the amendments have an ulterior motive that does not clearly meet the eye. So the fuss is not just about controlling votes from one section but to also maneuver not getting voted out by the other.

With a dismal conviction rate, the discourse should ideally have been to inject sanskars in the society rather than clauses in the act. But the voting block up for grabs would  serve an ulterior purpose and right now the slugfest is all about who controls this

Placebo Effect

Come election season and this act may hold the key for a rain of votes akin only to the monsoon.

Ideally, BJP would not have wanted a fragmented electoral base, one that it had consolidated in 2014. But the March 2018 ruling by the supreme court, the aftermath that ensued and the repeated onslaught by a section of media and civil society have added to the ruling party’s woes of facing this situation as an eventuality. But it has also presented BJP with an opportunity to replace Congress and champion the cause of its old electorate bastion. To do so BJP has had to stand firm and take a calculated risk while projecting it to be protecting the interests of minorities in spite of stiff opposition by its own traditional electoral base.

While how much the act in itself will help swing votes is highly speculative, but for BJP’s vision of a Congress mukt bharat, the votes from the communities affected by this act may hold the key.

The first step in doing so and moving fast, the BJP quite like UPA has brought in changes to the act which if used strategically could deliver a placebo effect and be a rallying point to garner votes from a voting block that strictly does vote as a block.

In the past 4 years, to some extent, the opposition, a section of media and civil society has rued over the atrocities on minorities under the present BJP dispensation. The award wapsi and the constant badgering by this section of the media and civil society have been to some extent successful in creating a sense of vulnerability among the minorities, quite similar to what was witnessed in 2004.

Common sense and calculated risk- the art of politics

Engineering a new socio-political construct is more about betting on percentages.

Democracy is the social science of numbers and in 2014 while the BJP gained on all turfs it was its old vote bank of the general castes beautifully or perhaps with sarcasm called the ‘savarnas’ that quadrupled their voting share in favor of BJP. The recent Karnataka elections paint a similar picture where the #Lingayat card was not quite successful and BJP actually gained both the upper caste and Dalit votes. BJP’s relationship with savarnas as one scholar would call it on a TV debate is a marital relationship; it is betting on the strength of this relationship that BJP might have taken a calculated risk in swiftly overturning the supreme court order and not openly supporting the agitation that ensued.

As a Savarna even if one was agitated with the BJP’s amendment to the act and intention to tread the road traditionally taken by Congress, come 2019 when one goes to the ballot box what option does one have? BJP v/s an assortment of caste-based cookies called the Mahagathbandhan, this is a self-answering question.

State BJP Congress
UP 81 16
Rajasthan 60 20
Madhya Pradesh 65 25
Chattisgarh 46 18

While there may be some sort of comparison drawn when it comes to SC/ST voting pattern, there is no comparison at all when it comes to the voting pattern of the Savarna with a clear favor to BJP. This heavy support gives BJP the confidence and legroom to actually flex for expansion into the SC/ST vote base knowing well that the opposition has a bad track record when it comes to general castes and is in no position to provide an alternative to BJP.

While on the National front this may hold true, at the regional front with the upcoming elections in Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Mizoram the picture may change with stronger local leadership providing an alternative for the Savaranas.

Numbers that define the road ahead- social engineering

The Opportunity

If the nature of modern politics is akin to warfare, elections are expansion opportunities. BJP’s last success had come as some infer on the basis of the 90 percent of the 60 formula. That is getting 90 percent votes in 60 percent of the country.

BJP at present has the largest number of Dalit lawmakers in the country. In part BJP lost the 2004 elections due to the insecurities that were created within the minorities, resulting in loss of 112 sitting BJP MP’s. To counter these individual losses BJP has aptly maneuvered to give more representation to minorities and this forms key bases of the social engineering BJP is attempting.

Yet, one would wonder how the SC/ST amendment is intertwined with the BJP’s social engineering and Congress mukt placard. To understand this one must have the benefit of hindsight which data amply provides us with. If we are to observe the voting pattern between 2009 and 2014 the BJP made tremendous gains among the seats reserved for SC, ST’s and the lower OBC’s; all previous bastions of the Congress or Regional Parties.

Reserved Seat Congress 2009 BJP 2009 Congress 2014 BJP 2014
SC 27 12 19 24
ST 38 24 28 38
OBC 24 22 15 34

It doesn’t take a lot to understand that BJP has made huge strides in terms of its vote share across caste lines between 2009 and 2014, but what does this translate into? Combined with a one-sided support by savarnas and upper OBC’s it meant an almost complete sweep particularly in the states that are ready to go to polls in the coming months.

State Total seats BJP
Madhya Pradesh 29 27
Rajasthan 25 25
Chattisgarh 11 10

The same was observed throughout rest of the entire #Hindi belt and accounted for 232 of the 282 seats won by the BJP.

The real opportunity lies in making the voting pattern seen in 2014 a more sustainable one, particularly in getting the dalit votes, something that BJP failed at in 2004. If achieved it would be a step closer to BJP’s dream of Congress mukt bharat.

The Task

Achieving political superiority solely dependent on consolidation without expansion is not possible. As in the past the juggernaut of Hindutva seems to be  crumbling under its own wheels and needs expansion, not just consolidation

The task at hand and an uphill one is the expansion into unknown territories for the BJP. Recent events such as the loss of regional partners and loss in some by polls have indicated that there might be ground lost in the Hindi belt. With this in mind BJP in-fact has made significant improvements in the North East but needs to make inroad in states such as West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh to compensate for these possible losses. All of these states have sizeable number of Dalit and lower OBC voters and this is where the importance of the SC/ST act lies.

States Totals BJP
West Bengal 42 2
Tamil Nadu 39 1
Andhra Pradesh 25 2

In 2014, BJP’s performance in the 3 large non-Hindi states was far from desirable & it is in the above numbers and the political slugfest since March 2018 where the engineering of the social engineering lies. With Shiv Sena and TDP pulling out and JDU, Akali dal and AIADMK on a sticky wicket themselves BJP needs new regional partners to move into non hindi, highly caste oriented regions and being portrayed as the new champions for minorities might deliver that.

BJP needs to successfully manage the present fiasco, doing so  might open doors to unchartered territories for the BJP as champions of the minority cause.

In 2014, approximately 50 percent of the total votes were won by the non-BJP and non-Congress parties, these parties based on regional caste and religion polity represent communities which do not find a voice through the mainstream political parties.  While the Yadav’s, Reddy’s and Vokaligars have regional representation other OBC’s do not and it is here the BJP would want to consolidate and expand, banking on enough perennial support from the upper OBC and savarna communities

Lost opportunity and toeing in a rivals path

BJP has quite often in the past accused regional parties and Congress for politics of appeasement. Yet now, BJP would in some terms need to do so themselves and this is primarily owed to the failure by the BJP to create an alternate collective Hindu narrative driven by Intellectual discourse and backing.

“The BJP had an opportunity to create a credible alternative rightwing narrative in a constructive manner. The sensible rightwing minds expected them to commence research projects in history, political science, and sociology, anthropology, physical sciences and International Relations to project a new evidence-based narrative as over the last 50 years the rightwing ideologues have claimed and rightfully so that the Marxist historians have presented a biased history in an unholy nexus with the political regime. But the BJP could not present any credible intellectual boost to Hindu nationalism, through an intellectual course correction in history and social sciences presenting an alternative view”

The traditional Hindu socio-cultural comfort zone nurtured on the spiritual traditions of shunyavad, syadvaad is highly evasive of socio-cultural fault lines and tries to find the middle path, always rejecting extremes. This is in part why a country with 82% Hindu majority can never become a perpetually Hindutva-governed state because even without the help of the opposition and the intellectual class there is a deep-rooted insecurity within the masses that a majorly Hindu oriented rule may bring back the caste system in its old form.

This is a feat that Congress and the left-leaning intellectual class has been able to achieve and must be credited with, that is to hide the horrors of the foreign invasions and highlight the travesties of the caste system.

BJP’s recent amendments may in the short term particularly in regional elections harm the BJP but come 2019 without an alternative BJP would perhaps be able to both consolidate and expand its vote base among SC/ST voters. As a chink in the Hindutva armor appeared, the Congress president for obvious reasons is off to Mansarovar. BJP needs realise that populistic consolidation may not work in the long run and it needs to value the intellectual capacity of ordinary Indian people and provide an intellectual narrative that is able to alleviate the fears of the masses and counter the propaganda machine that successfully portrayed doomsday for minorities in 2004 and is quite successfully doing it again



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Disclaimer: The views expressed are of those of the author and do not represent the views of

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