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Opinion - News Analysis Printer Friendly Page   Send this Article to a Friend

Social chemistry and gender did the trick

Rajeshwari Deshpande and Nitin Birmal

If the victory of the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party is somewhat surprising, more surprising is the social chemistry of that victory. Only four months after a lacklustre performance in the Lok Sabha elections, the Congress-NCP have regained some ground among the Maratha-Kunbis. More striking is the loss for the Shiv Sena among this section. Add to this the support for the Congress among women voters and you get to the secret of the Congress-NCP victory.

In Maharashtra, the Maratha-Kunbi community has traditionally played a crucial role in shaping electoral verdicts. While the Dalit and the Adivasi votes also play an important role, the Other Backward Castes have not emerged as a politically very significant social section, mainly because these voters are often fragmented and do not vote as one bloc.

The Muslims, opposed to the Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party, have the option of voting for the Congress-NCP alliance or the Samajwadi Party. Given this configuration of social forces, it becomes important to understand how this verdict came about through the voting of different caste groups and communities.

This time, we had additional data for doing so. A cross-section post-poll survey was conducted in the State as part of the CSDS-Lokniti National Election Study in April-May, 2004. Therefore, we are in a position to compare the voting patterns of different communities during the Lok Sabha elections and the recent Assembly elections.

If we look at the vote share of the Sena-BJP and the Congress-NCP among major social sections, a complex picture emerges: the Maratha-Kunbi community, the backbone of State's politics, was divided between the two, the Sena-BJP having an edge. This is a continuation of a decade-old trend. Perhaps, the two Congress parties can draw some satisfaction from the fact that they have slightly gained (three per cent) among this community over the past five months.

The coming moves of the Congress leadership in the State will be keenly watched. Will the Congress and the NCP consolidate their base among the Maratha-Kunbi voters? Between the two, the NCP gets a larger share of the Maratha vote. This has put the Congress in a tight spot as far as inventing or redefining its social base is concerned. The main story, however, in the case of the Maratha-Kunbi vote is that the share of the Sena and the BJP has come down from a very impressive 57 per cent in April to 35 per cent in October. This tells us something about the social churning and the unstable pattern of social alliances in the state.

In the case of the OBC vote, it is divided among all the four major political parties, with the BJP and the Sena getting a considerably larger share. While the main contest for the Maratha votes is between the NCP and the Sena, for the OBC vote, the Sena and the BJP are the major contenders.

Vote divided

Historically, the Republican Party has claimed a following among the Dalits, but factionalistion of the party has caused fragmentation of the vote. The anti-Dalit positions of the Sena and the Hindutva politics of the Sena-BJP alliance forced the Dalits to gravitate towards the Congress.

In this election, the entry of the Bahujan Samaj Party was a hot topic. The BSP did get 13 per cent of the Dalit votes, but not enough to undermine the chances of the Congress-NCP alliance. If the trend that has emerged in this election continues, we may witness further fragmentation of Dalit votes and its consequent ineffectiveness in the coming decade. In the case of the Adivasis, the Congress is the clear winner. The BJP and the Sena have not been able to maintain and consolidate their base among the Adivasis.

In 1995-96, the Muslim vote too was badly divided among the Janata Dal and Independent Muslim candidates. But since then, the vote has consolidated behind the Congress (and the NCP). This time, the Congress-NCP alliance did not include the JD and the Samajwadi Party. However, this did not matter. The Muslims have voted for the Congress and the NCP instead of the JD or the SP.

Other factors

Apart from castes and communities, we need to look at three other factors to understand how this verdict materialised: location, education and class. In 1995, the Sena and the BJP emerged as parties of the urban voter, but since then the Sena has drawn support from rural voters as well. This situation put a considerable strain on the Congress. In this election, the Congress has emerged as an urban party and the NCP as the rural party. The Sena continues to be successful in getting considerable support from both sections.

In the case of class, the very poor vote for the Congress and the NCP, but the rest are more or less divided among the four parties. As an alliance, the Sena-BJP has an edge among the rich and the lower-middle sections. The BJP has greater support among the educated, while for the NCP, support declines as level of education rises.

But if one were looking at one social factor that can override everything else, then, it would be gender. The Congress-NCP alliance has a meagre advantage over the Sena-BJP among male voters. Among women, however, the lead for the Congress alliance increases up to 12 percentage points.

Party-wise distribution of the women's vote reveals that both the BJP and the Sena enjoy more support among men than women. Gender-wise support for the NCP is more balanced both in the Lok Sabha and the Assembly elections whereas the Congress has always enjoyed a decisive advantage in both elections.

The Sena emerges as the most significant loser of the women's vote in these elections. Earlier, in the Lok Sabha elections, the party had a marginal advantage among women. This time the trends have reversed and the Sena got six percentage points less votes among women.

The survey data suggests that women across social sections have voted in favour of the Congress-NCP alliance although there is a slight decline in this trend among urban, educated and upper caste women.

So, it may not be an exaggeration to say that the Sena-BJP alliance finally lost on account of the gender imbalance of their vote. If women did actually vote in almost equal proportion to men, the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance would perhaps have met with a disaster!

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