As expected and as indicated by Lokniti’s surveys, the 2014 elections saw a massive consolidation of the upper caste support in favour of the BJP and its allies. The BJP-led alliance managed to secure 56 per cent of the upper caste votes, which is a thirty percentage point increase compared to the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. The Congress and its allies have lost approximately 19 percentage points. In 2009, the upper caste vote was almost equally shared by the UPA, NDA and the regional parties.
NES data suggests that the upper caste voters have shifted toward the BJP in a big way in the Hindi heartland — Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. The BJP consolidated its position among the upper castes in Bihar as the party gained an advantage of 14 percentage points in 2014 compared to 2009. These votes seem to have shifted from the Congress to the BJP alliance. The Bihar story extends to Uttar Pradesh as well. In 2009, two out of four upper caste votes went to the BJP. This time three out of four upper caste voters have supported the BJP and its allies. On the other hand, the Congress and its allies saw a considerable decline of 15 percentage points among these groups from 2009 to 2014. The other non-BJP and non-Congress regional players also considerably lost their support among upper castes.
The data clearly shows an acceleration of the upper caste votes toward the BJP. Although upper castes have been the traditional stronghold of the BJP, they deserted the party in 2009, shifting toward the Congress and its allies in some States and strong regional players in others. These votes have moved back to the BJP in 2014. In this election, if one is looking for en bloc voting in any one social section, the case of the upper castes is perhaps the most prominent instance of that.
This development is politically significant since it symbolises the success of a renewed social coalition that the BJP attempted this time, both in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. In Bihar, the BJP’s alliance with the Lok Janshakti Party seems to have benefitted the party both among the upper as well as lower castes rather than alienating any one of these sections. The successful coalition not only has a possibility of reversing the patterns that emerged in the wake of Mandal agitation. The verdict in 2014 may also revive the traditional patterns of upper castes presiding over the social coalitions in these states.
Rajeshwari Deshpande teaches political science at University of Pune. Nitin Mehta is with Lokniti, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.