Despite the emergence of regional parties in various parts of India in the 1990s, tribal communities have continued to support the Congress party in large numbers. However, in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the BJP surpassed the Congress in attracting larger number of Scheduled Tribe (ST) voters. The BJP saw an increase of 13 percentage points in its vote share compared to the previous Lok Sabha elections, whereas the Congress saw a decline of 10 percentage points.
The Congress’s performance was no better in constituencies that were reserved for the STs. It won only 3 ST reserved constituencies in this election compared to the 2009 Lok Sabha election, where it won in 20 ST reserved constituencies. On the other hand, the BJP secured 24 seats, an increase of 14 seats from the 2009 Lok Sabha election. The States where the nature of the contestation is mainly bi-polar, i.e., the Congress and BJP are in straight contest (Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan), the BJP has won all seats in the ST reserved constituencies.
The post-poll data from seven States with moderate to high tribal populations reveals that in four of them the BJP outperformed the Congress in terms of tribal support. These are Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand. In fact, the gains for the BJP in Maharashtra and Rajasthan among the ST community were massive. Whereas only two in ten STs had voted for the BJP in Rajasthan in 2009, the figure this time jumped to six in ten. Meanwhile in Gujarat where the Congress had a huge lead over the BJP among tribals in 2009, the battle between the two parties for the tribal votes was very close. In Odisha, it was the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) which led the Congress among the tribal voters with the BJP in third place. Only Chhattisgarh — with a tribal population of 31 per cent — saw the Congress making gains compared to the previous election, but here too the contest with the BJP was close.
(Jyoti Mishra is with Lokniti, Centre for the study of Developing Societies)