How the caste factor helped the BJP

Goa Health Minister and BJP candidate from Valpoi constituency, Vishwajeet Rane, being greeted by supporters, in Panaji.

Goa Health Minister and BJP candidate from Valpoi constituency, Vishwajeet Rane, being greeted by supporters, in Panaji. | Photo Credit: PTI

Caste played no less an important role in Goa than it did in other States. This is clearly evident from Lokniti-CSDS post-poll survey data. Nearly one-third of the voters in Goa considered their caste identity as a very important issue while deciding their vote. This importance accorded to caste by Goa’s voters was in fact slightly higher than what it was in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Uttarakhand. No attempt at understanding voting behaviour in Goa would thus be complete without looking at how the State’s castes and communities voted.

An analysis of caste-wise voting preferences in Goa reveals that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which secured 33% of the overall votes, managed to regain its lost ground among the Hindu upper castes comprising around one-sixth of Goa’s total electorate. Nearly half (49%) of the Hindu upper caste community in Goa, which mostly comprises Saraswat Brahmins, voted for the ruling party. This was a good 10 percentage points more than the 2017 elections.

The BJP, however, seems to have lost considerable support among the Kshatriya Maratha community (roughly 6% to 7% of the electorate), which had voted in large numbers (more than the upper castes) for the party five years ago. The BJP’s vote share among the community is estimated to have declined to one-thirds (34%) this time from 53% last time. What makes this drop particularly significant is that Chief Minister Pramod Sawant is a Maratha.

The BJP also wasn’t able to repeat its impressive 2017 performance among the electorally crucial Bhandari Samaj community, which constitutes around 15% to 20% of Goa’s population. A little over two-fifths (44%) of the community voted for the BJP compared to over half (54%) in 2017. Over the years, Bhandari community members are believed to have grown resentful of the dominance of upper caste leaders in Goa’s politics. In 2017, when many upper castes had deserted the BJP, apart from the Marathas it had been the Bhandaris who had lent the greatest support to the ruling party. This time, the situation seems to have reversed somewhat – many upper castes returned to the BJP, but a sizeable chunk of the Bhandaris drifted away. Even the defection of one of the senior-most Bhandari Samaj leaders, Ravi Naik, from the Congress to the BJP before the polls could not stem this erosion of support. Bhandari voters did not show any great enthusiasm towards the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) either, despite the AAP naming Amit Palekar from the Bhandari Samaj as its chief ministerial candidate. It was the debutant Revolutionary Goans Party (RGP) and the Trinamool Congress-Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) alliance that seems to have benefited the most from the BJP’s decline among Bhandari voters.

The BJP was able to offset its losses among the Bhandaris and Marathas by making gains not just among upper castes but also among the Hindu Scheduled Tribes (STs). It increased its vote share among the Hindu STs dramatically, to nearly three-fifths (58%) this time from almost one-thirds (31%) last time. Most of the BJP’s vote among the Hindu STs came from the Velip and Kunbi communities and not so much from the Gawda community, which voted more for the Congress than the BJP.

The Congress’s overall vote share declined to 25% this time from 28% in 2017. It lost support among upper castes, Marathas, Bhandaris and STs and only made some modest gains among the non-Bhandari Other Backward Classes. The party did do well among the Dalit community (only 2% of the population) and among Muslims (8%-9% share of the population). However, it was unable to consolidate the Muslim votes in its favour to the degree that it would have liked. It was the all-important Christian vote (26%-27% share) that the Congress would be most disappointed about losing. The party underperformed among Christians, which proved to be the most decisive blow to it.

Alaknanda Shringare is Assistant Professor in the Dept. of Political Science at Goa University, Panaji., and Shreyas Sardesai is with Lokniti-CSDS

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Printable version | Mar 15, 2022 12:18:19 am | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/goa-assembly/the-role-of-caste-in-goas-elections/article65225280.ece