CSDS-Lokniti 2024 pre-poll survey | Despite the economy, how is the BJP sitting pretty?

The strengthening of Hindu identity through the construction and consecration of the Ram Mandir, the leadership factor, and the ambivalence of many voters on two issues — the Uniform Civil Code and the dilution of Article 370 — may work to the advantage of the BJP and help it weather the dissatisfaction about the economy

Updated - April 12, 2024 07:08 am IST

Published - April 12, 2024 05:26 am IST

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat offer prayers before the idol of Ram Lalla during the consecration of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya on January 22, 2024.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat offer prayers before the idol of Ram Lalla during the consecration of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya on January 22, 2024. | Photo Credit: PTI

Reports based on the pre-poll survey of the Lokniti-Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), published in these pages on April 11, focused on the factors that had the potential to work in favour of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha elections. They indicated the possible chinks in the BJP’s armour. Popular disapproval of the economic situation should be cause for worry for the BJP. However, the tenor of its rhetoric indicates that the BJP is confident of retaining its electoral ascendance. What makes the party feel so confident?

Also Read: Lokniti CSDS pre-poll survey for 2024 Lok Sabha elections

Perceptions and slogans

In the reports today, we focus on what appears to be working in favour of the ruling alliance in general and the BJP in particular. Drawing from the Lokniti-CSDS pre-poll survey, several indicators have the capacity to tilt the balance in favour of the ruling party. The perception of an improved image of India both within the country and abroad, the noticeable acceptance of key strategies, and a visible ambivalence regarding certain issues have the possibility of helping the BJP. But above all, the strengthening of Hindu identity and the BJP’s clear identification with the Ram Mandir issue could help the party weather the dissatisfaction caused by the economy. In the next part of this series, we will also focus on the leadership factor, the glue holding all the positive factors together for the BJP.

The question of India’s global image is something that the BJP can take advantage of. About 8% of the respondents said that the one thing they liked about the Narendra Modi government was its work on this front, i.e, of creating an international image.

A related strong point, though relevant to a somewhat narrow social section, is the successful organisation of the G20 Summit. While many respondents had not heard of the G20 Summit held in New Delhi, those in the cities and with high exposure to the media were aware of the event. Among those who were aware of the event, close to seven of every 10 were positive about its impact. They felt that it was reflective of India’s growing power. They also saw it as a foreign policy achievement that would help foster trade and boost the economy. Though this endorsement may appear thin, it was upheld by the upper sections of society and can help the BJP build the perception that things are going in the right direction.

The BJP’s key slogan for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections was ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’. After the party’s victory in 2019, the Prime Minister added ‘Sabka Vishwas’ to this slogan. In the pre-poll survey, this aspiration resonated with over three-fourth of the respondents. An overwhelming majority of respondents appeared to support the idea that India must remain a country where people following different religions can live and practice their faith freely. Those with greater access to education appeared to endorse this statement more strongly.

Ambivalence on issues

A possible step in the direction of a Uniform Civil Code (UCC), and the dilution of Article 370, are the two planks that might bring satisfaction to the BJP’s more traditional voters. Moreover, the ambivalence of many voters on these two issues may work to the advantage of the BJP.

On the UCC, more than half the respondents had not heard of it or preferred not to express an opinion on it. While more than one-fourth said that it will empower women, less than two of every 10 said that it may interfere with religious traditions.

On the dilution of Article 370, four of every 10 respondents had either not heard of it or did not take a stand. While more than one-third said that it was a good step, one-sixth felt that it was good step but not done in the right way.

Will the ambivalence on these issues help the BJP or will the reluctance of some of the respondents to articulate their position throw up a surprise?

It is not clear whether the Opposition will be able to exploit these ambivalences in its favour. On the caste census too, more than half the respondents had not heard of it or did not express an opinion on it. One-fourth said that the Congress and its allies were serious about the caste census while one-third said that it was a political tool. Thus, on potentially controversial and complex issues, the absence of a clear alternative that resonates with the voters could work in favour of the BJP.

Hindu identity

Above all, the BJP has an opportunity in shifting the focus of the campaign. A significant share of the respondents mentioned the Ram Mandir as the most liked work of the Modi government. So, the construction and consecration of the temple has the potential of turning many voters in favour of the BJP.

The Ram Mandir has been a focus of a lot of debate as a key component of the BJP’s electoral strategy. In the pre-poll survey, close to half the respondents felt that it will help consolidate Hindu identity. The support for this view was much higher among Hindu respondents. Among the Hindus, there was a clear class and caste divide in the intensity of response. The greater assertion of consolidation was visible among the economically well-off respondents and the upper castes. While one-fourth of the minorities also held the view that the temple will help consolidate Hindu identity, a majority of the Muslim respondents expressed no opinion on this.

Given the assertion that the Ram Mandir has led to greater consolidation of Hindu identity, it will surely be an important plank of the BJP’s electoral strategy this time around. A caveat is in order here: public opinion is still more favourably inclined towards an inclusive idea of India. How far politics and campaigns can trump this innate quality of society remains to be seen.

Troubles for the BJP

While the temple issue may enable the BJP to neutralise adverse sentiments on economic issues, some other factors may add to the negative sentiments against the incumbents. Trust in the Election Commission of India (ECI) has dramatically declined compared to five years ago. In the 2019 Lokniti-CSDS survey, more than half the respondents reposed great trust in the ECI; this has declined to less than three of every 10. The share of those who have little trust or no trust in the ECI has doubled in the last five years. It will be interesting to see whether this declining trust will impact support for the BJP.

On the actions of government agencies such as the Enforcement Directorate and the Central Bureau of Investigation, the response seems to see a three-fold equal divide among those who said tat these agencies were being used for political vendetta, those who said that they were working within the bounds of law, and those who had no opinion on the subject. What could work to the BJPs advantage is that close to half its supporters said that these agencies were working within the law, allowing the party to retain its voter base.

In contrast, the issues of party switching, non-ideological alliances, and nepotism may trouble the BJP marginally — less in terms of image and more in terms of the support of the core base. Close to half the respondents felt that those switching over were protecting themselves from enforcement agencies. More than half the BJP’s supporters felt that the party should not accept tainted leaders from other parties. Regarding alliances, BJP supporters were more likely to take the stand that everything is fair in politics and ideological purity is not a factor. There was more or less equal support of the view that the BJP is less nepotistic compared to the Congress and that the BJP is as nepotistic as the Congress. One-third of BJP supporters said that the BJP was less nepotistic than the Congress. This suggests that the respondents were more likely to look at this issue from the lens of their party affiliation.

This is the basket of factors that the BJP may have to deal with. The party is likely to rely on the Ram Mandir issue, undoubtedly the most dominant of these factors, to obviate other factors. Moreover, the negative sentiments flowing from some of the above factors could be trumped by the leadership factor.

Suhas Palshikar taught political science and is chief editor of Studies in Indian Politics; Sandeep Shastri is Director-Academics, NITTE Education Trust, and National Coordinator of the Lokniti Network; and Sanjay Kumar is Professor and Co-director Lokniti-CSDS

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