A new social core: On the ideologically-affiliated voters of the BJP

A clear base of ideologically-affiliated voters helped the BJP thwart anti-incumbency effects in the States

March 17, 2022 12:48 am | Updated 12:48 am IST

As the dust settles after the Assembly elections in the five States, Goa, Manipur, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has an unmistakably firm sway now over politics in the country. A CSDS-Lokniti Survey in four States (not held in Manipur) shows a clear picture. Even when the net satisfaction levels with BJP-led State governments were either low (U.P., Uttarakhand) or negative (meaning more respondents were dissatisfied than satisfied, as in Goa), the party managed to win the elections handily. There are clear reasons. The BJP significantly consolidated sections of the electorate to build a formidable and durable coalition of base voters. Data from the Lokniti survey show that across four States, while the Opposition parties garnered votes largely among the religious minorities, a substantial section among Dalits, and a fraction among the Other Backward Classes, the BJP’s votes were across the upper castes, politically non-dominant OBCs and a growing section of Dalits. This solidification of the BJP’s voter base, in the Hindi heartland in particular, is in line with what political scientists call the new dominant party system akin to the “Congress system” of the 1950s and 1960s, albeit with a social core bound by a different binding factor — Hindutva. This social core has ensured that the dissatisfaction with the BJP governments did not translate directly into votes against the regimes and is expressed in how voters identified themselves with the party and its leadership, represented in the Union government.

The net satisfaction levels with the Union government were higher by 17 points in U.P., 46 points in Uttarakhand, 18 in Goa, and eight even in Punjab, where the mood was against both the Union and the State regimes. The battered economy, the public health crisis during the pandemic, the rising spectre of joblessness, the farm laws and other agrarian concerns specifically in rural areas, did weigh on voters’ minds. While welfare measures such as cash transfers to farmers and the ration scheme helped sway some of the poorest in support of the regimes, the solidified support for the BJP among the sections mentioned above reinforces the idea of an expanded base that has an ideological affinity towards the party. There were regional factors as well — the presence of a substantial vote-gathering party in an otherwise declining BSP in U.P., the rise of an alternative in AAP in Punjab, and the emasculation of the Congress. For the Opposition, the takeaways are stark. It is necessary for them to take on the BJP by constructing a clear message which declares that development and economic progress are best possible through social justice and amity among communities. But electoral success is not sufficiently guaranteed unless the message is delivered through a dedicated organisation that can at least contest the formidable apparatus of the Sangh.

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