OBC support for BJP signals the end of caste politics

It remains to be seen whether this shift denotes perceptions that the BJP is a better vehicle for OBC interests or part of the larger consolidation of the Hindu vote.

Updated - June 01, 2014 01:36 am IST

Published - June 01, 2014 01:34 am IST

The Other Backward Classes (OBCs) comprise a multitude of disparate castes, sub-castes and traditional occupational groups. Accounting for about 41 per cent of the population of the country (National Sample Survey Organisation, 2004-05), they form the largest socio-political bloc.

As National Election Study data show, most of the OBC votes during the past two decades have gone to regional and/or “social justice” parties. How did the OBCs vote in 2014?Evidence shows that while the Congress and the regional parties put together lost among the OBCs, the BJP increased its vote share by impressive 12 percentage points (from 22 per cent in 2009 to 34 per cent in 2014). At one level, the BJP gained at the expense of the Congress. However, the BJP’s spectacular success among the OBCs is largely driven by a huge surge for it among the lower OBCs, who are said to have gained the least from the reservation regime. The BJP polled a whopping 42 per cent of the lower OBC votes as against 30 per cent of the upper OBCs.

Regional variations

However, the aggregate picture often conceals more than it reveals. For one, the OBC votes in the past have taken different routes in different political contexts. This holds true even in 2014. In many States such as Kerala, Odisha, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, the BJP failed to make much impact among the OBCs. However, it almost swept the OBC votes in States such as Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. It also did quite well in those States that have long been the laboratory of OBC politics. In Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, not only did the BJP amass an overwhelming majority of the lower OBC vote but also got significant support from the upper OBC voters who have been religiously supporting prominent OBC leaders like Mulayam Singh, Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar. Does the rising popularity of the BJP among the OBCs signify the end of “caste politics”, more strictly of “OBC politics”? Above all, it remains to be seen whether this shift of the OBC voters towards the BJP is because they believe this party to be a better vehicle of their interests or whether this shift is part of the larger process of consolidation of the Hindu vote.

Sanjeer Alam is Assistant Professor at the Centre for the Studies of Developing Societies.

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