The site of a major political earthquake

The results of the Hindi heartland are a reminder that the dynamics of the subaltern challenge can counter the politics of religious majoritarianism

Updated - June 05, 2024 12:28 am IST

Published - June 05, 2024 12:08 am IST

‘The State of Uttar Pradesh, arguably, represents the biggest political earthquake of the election’

‘The State of Uttar Pradesh, arguably, represents the biggest political earthquake of the election’ | Photo Credit: ANI

In a moment that mirrors the two times when the dominant party of the country tasted political defeat (the Congress in 1977 and 1989), the stormy winds of change have emerged from the Hindi heartland in 2024. While the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) might scrape past an absolute defeat, its all-conquering political warship also seems to have ruptured over the choppy political waters of the Gangetic plain.

Out of the 225 odd seats that form part of the Hindi heartland, the NDA has been restricted to 149 seats, a loss of 31 seats. The INDIA bloc, meanwhile, touched 74 seats..

The return of ‘normal politics’

The BJP’s seat-share in the Hindi belt had hovered close to 80% in the last two elections, having steamrolled both the Congress and opposing Mandal formations. In this general election, the BJP’s seat share in the region has dropped markedly to around 60%, a shade above the 55% threshold the saffron party skirted around in the late 1990s (in 1996, 1998 and 1999). In that respect, the BJP’s current performance aligns more with its traditional strengths in the region but falls much below the high watermark of the two Modi waves.

Broadly, it marks the return of ‘normal politics’ in the Hindi heartland.

Apart from the headline narrative of a receding Modi wave and the uneven performance of the ruling BJP, the Hindi heartland throws up a mishmash of mini-narratives, varying on a State-by-State basis.

The State of Uttar Pradesh, arguably, represents the biggest political earthquake of the election. The INDIA bloc has bested the NDA alliance 44-34 seats. The INDIA bloc has bested the NDA alliance 43-36 seats. The Samajwadi Party (SP), at 37 seats, has emerged as the single largest party, trouncing the BJP in the critical Purvanchal region.

For the first time since 2014, the SP’s Mandal politics has overpowered the Hindu nationalism of the BJP. This has been achieved through a well-executed strategy of including Dalits in an enlarged Mandal coalition (what the SP leader Akhilesh Yadav terms the Pichda-Dalit-Alpsankhyak or PDA block). The party’s increasing representation to Dalits (including in non-reserved seats), along with its alliance with the Congress, succeeded in taking away a section of Dalits from the Bahujan Samaj Party and the BJP towards the INDIA bloc. The BJP’s loss in Ayodhya to the Dalit face of the SP, Awadhesh Prasad, represents a memorable capstone to the SP’s winning strategy.

The only solace for the BJP might lie in its impressive performance in western Uttar Pradesh, partly helped by its alliance with the Rashtriya Lok Dal. The Congress, meanwhile, registered its best performance in the State since 2009, winning six seats. The Congress’s surge in its erstwhile stronghold of Awadh, was made possible on the back of the unstinting support it received from the SP, with Akhilesh Yadav joining rallies on behalf of its candidates.

In Bihar, Rajasthan and Haryana

In Bihar, the Janata Dal (United) has matched the performance of the BJP, with both parties winning 12 seats each (the JD(U) contested on one seat less). Unlike earlier Assembly elections in Bihar, the allies of the BJP (the JD(U) and the Lok Janshakti Party) have romped home with a higher strike rate on their contested seats than the BJP. The results point to not just the continual dependence of the BJP on its alliance partners in the State but also increases their bargaining power vis-à-vis the BJP ahead of the crucial Assembly elections next year. While the INDIA bloc (Rashtriya Janata Dal-Congress-CPI(ML)) alliance has been restricted to just six seats (up from a single seat), the alliance was able to significantly reduce its vote-share gap with the NDA. The Tejaswi Yadav-led INDIA bloc campaign has also been able to mount a strong narrative on livelihood concerns, which might hold it in good stead for the upcoming Assembly elections.

The elections in Rajasthan and Haryana saw the budding revival of the Congress in the Hindi belt. Much like Uttar Pradesh, the Congress’s fortunes here have been boosted with a return of its Dalit voter base, attracted to its agenda of social justice and protection of the Constitution. While the BJP hung on to the majority of seats in Rajasthan, the Congress managed to pluck eight seats from its grasp. In Haryana, the Congress managed to split the verdict, winning five out of the 10 seats.

The Congress’s creditable performance in semi-rural and rural districts in both States owed much to its emphasis on issues of farmer distress and wealth concentration. For the first time since 2009, the Congress swept the Jat belt in Haryana in a national election. Meanwhile, the party also brought back into its fold a large section of the Jats in Rajasthan, once the bedrock of the party in the State, which had steadily deserted it since the late 1990s.

BJP strongholds

The BJP has maintained its strongholds in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, wiping out the Congress in Madhya Pradesh and restricting it to a solitary seat in Chhattisgarh. Apart from its core Hindutva appeal, what seems to have worked for the BJP is its stable appeal among tribal voters, who have largely stayed within the saffron fold despite Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra earlier this year. These are also the States where the Modi wave does not appear to have ebbed. The BJP’s dominance here partly stems from a lack of a distinct ideological challenge, and partly from a crisis of leadership within the Congress ranks. This election also marks out Madhya Pradesh as the pre-eminent saffron bastion, after Gujarat, deepening its more than two-decade-old dominance of the central State.

The results remind us that the dynamics of the subaltern challenge to Hindutva work much the same here as in other regions, forming a potent ideological counter to the politics of religious majoritarianism.

Asim Ali is a political researcher and columnist

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