The rise of BJP as the number one party is an outcome of the strong support it received from the upper castes over the last three decades.
During the recent state elections in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, many upper caste voices expressed their unhappiness with the Modi government.
“We had big hopes that Modi would scrap the reservation policy when he came to power, but he seems just like any other leader. If he can’t scrap reservation, then he should give reservation in jobs to upper caste people as well,” a 50-year-old Rajput woman from the Rewa district in Madhya Pradesh told me last year. “Poor people are also present in the upper castes; he (Modi) has a responsibility to lift them up as well.”
So, is the Modi government trying to mellow down the upper caste ire before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections? The latest 10 per cent job reservation for the ‘economically weaker’ upper castes would make it seem so. We need not mention here in detail that the upper castes, especially in the Hindi heartland, form the core voter base of the BJP. They not only vote for the BJP, but also influence the ideology and policies of the party.
BJP’s upper caste vote
The rise of the BJP as the number one party in India is an outcome of the strong support it received from the upper castes over the last three decades, such as the Brahmins, Baniyas and Rajputs. The upper caste vote was one of the major reasons for the BJP’s grand victory in the 2014 elections. The upper castes also campaigned and influenced other voters to vote for the BJP.
However, for some time now, all has not been well between the BJP and the upper castes. The BJP is still a favourite among the upper castes, but their enthusiasm and energy for the party have been reducing. The unhappiness with the BJP is also due to the amendment bill brought by the Modi government against the Supreme Court’s dilution of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
S.M. Shukla, a 40-year-old Brahmin lawyer from Katni district, described his unhappiness with the BJP: “We have been supporting the BJP with all our energy for a long time, but see what they have done to us. They were supposed to scrap Article 370 in J&K, but instead, they have scrapped Section 377. Then, the adultery verdict of the Supreme Court dealt a blow to our Hindu religion”.
“We will again support the BJP, but how can I ask my fellow citizens to support the BJP? On what basis?” he added.
Also read: Why Modi govt wants quota for upper castes — their state is as pathetic as OBCs
The core and floating voters
In electoral politics, theoretically, there are two kinds of voters – the core voter and the floating voter.
Core voters are those who support a particular party continuously, and follow the party’s ideology and their policies. The floating voters never stick with one particular party, and they change their mind according to the mood of the nation.
To win an election, parties, in their manifestos, project their ideology and policies in a manner in which they can satisfy their core voters as well as attract the floating voters.
In the early 1990s, to mobilise and attract Hindu voters, the BJP led a massive campaign to build a Ram temple in Ayodhya, which was a reaction against the implementation of OBC reservation in jobs and education by then V.P. Singh government. More or less they succeeded in retaining the upper caste support for a long time. However, the BJP could not scrap the OBC reservation, or build the Ram temple.
Now, with just three months left for the next big election, the Ram temple issue is in court and the government has ruled out an immediate ordinance. Therefore, the BJP desperately needs an issue that can satisfy its core voters.
The double-edged sword
The demand for reservation to the economically backward among the upper castes is not new, but the cabinet’s approval for this just a few months before the election can prove to be a double-edged sword for the BJP.
The benefits of this decision for the BJP are many. It would send a positive signal to the upper caste that the party is taking care of them, and this would translate into votes in the 2019 election. Another benefit would be that the upper castes might not be able to criticise the reservation policy anymore (at least not in the public domain), and therefore, those communities who already get reservation would not be scared that theirs would be scrapped.
However, the biggest challenge for the BJP will be the implementation of this decision in the coming months. This move needs a constitutional amendment and the current government has only one Parliament session left to do so. The situation looks tough.
Moreover, it will be quite the task to provide so many government jobs in the first place. Do we have enough government jobs to accommodate the aspirations of the educated youth of this country? Here, one needs to remember that in last three decades, in the post-Mandal-Mandir-Market India, literacy rates have risen. Education and jobs are the two major things that empower an individual and/or their community. Therefore, the demand for more jobs has been increasing and development can’t be inclusive without providing jobs to people. In the jobless growth of this country, where the number of government jobs has been reducing consistently, would it be possible to fulfil the hope of inclusive development of the youth?
The author is an independent researcher and election analyst. He has worked with Ashoka University, CPR and Lokniti, CSDS.
Get the PrintEssential to make sense of the day's key developments.