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Forget about Dalit voters. Tell us why upper caste Hindus voted for BJP like never before

India’s upper caste analysts have held Dalits & backwards responsible for Modi’s return to power, keeping their own group away from scrutiny.

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India’s Left, liberals and the secular analysts have been worried over the past three weeks: why would the non-Yadavs and the non-Jatav Dalits vote for the BJP and bring Narendra Modi back to power? Much of the socio-political analysis of the Lok Sabha election results since 23 May has focused on the backward castes, the underclass, and the Dalit voters and how they shifted towards the Bharatiya Janata Party. The analysts appear to have deliberately sidestepped the fact that it’s the upper castes that predominantly voted for the BJP. But for liberals like Satish K. Jha and Sudha Pai, the burden of defeating the BJP is only on the shoulders of the marginalised groups; the upper castes are free from all scrutiny.

But upper caste Hindus have always been kept away from assessment of all kinds. There are tonnes of literature and research papers analysing and studying Dalits, Tribals, Other Backward Classes and the minorities. But there is none that tells us when and how the upper caste Hindus became comfortable voting for candidates like Pragya Singh Thakur, Giriraj Singh, and Sakshi Maharaj. There are no sociological studies that explain to us how the upper castes are able to support an ideology that instigates the lynching of poor Muslims or the violent treatment of Dalits in Dadri and Una. Isn’t it time the upper caste Hindus are made the subject of academic scrutiny?

Analysts and their 2019 ‘coverage’

Beyond analysing the voting preference of Dalit and backward caste voters, political analysts and the media cheered over the communities’ shift towards the BJP, calling it the victory of development politics, and the end of Mandal and caste politics, especially in north India. Analysts have been unable to hide their glee while writing obituaries of the silent revolution, which shaped the landscape of Hindi heartland politics for three decades.

Take for instance Professor Sudha Pai’s deep dive into the 2019 election results. While exploring the reasons for BJP’s victory in Uttar Pradesh, Pai came to the conclusion that the “Mahagathbandhan (of SP and BSP) remained anchored in the Mandal discourse of the past, which has lost relevance.” K.K. Kailash termed the results as the “fall of regional parties”, concluding that “the SP and the BSP have become one-caste dominated parties with the non-Yadav OBCs and the non-Jatav Dalit castes looking towards the BJP.” Ajay Gudavarthy and Satish K. Jha saw the result as one borne out of a political process in which “the BJP played the hard ball with minute caste calculations including the leaders of various non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits.” There is a long list of authors who have written on similar lines.


Also read: The traditional BJP voter is upper caste, upper class & a staunch believer in Hindu pride


Citation bias 

The data on the shift of voters was readily available for anyone who asked. The Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) collated this information and disseminated it for writers to form their conclusions. The researchers of CSDS-Lokniti, India Today-Axis, Ashoka University’s Trivedi Centre for Political Data and many other organisations collected information on voters’ choices and their caste from polling booths on the days votes were cast in the 2019 elections.

Now whether the survey results are authentic or not, there is a wide consensus that support among Dalits and OBCs (especially the non-Yadav OBCs) for the BJP increased with the 2019 elections. But should the overwhelming support that the BJP got from the Hindu upper caste voters be glossed over, or, better yet, simply ignored?  

According to Lokniti-CSDS survey in Uttar Pradesh, 82 per cent Brahmins, 89 per cent Thakurs and 70 per cent Vaishya voted for the BJP. As per India Today-My Axis’ post-poll survey, 77 per cent people from ‘general’ castes in Uttar Pradesh voted for the BJP; in Bihar, it was 73 per cent. Overall, 61 per cent general category castes in the country voted for Modi’s BJP.

There has been too much analysis declaring the demise of caste politics and of ethnic-regional political parties. But I have yet to find articles, other than one from Rohan Venkataramakrishnan, stating, let alone investigating, the widely known fact that the upper castes voted en masse for the BJP.

For that matter, I am yet to stumble upon any research paper on the topic of the voting preferences of the Hindu upper castes. Like A.K. Hangal famously said in Sholay – Itna sannata kyon hai bhai?


Also read: For upper caste quota, IITs will add 3,000 seats and central varsities over a lakh


Upper castes out of glare

What explains this silence on why upper castes support the BJP, when voting behaviour of backward castes and Dalits, as well as Muslims, is analysed after each election to write commentaries about caste and communal politics in India? Shouldn’t the upper castes’ voting patterns be similarly looked at to determine where the caste politics is headed? Is it possible the community is kept out of glare because it is responsible for sending terror accused Pragya Thakur or people like Giriraj Singh and Sakshi Maharaj to Parliament?

The upper caste Hindus have better access to higher education than the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes. It’s a puzzle then that despite being the most educated social group, the upper caste Hindus support communal politics. It also remains unknown why the upper castes turned vehemently communal during the late 1980s and the 1990s, and why that process of communalisation continues to this day. 

There can be two possible reasons, and both linked to each other. It could be because the academia and the media is dominated by upper caste Hindus, and thus the upper caste analysts are uncomfortable to turn the gaze upon themselves.

Prof Vivek Kumar of JNU, in a research paper, has explained how sociology is conducted in India. He points to the domination of the twice-born castes at four levels – as members practising sociology in institutions; in the sphere of production of knowledge while writing chapters of books; producing knowledge with the help of scriptural sources; and at the level of producing data from the field and while teaching. He concludes that their domination works at the ontological and epistemological level and this impacts the choice of subject matters.

The same is true for the Departments of Gender Studies, where most of the research is done about the victims of patriarchy but very few on the perpetrators of patriarchy. Similarly, in the case of industrial sociology, studies look at the issues affecting the labour class but not the strategies and tactics used by the capitalist employers. It is an important indicator to look at who is conducting the study, on whom, and for whose benefit.


Also read: In headlines and in politics: How Modi govt brought the upper castes up


One can conclude that academicians and analysts don’t want the upper castes to be the subject matter of their studies – which explains why there are numerous studies on Dalits, Tribals, OBCs and the minorities, but dissertations and theses on upper castes are extremely hard to find. There are scores of centres for Dalit studies, but I am yet to learn about any centre for Brahmin or Bhumihar or Thakur studies.

American sociologist Martin Nicolaus had raised similar questions in the meeting of American Sociological Congress in 1968. He said that in the United States, sociology has no autonomy in deciding its subject matters. “The eyes of sociologists have been turned downward, and their palms upward. Eyes down, to study the activities of the lower classes of the subject population,” he had said.

There is little possibility of the upper caste sociologists studying their own brethren as envisaged by Nicolaus in his speech: “What if the habits, problems, secrets and unconscious motivations of the wealthy and powerful were daily scrutinized by a thousand systematic researchers… and published.”

At this point, this is not happening in Indian academia and the media.

The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal.

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33 COMMENTS

  1. SC and minorities always voted for non BJP for development in return nothing changed for them,infact leaders like Mayawati and Laalu became billionaire.
    Meanwhile these parties got indludged in minority appeasement and keep scaring lower caste from upper caste.
    Now these parties are facing backlash from so called upper caste……irony is that minorities and SC’s keep boasting about lack of practical temperament in upper caste as they voted for BJP, I am damn sure that these people must have voted for Congress in 2014 just for sake of appeasement not for development.

  2. I have observed that my upper caste friends, lot of them wise and whom I respect, tend to use past behaviour of Congress govts to rationalize the divisive politics of Modi govt. There are anecdotal evidences based on so many conversations that they are prone to believing negative stories about minorities. Two examples: 1) In response to praise for mohalla clinics, to my utter disbelief, one of my friends dismissed it is minority appeasement by saying that have you noticed that most of these clinics are in muslim areas. I tried but couldn’t find any story or proof for this. I think this must be a whatsapp forward and my friend is just more willing to believe such things. My argument that even if true this is not appeasement per se fell on deaf ears. 2) There was black, billowing smoke coming out from a nearby colony, Muslim majority. A group of people were standing and one person openly said that obviously, they have to do something on Republic day! No one really looked uncomfortable! There are numerous other stories. Now, what are the implication? I have thought about this long and hard. It is hard to escape the conclusion that bigotry is at play. And the way minority appeasement worked in past, this dispensation is employing majority, upper caste appeasement and it is working like charm.

  3. Upper caste and lower caste Hindus always divided by uch varna of uch hindus and nich varna of nich hindus.. while dalits are non hindus who always considered non hindus.. even if a dalit practices hinduism they can’t be a hindu.. so this time modi did unthinkable he bring hindutva in game he won trust of hindus he taught them you are just Hindus a hindu cannot be nich or outcast if practices Hinduism but the what happened next changed the course the upper castes lower caste even outcaste came together as hindus.. there was no nich no uch no uchhoot no varna only hindu great hindutva.. we are not crazy we are not falling for this trick of people Divide and rule hindus now we will accept everything hindus

  4. Mandal ji sees BJP in black in white.. Upper caste didn’t.. BJP is a myriad of things for a large number of people. Beyond the basic fact establishment that Upper caste voted for BJP, this article was a massive waste of space.

  5. This article sounds like a blame game- which is laughable in a way!

    On Twitter, someone had posted that ‘Brahmins are responsible for Modi’s victory’. She was inundated with responses stating that their own caste was also responsible- and list included Marathas, Jain, Vaishyas, Yadavs, Vokkaliga (gowdas), Jaats and so on and so forth.

    Which ultimately brought home the futility and stupidity of the point!

  6. Thought provoking but the article itself falls short of identifying reasons for upper caste electoral behaviour though it identifies implications of the same.Upper castes inspite of education also vote as a group than as individuals which is contrary to expectation that with education individuals become autonomous and move away from groups..Incestuous clustering among groups come to the fore either when they fear the emergent groups or correctly identify process and forum around which they have to cluster to protect their group interests. Both reasons have operated this time. Upper castes have now preference to vote for candidates ofOBCs and Reserved categories only if they belong to BJP.This also requires probimg.

  7. To eradicate caste system in the country its better to divide it into four parts according to their populations – forward caste, OBC , SC and ST. For the minority the partition was done long back. They can utilise it now as an unfinished agenda.

  8. Basically just some rehashed critical race theory applied in the indian context to caste. I would suggest the author come up with something more original than these stale leftovers.

  9. The truth is that the analysts do not want to tell the world that most of the upper caste people in India are religious fundamentalists. When the issue is fundamentalism versus pluralism most of the uper caste people vote for fundamentalism. This is the reason for the defeat of INC and other parties because their upper caste supporters voted en masse for the BJP.

    • So let’s see what you are saying: it’s ok for jatav Dalits to vote enmass for a party, it’s ok for Muslims to vote enblock for a party , it’s ok for Yadav’s to have their own party but it’s not ok for upper castes to vote as a block….wow…I love these hypocrites. If you divide Hindus by caste you are secular but if you unite Hindus you are communal. No wonder BJP and NDA won with a bigger majority.

  10. Excellent article. The amazing thing is how similar the voting coalition of today’s BJP is to the Congress party of the past, with one big difference obviously, Muslims. Look at the list of CMs of a state like UP or Bihar since independence, it was a string of upper caste Congress CMs punctuated by OBCs like Kapori Thakur and Ram Naryan Yadav until 1989. The Mandel era ushered in the likes of Mulayam and Laloo. Now that the Mandel era is over and upper castes have established themselves in pre eminent opposition of Indian politics, expect to see upper caste CMs back in states like UP and Bihar, only this time they will be from BJP.

    Indian politics since independence has been basically a fight between the middle castes like Yadav/Jaats/Marathas/Reddys, and a coalition of upper and lower castes.

  11. What is an upper class Hindu.? It is a British creation of the nineteenth century. It were the former who stood in the way of British converting all of india to Anglican Christians. Ever since then, they are disliked by them. The British gave them the designation of upper class Hindu. This stupidity of divide done for different reasons still continues in the mindset of journalists and other anti Indian authors. A Hindu who looks after the temples, reads the scripture and propagate it and offer advice on religious matters, who in order to fulfill his duties is better qualified and educated is being unfairly designated as upper class Hindu. He is a Hindu with different duties.

    This author need a re-education away from the British system.

    • If that is the only difference between upper cast another Indians ex Muslims, why is then there is so much difference in education, incomes, and wealth between them and rest of Indians?

      • Can you say that majority upper castes are above poverty line. Don’t go by the silly Congress views. Over 40% upper castes are also below poverty line. Don’t just create divides.

  12. It’s a puzzle then that despite being the most educated social group, the upper caste Hindus support communal politics. It also remains unknown why the upper castes turned vehemently communal during the late 1980s and the 1990s, and why that process of communalisation continues to this day.

    The reason is simple. They were first among Hindus, due to higher education, to realize appeasement & vote bank politics, which was making their vote irrelevant. Dalit, OBC & tribal were legging behind in understanding these phenomenon of making their vote irrelevant, by upper caste secularist establishment, using minoritysm & pampering one or two large castes at the expense of other Tribal, OBC, & dalit caste who are smaller in numbers as individual caste, but together formed majority of population.

  13. Of course upper castes voted for bjp, like they always have. bjp is a part of the rss, so why would the upper caste not vote for it? The interesting question is why did the ‘lower’ of the Shudra castes, and non-Jatav Dalits vote for it when this party is hostile to them, like it always has been?

  14. When thediscourse so far has been that the voting has been presidential style, the analysis should also be that “upper castes voted for Modi” instead of referring to as BJP. If upper castes have voted for a OBC leader, that is also a positive spin. But my friend is probably right. He says that Shekhar Gupta is setting the narrative now itself for the Congress for 2024 with his spin “upper caste consolidating behind BJP”. And then now when you see a rash of articles in this daily of yours, on this subject, there is that uncanny feeling.

    I was not into any social media like Face book or Twitter other than Whatsapp but heavily into reading the mainstream english media. My take is that they were harsh on Modi, the print media. Barring a few exceptions, their travelogues – covering the elections were about resentment, agri distress, no wave. Yes, for the past month or so, I took to Youtube a lot. Saw how the election results panned out. I think social media is bridging the chasm between the discourse and the truth. Mainstream media, better be wary of.

    .

    • You nailed it — Indian print media’s partisanship is now getting nicely punctured by social media and the internet. Three cheers to that!

  15. This writer is a sad bitter man. He looks for caste in his toothbrush in the morning and his pillow at night.
    Cheer up., old sod. Coz’ a rant-a-day keeps the good old doc (caste here too) not very far away!

  16. Moronic RANT – how this garbage is published is amazing. How dare this clown demand an “explanation” from voters as to whom they voted for ? Upper or lower – nobody needs to “justify” their vote. That is their wish.

    Further, BECAUSE Upper castes are educated they have rejected the hypocrisy and intellectual/moral bankcruptcy of the moribund liberal elite. The truth is that today – even lower castes, dalits etc are highly educated and connected to the internet making them very aware and have therefore understood and rejected the liberal elite.

    If Kamal NAth can be CM of Madhya Pradesh – why can’t Pragya Thakur be elected as MP in Bhopal ? Kamal Nath’s role in the Sikh riots is forgotten by these clowns edifying us ?

  17. It doesn’t matter what you call them as liberals or intellectuals, they all have one thing in common that they have intense hatred for Hindutva, RSS and Modi, they all analyse people’s voting behaviour by grouping them using some criteria. They have used religions as groups, they have used caste as groups, they have used ideology as groups etc. All of their analysis is no where near to understand why people voted Modi.

    To me the reasons for their dismal analysis is clear. If they can come of their comfort zones and ask themselves why they had not voted Modi or they will not vote Modi even in 2024, the opposite to their reasoning of not voting Modi will be true for other people’s choice to vote for Modi. But they hesitate to tell people their real reasons for not voting Modi as all of these reason are meaningless to the people. What they tell people are manufactured reasons only to influence people’s thinking i.e. they are directly and indirectly indulge in politics with mask of liberals and intellectuals.. Voters anyhow don’t care for them as there are multiple sources of information available to them over social media. These liberals and intellectuals have lost their ability to influence voters as their dishonesty is immediately caught by people. Now they stand naked in social media. It’s a matter of one or two more generations when these liberals and intellectuals will disappear from media.

  18. Good point. We never hear of an Upper cast study. But the upper cast voting for BJP is no mystery as the author thinks. The author says the upper cast mostly are more educated, thats the only reason. The more educated one becomes, the more Hindus learn about the Muslim and Christina atrocities on Hindus. The more they understand that India is only thing they have and they vote for a strong country because of their love for their Religion & motherland. Elementary, my dear Watson.

  19. “It’s a puzzle then that despite being the most educated social group, the upper caste Hindus support communal politics”. Wow. There you are, branding. And because of your pseudo secular intellectuals thoughts only make the educated and elites think differently. You have carried your narrative of oppressed, minorities and what not, to divide the nation. The game of communal politics have been effectively played from Nehruvian era and continuously adopted by regional political forms to get their vote bank. The biggest game was to undermine elite, upper caste and woo poor and minorities and call them marginalized and as if they work for their upliftment. in their 60+ years of governance, they never achieved in real terms other than further marginalizing the voters to get their vote and in the process developed their own dynasty as savior for marglinalised. Very clever narrative indeed, like this author. It is like I inject poison, but it will never affect you. Yes, majority of the Brahmins, Takhurs and other upper castes voted en-mass for BJP, purely because they see Modi as unbiased leader, they have seen opposition did not have any credible candidate or program and most of the oppostion narrative was negative towards Modi. And they failed miserably. Why no one did study on upper caste? Well, people like never want to spend your time on understanding the real problems of poor people within Brahmins and Upper caste segment as otherwise they will start their demands.

  20. Much has been made of Dalits voting for BJP in large numbers because everybody expected the opposite. It was always a given that the upper castes will vote for BJP. No surprises there. It’s the spectacular failure of MGB alliance in UP and elsewhere and the Dalits voting BJP that is making news

  21. Excellent article. As a researcher, I totally agree with ” It is an important indicator to look at who is conducting the study, on whom, and for whose benefit.” and i would add “who is funding”. true for social sciences but also for hard sciences.

    And I love: “What if the habits, problems, secrets and unconscious motivations of the wealthy and powerful were daily scrutinized by a thousand systematic researchers… and published.” We absolutely need to do that – to expose the machnations of the dominant groups.

    thank you for a great analysis.

  22. The Author is not only biased, he is too clever by half. For decades, upper castes have been reviled and lampooned with countless epithets for their treatment of the lower classes. Naturally, upper caste academicians and commentators fight shy of scrutiny of their own lest they be accused of casteism and prejudice and what not. Naturally, they play safe. If somebody among them were to study and write about the upper castes, I am quite sure the author of this column will be the first one to raise a hue and cry.

    • Yes, the author is one of those people: heads I win, tails you lose! Typical hypocrite leftist (I’ll)-liberal! Exposing himself!

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