File image of PM Narendra Modi, Rajnath Singh and Amit Shah
The BJP will see two survivors of the 2002 Gulberg society massacre take them on in the upcoming polls | PTI
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Demonetisation was at the heart of destabilising the BJP’s carefully constructed caste coalition.

The rise of the BJP – since the Ram Mandir movement generally, and in the Modi era particularly – has come on the back of meticulously crafted caste coalitions. These may differ from state to state, but there’s one big pattern. They have married their Brahmin-Bania upper caste core base with the lower OBCs who have felt marginalised by dominant OBC communities such as Yadavs, Jats or Marathas.

Even with the Modi wave the BJP would not have won 71 seats in Uttar Pradesh if it hadn’t brought back Lodh leader Kalyan Singh in the party, and hadn’t allied with Kurmi party Apna Dal, which won another two seats for the NDA in the state.

Yet the Modi wave also helped the party win votes despite the hurdle of caste. Narendra Modi’s 2014 campaign, which projected a prime ministerial candidate whom people can trust to deliver on development, helped the BJP win even some Dalit votes. Caste communities that dislike each other so much that they try not to vote for the same party, came together for Modi.

Also read: Modi’s quota bill is just a band-aid solution and doesn’t promise more jobs

Class, not caste

Narendra Modi’s caste narrative peaked with demonetisation, which held out the promise of making class more important than caste. Modi went for a poor versus rich polarisation, dropping the word Mitron (friends) and replacing it with Garibon (poor).

There was concern about whether the BJP would be hurt by its neglect of upper castes through its class pitch. After all, who are the rich? They are the upper castes, the BJP’s own core base.

At the BJP’s national executive meeting in 2017, one party member complained that the government’s demonetisation move was alienating some of the party’s core supporters. Amit Shah reportedly replied: “Core chhodo, sampoorna dekho (Forget the core, look at the whole).”

Demonetisation was for a while so popular with the poor that the BJP felt it could afford to ignore the protestations of its upper caste supporters. The trader community is so small in number, and where would they go anyway? To secular Congress? Even if some desert the BJP, look at how many new voters the party is adding.

Demonetisation’s appeal among the poor also helped the BJP increase its appeal among Dalits, countering the narrative that the party was anti-Dalit. Dalit sentiment matters for the BJP over and above the votes it can bring. It matters at the overall narrative level, where the BJP wants to appear popular across the board. It also matters in the BJP-RSS’ long-term agenda of uniting Hindus regardless of caste.

The Dalit anger against the party was reflected in names such as Rohith Vemula, Jignesh Mevani and Chandrashekhar Azad. This anger, the BJP thought, was quelled through the class politics of demonetisation.

Also read: Can reservation help BJP get the upper caste vote in Lok Sabha elections?

Forget the whole, save the core

But the euphoria of DeMon, as it has come to be abbreviated, didn’t last long. As an unacknowledged economic slowdown looks worse by the day, DeMon appears more and more to have been the precise moment of the Modi government’s undoing. The failure of DeMon hurt the economy, thereby making the BJP’s class narrative untenable. Modi stopped saying Garib, Garibi, Garibon in every second sentence.

The first sign of this was the induction of Naresh Agarwal into the party in March 2018. The Baniya community leader in Uttar Pradesh had long been a strong critic of the BJP and its Hindutva ideology. His induction had angered many in the party, especially in Uttar Pradesh. But the BJP needed Naresh Agarwal to improve its strength among the trader community.

The Supreme Court’s decision to allegedly dilute the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act became a millstone around the Modi government’s neck. Dalit anger was on the boil. No party can rule India if 16.6 per cent of the population is revolting against the state. The government was forced to issue an ordinance to over-rule the SC judgment.

This, in turn, became the Modi government’s Shah Bano moment. Upper castes felt the Modi government was going out of its way to appease Dalits, even overruling the Supreme Court. At the same time, the party maintains that it will wait for the Supreme Court to decide the Babri Masjid issue.

Upper caste anger against the BJP boiled over in the Madhya Pradesh elections. Upper castes across north India have been threatening to vote for NOTA (None of the above) or sit at home. Their lack of enthusiasm, even if they vote for the BJP, deals a blow to the party’s efforts in tilting public mood in its favour. How do you even attempt to create an election wave when your core supporters behave like jilted lovers?

As the BJP tries to appease upper castes with reservations, it runs the risk of ending up neither here nor there. Dalits and lower OBCs may drift away for economic reasons: unemployment and rural distress. We have seen the trailer in the three heartland states, especially Chhattisgarh where OBCs shifted away in large numbers. The party’s OBC sub-categorisation move is also backfiring, at least in the critical state of Uttar Pradesh, even before it is implemented.

In trying to appease all caste demographics, the BJP may end up disappointing everyone. Amit Shah’s words, “Core chhodo, sampoorna dekho”, may return to haunt him.

Also read: Neither BJP nor Congress wants to engage with the middle class

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5 Comments Share Your Views


  1. I would like to dispute how many dalit voters really care about the reservation in promotions. Is it really true that it was a significant issue? Is there a survey, study, etc to substantiate this assumption?
    Very few dalits out of the total population actually get govt jobs, reservations notwithstanding. So only this group in my opinion is impacted and bothered by the supreme court promotion quota judgment.
    I am not sure promotions are an issue for those who have not got a job in the govt in the first place.

  2. Dalit Vote Are Already Divided But Core Vote Of Banya And Trader Community Was With BJP has gone due to GST And Demo Plus Local State Factors Like In Delhi Sealing Has Made Them Very Angry

  3. The 10% quota for upper caste people who are also ‘economically weaker'(???) may well backfire badly once the people realise that it was a giant con.

  4. Caste engineering / arithmetic can be the icing, not the cake itself. If Dalits continue to suffer atrocities, idle to believe they will vote for the party. One has heard of many motives for DeMon – pleasing the poor is a new one. If we are to view India not as one nation – which ought to be the core belief of the nationalists – but an aggregation of special interest groups, which castes in a way are, name one that has prospered. People must have a good reason to press the button on the EVM.

  5. But many dalit leaders argue in TV debates that BJP’s core vote is intact and there was no need of 10% quota for them to appease. The quota bill will help all as they all promised it but will help BJP some what more as it took initiative. Caste politics is a dynamic one and its impact of vote bank keep swinging with their leaders swinging from one party to other. Difficult to please all, all the time.


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