How Modi created the Hindu vote bank
It was halfway into the tenure of the United Progressive Alliance-2. The RashtriyaSwayamsewak Sangh (RSS) was hobbled by accusations of Hindu terror and newspapers kept reporting that even the senior most leaders could be called for questioning. A top RSS functionary confided at the time that all efforts to create a Hindu vote were failing. The biggest hurdles were caste-based parties who made their respective castes feel empowered, thus making it attractive for people to vote as Yadavs, Kurmis, Jatavs etc but never as a Hindu. The furrows on his forehead indicated that they had not found a way to overcome the challenge.
This RSS functionary’s prayers seem to have been answered finally by Narendra Modi, at least in north and east India. Step by step, Modi has succeeded in creating an umbrella of the Hindu vote over the boxes of Yadav, Jatav, Kurmi, Bhumihar etc. How did Modi do it?
Like all great ideas, this was simple. As the prime minister of the country, Modi kept ensuring throughout the past five years that there should be zero caste discrimination in the implementation and last mile delivery of government benefits. If this is easier said than done, it is because ours is a caste-ridden society and Panchayats, as well as local administrative units, have strong caste feelings. But if anybody could ensure proper implementation, it was a hard task master like Modi.
This is the kind of governance which the Hindi heartland had not witnessed for decades. A year ago, I met Gomti Devi, a Yadav, in a village in Uttar Pradesh’s Hardoi district. She found it unbelievable that a gas connection under the Ujjwala scheme could be given to her even though the leader giving it was a non-Yadav. She found it even more amazing that other women who got it belonged to all castes in that village. I don’t know if Gomti and her family voted for the lotus symbol in this general election but I have a strong feeling that they did.
Closer to this election, I spent a night in a remote village of Badaun Lok Sabha constituency with an Extremely Backward Caste family. The villagers felt emotionally attached to Mulayam Singh’s family but added that disbursal of the Ujjwala, Saubhagya, toilet funds and Awas Yojana was without discrimination. They did not tell me their voting preference for 2019 but result shows that Mulayam’s nephew, Dharmendra Yadav, lost in his bastion, Badaun.
In his victory address, Narendra Modi declared that there would be just two castes henceforth in the country. Those who are poor and those who can help the former out of poverty. That this casteless vote bank is also largely Hindu is what the RSS has been wanting to hear for a long time, but it never found the leader to implement it.
Many have asked: what happens to Muslims and Christians?
Before we jump to conclusions, it may be pointed out that the Modi government is committed to zero discrimination here too. While this is how a government should function, it also serves an interesting political purpose. When a poor Muslim or Christian household finds its living standards improving just like that of its Hindu neighbours, it may not be so easy for the political parties to sell them the hatred for Modi.
This will reduce the tendency to vote for defeating Modi even if people actually refrain from pressing the lotus symbol. Pundits may argue that the voting pattern doesn’t reflect this shift as yet, but it may be prudent to hold our analysis till we get more data from the booth level. This is a work in progress. When it starts showing results, the secular parties and their leaders may be in for a shock similar to the one that jolted them on May 23, 2019.
Smita Mishra is an Adviser with Prasar Bharati
The views expressed are personal