The BJP’s poll showing and Dalit anxiety on reservation - Hindustan Times
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The BJP’s poll showing and Dalit anxiety on reservation

Jun 25, 2024 08:59 PM IST

The Dalit anxiety about the abolition of reservation seems to have impacted electoral outcomes in those states where the BJP has suffered major losses.

The 2024 general election results point to the significant erosion of Dalit support for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). According to the recently published CSDS-Lokniti post-poll survey data, the BJP’s vote share among Dalits has slipped to 31% from 34% in 2019 and that of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) allies to 5% from 7%.

Noida, India- April 14, 2024: People seen on the occasion of the 133th birth anniversary of Dalit icon BR Ambedkar at Rashtriya Dalit Prerna Sthal, sector 95, in Noida, India, on Sunday, April 14, 2024. (Photo by Sunil Ghosh / Hindustan Times)
Noida, India- April 14, 2024: People seen on the occasion of the 133th birth anniversary of Dalit icon BR Ambedkar at Rashtriya Dalit Prerna Sthal, sector 95, in Noida, India, on Sunday, April 14, 2024. (Photo by Sunil Ghosh / Hindustan Times)

This loss of support for the BJP is attributed to its slogan, “Ab ki baar, 400 paar” (this time, more than 400 seats). This slogan, many posit, created apprehension among the Dalits about the BJP’s intention to abolish reservation through major constitutional changes. This fear, as per various ground reports, has hurt the party immensely in Uttar Pradesh (UP). But how far has this fear resonated in other parts of the country? In Bihar, which has historically been a fertile laboratory for Mandal politics quite like UP, the BJP-led NDA grabbed five out of six Scheduled Caste (SC) constituencies. One reason for the different outcomes in UP and Bihar could be the deft social engineering strategy of the Samajwadi Party (SP), the BJP’s main rival in UP. Going beyond its traditional Yadav-Muslim combine, the SP stitched together a more inclusive social coalition that accommodated more candidates belonging to non-Yadav, Other Backward Classes, and other social groups. In contrast, in Bihar, the NDA’s main rival, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) stuck to its Yadav constituency while fielding candidates.

Another pertinent question arises in this context: Did the fear of abolition of reservation also impact the Scheduled Tribes (STs)? While the BJP’s tally of ST seats fell to 25 from 31 in 2019, its Adivasi vote share has increased from 43% in 2019 to 48% according to the CSDS-Lokniti survey. This apparently suggests an absence of anxiety among the STs on the abolition of reservation. Then, why has this fear impacted only the Dalits? The results shed some insights.

Based on the performance of the BJP and its allies, it is possible to group the states into three categories: a) where the BJP has suffered major losses compared to its 2019 performance, b) where the BJP and its allies more or less held on to the 2019 tally, and c) where the BJP and its allies have greatly improved their 2019 performance. A closer look at the results data suggests that the Dalits voted differently in each of these three categories of states.

The first category comprises six major states: Maharashtra, Haryana, UP, Rajasthan, West Bengal and Karnataka with BJP’s seat loss percentage being as high as 60.87%, 50%, 46.77%, 41.67%, 33.33% and 32% respectively. In almost all these states, the BJP seems to have lost substantial Dalit votes. Compared to 2019, this time, its tally of SC constituencies has dropped to one from four in Rajasthan, to zero from two in Maharashtra, to zero from two in Haryana, to eight from 14 in UP, and to two from five in Karnataka. In West Bengal, the loss of Dalit support seems to be minimal as the party has been able to retain four out of five SC seats it won in 2019, though the winning margin in all these seats has come down significantly.

The second category includes Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand. The BJP’s combined tally of SC seats in all these states together stands at 12, down from 13 in 2019. Hence, in these states, its Dalit support base seems intact.

Among the third category states of Odisha, Telangana, and Andhra Pradesh, the party’s tally has gone up from eight to 20 in Odisha, from four to eight in Telangana, and zero to 21 in Andhra Pradesh (for the NDA, where the BJP is the junior partner in the alliance with the Telugu Desam Party, or TDP). Significantly, in these states, the Dalit support for the party seems to have also gone up. In Odisha, where the BJP failed to win any SC constituency in 2019, it has managed to win all three such seats this time. In Andhra Pradesh, too, the TDP has managed to win three out of four SC seats. Only Telangana seems an outlier to this pattern, as the Congress has managed to win all three SC seats.

Therefore, the Dalit anxiety about the abolition of reservation seems to have impacted electoral outcomes in those states where the BJP has suffered major losses. In other states, such concerns have not received similar traction. The BJP’s declining popularity in states like UP, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Haryana, and Karnataka may be because of a host of other state-specific reasons, which also may have amplified such apprehension. In 2019, the BJP won a total of eight ST constituencies in Rajasthan, Maharashtra, and Karnataka combined (UP and Haryana do not have any ST seats). This time, it has lost six of these seats. Therefore, it might be reasonable to presume that in these states, the Opposition’s narrative of “Constitution in danger” did have some impact, both on the SCs and STs. But, in all likelihood, in other parts of the country, it did not raise much alarm. This also suggests that the electoral behaviour of the Dalits was far from being uniform across the country.

Ayan Guha is a British Academy international fellow at the School of Global Studies, University of Sussex, UK. The views expressed are personal

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