Welfare to governance: What worked for the BJP
Various welfare schemes run by both state and central governments seemed to benefit a large number of people, especially the poor, which resulted in significant shifts among the voters from lower income groups in all states
First the big picture. The victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in four states — Uttar Pradesh (UP), Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa — where it was defending its government is not only an endorsement of the state administration but also the Narendra Modi government at the Centre. The Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) resounding victory in Punjab indicates a strong desire for change among the people of Punjab and also signals the possibility of its emergence as an alternative to the Congress at the national level. The defeat of the Congress in all five states shows that it may be vacating space for other parties and the AAP seems to be marching towards filling that vacuum. These verdicts underline the continued political dominance of the BJP, but also the relevance of regional parties, in at least state-level electoral contests.
Various factors helped the BJP but according to our post-poll survey, ration (free food grains) and shasan (good governance) were the deciding factors. Various welfare schemes run by both state and central governments seemed to benefit a large number of people, especially the poor, which resulted in significant shifts among the voters from lower income groups in all states.
In UP, we found 43% of the poor and 42% of the lower class voters voted for the BJP and its allies. The BJP had already made inroads among rural voters, the poor and lower castes – this constituency is largely made up of Scheduled Caste (SC) and lower Other Backward Classes (OBC) groups – as evident from the party’s electoral performances in the 2014 and 2019 general elections. The 2022 state polls indicate that the popularity of the BJP among these groups has only risen further.
We found a significant shift among the Dalits, both Jatavs (21%) and non-Jatav Dalit (41%), towards the BJP – giving the party a decisive edge over its nearest rival, the Samajwadi Party (SP)-led alliance.
Akhilesh Yadav joined hands with a raft of regional parties that had a base among lower OBC groups, but failed to attract non-Yadav OBC votes. What his alliance succeeded, though,was in creating the highest polarisation of Yadavs and Muslims in UP’s history in favour of the SP coalition.
Among non-Yadav OBCs, we found only 24% voted for the SP alliance but the number went up to 79% among Muslims and 83% among Yadavs.
Why did this happen? The benefits of welfare schemes seemed to have paid rich dividends for the BJP. We found a large number of voters saying “Modi ka namak khaya hai, namak harami nahi karenge (We have eaten Modi’s salt, won’t betray him)”. This helped the BJP in retaining its lower OBC support, which the party has assiduously cultivated over the last few years.
Anxiety about growing unemployment and price rise was clearly visible among various sections of voters, but we found that other concerns overrode these “real concerns” of the common man.
In UP, 77% voters considered unemployment as a growing problem and 80% mentioned that prices were steadily rising, but there was a sense that overall governance is better when the BJP is in power, as compared to previous governments.
Voters rated the work done by the BJP government on roads, drinking water and electricity positively. There was anxiety about the quality of government schools and hospitals, and people said there was no noticeable improvement. Citizens were particularly concerned that despite the Covid-19 pandemic, government hospitals remained in a bad shape. But overall, a large chunk of voters seemed to have accepted the eventuality that quality health care and education can be given only by private institutions.
This possibly holds a clue about why Covid could not become an issue in these elections. Not many people (45%) exclusively blamed the government for Covid-19 deaths and many (37%) said they had moved past the harrowing times in their everyday life, and wanted to leave the painful memories behind.
What helped the BJP in overriding these issues was its decision to highlight law and order as a key campaign plank and reminding the people about the poor law and order situation when the SP was in power between 2012 and 2017.
A large number of voters (69%) backed the perception that law and order had really improved under Yogi Adityanath. One can keep debating whether this was really the case but we shouldn’t forget the important role played by perception in Indian elections. This helped the BJP in attracting a large number of women voters, specially in UP. Not only did women vote in favour of the BJP in bigger numbers than men (opening up a gap of two percentage points), but their turnout was also higher than men.
The BJP’s claim of rapid development under a “double engine” government (where the party is in power both at the Centre and in the state) was another issue that resonated with voters. This helped in two ways.
In states where the chief minister (CM) was not popular — for example in Uttarakhand, where CM Pushkar Singh Dhami lost his own election despite a big BJP victory – people voted in the name of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In the hill state, 40% of voters said they backed the BJP for Modi.
In states where the CM was popular — UP, where 41% of the people said they wanted to see Yogi Adityanath return as the next CM — the popularity of Modi helped consolidate the party’s strong base.
A final word on the churn in the national Opposition space. The AAP’s superlative showing in Punjab stood in contrast to the Congress’s miserable defeats in all five states. There has been a history of the Congress getting relegated to third or fourth place in many states after a big defeat — think of Bihar, UP, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, and Delhi, where the AAP has pushed the Grand Old Party towards irrelevance. Will the Congress face the same fate in more states in the near future?
Sanjay Kumar is a professor at Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) and a political analyst
The views expressed are personal
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