Ahead of crucial 2019 Lok Sabha elections, in Monday’s cabinet meeting, the Modi government approved 10 percent reservation for economically weaker section belonging to general category. It means that non-Dalits, non-Other Backward Classes, and non-tribals — essentially, the upper castes will be also eligible for reservation. This advantage to the general category was not available previously. The Muslims, Christians, and people belonging to other religions would also be the beneficiaries of the new quota.
The move has come after the BJP’s defeat in the three Hindi heartland states- Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh- in the recently concluded state assembly elections. It is widely attributed that one of the reasons behind the BJP’s defeats in these states is because of its stance on SC/ST Act which generated a backlash among its traditional upper caste support base. The disgruntled upper caste voters either voted for other parties or most have pressed NOTA which led to BJP’s defeat in these three states of Hindi heartland.
In Madhya Pradesh, there were total 11 seats where BJP’s margin of defeat was less than that of NOTA’s vote share. Around 1.5 percent of the total voters went for the ‘none of the above’ in Madhya Pradesh.
In Rajasthan elections, around 15 constituencies witnessed more votes in the favor of NOTA than the margin of victory of winning candidates.
It would not be pragmatic to argue that all the NOTA votes would have gone in BJP’s favor. However, it is quite clear that a vast majority of those supporting NOTA as a voting option was disillusioned BJP supporters who didn’t consider Congress as an option.
For more details: Eleven constituencies where NOTA defeated BJP in Madhya Pradesh
For more details: NOTA emerges as the sole differentiator between the BJP and victory
Upper caste voters are electorally very important for the political parties, elites among upper castes enjoy huge political domination. According to this Hindustan Times report, Upper castes continue to have a disproportionate share among MLAs in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. The share of upper caste MLAs in the newly elected Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh assembly is 27% and 37% respectively. Rajputs have increased their political dominance. Ignoring concern of such a strong politically dominant group- Upper castes- is politically suicidal move for any political party. According to many political analysts, the BJP failed to address the concerns of this group, and it paid the price of it with electoral defeats.
One of the main causes behind the anger of upper caste voters was the BJP’s stand on SC/ST act row, and the BJP’s backing for reservation for Dalits in promotions. A senior BJP leader quoted by Economic Times said, “After all this, in Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s remark during the campaign in Gwalior region – that no one can finish reservation – had further ignited the upper-caste anger. In Rajasthan, the reason behind the anger of Rajput community was Padmavat movie row, and Anandpal encounter case. It contributed to alienating them from the BJP.”
However, the latest move of granting new quota will help the BJP to win back angry upper caste voters and would provide impetus to consolidate its traditional upper caste voters in its favor ahead of the crucial 2019 Lok Sabha elections especially in the Hindi heartland states. The BJP had won 62 out of 65 Lok Sabha seats in 2014 general elections in the three states of Hindi heartland which recently elected the new government. A disgruntled group of upper caste voters would have damaged the BJP’s tally badly in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh in the upcoming 2019 general elections. The move to grant 10 percent reservation for economically weaker section belonging to the general category would definitely pacify the upper caste voters and they will come back to the fold of the BJP.
Not just Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, the BJP has reclaimed all other Hindi heartland states in one swift move. The BJP has also doused the fire of various reservation movements in different states. Under the new quota scheme- dominant castes like Thakurs, Kapus, Marathas, Bhumihars, Jats, Patels, Brahmins, and Banias will get the benefits of reservation on the economic and the financial basis. These castes were demanding reservation from a very long time and were restive because of lack of opportunities in government sector. They blamed “caste quotas” for their plight. So not just Savarnas’, the BJP has successfully made inroads among large chunk of Jats, Patels and Marathas who are also the beneficiaries of the PM Modi led NDA government’s latest move. The BJP governments in Haryana (Jats), Gujarat (Patidar) and Maharashtra (Marathas) have faced the anger of dominant castes who have been demanding reservation for their communities and carried out many violent agitations for the same since the BJP led NDA came to power in 2014. The opposition parties were banking on the anger of these communities for 2019 Lok Sabha elections, but with just one move PM Modi spoiled their entire poll strategy and earned the goodwill of these dominant castes.
The move went on to thwart the entire narrative of the cabal to foment so-called ‘Savarna’ hatred against the Modi government by projecting him as ‘anti-upper caste’. The underlying theme of the manufactured outrage has been that BJP is pandering towards the SC/ST community insofar as to compromise with the interests of the so-called Savarna groups (mostly Brahmins and Thakurs).
Huge setback for Mishra/Jha types mediapidis involved in the project to foment so called ‘Savarna’ hatred against Modi by projecting him as ‘anti- upper caste’. Tasted some success in MP by stoking UC anger. Plan was to break OBC-Non Jatav SC social coalition in UP https://t.co/D9ezcY2p29
— Prasanna Viswanathan (@prasannavishy) January 7, 2019
The new quota would not have any impact on the reservation for SCs, STs, and OBCs. The Modi government’s decision to provide 10 percent reservation to ‘economically backward’ weaker section of general category does not fall under the 50 percent quota cap as directed by the apex court of India. According to an Indian Express report, the SCs, who constitute 20 percent of the entire population in India, gets 15 percent reservation in the government sector. Scheduled Tribes, comprising 9 percent of the population, gets 7.5 percent reservation while communities belonging to OBCs are provided with 27 percent reservation. Together, all these groups constitute about 70 percent of the population and get 49.5 percent reservation in the government sector. It is the rest 30 percent or 39 crores belonging to the general category which will get the benefit of new quota category announced by the Modi government.
So, Modi government without angering SCs, STs and OBCs managed to grant quota to economically weaker section belonging to general category. The opposition political parties after initially dubbing the move as ‘political gimmick’ decided to support it. They are in catch 22 situation. In the parliament, if opposition parties decide to go against 10% quota for economically weaker ‘upper castes’ then they risk losing votes of a member belonging to upper castes. If they support then it’s the BJP which will get the credit. The BJP has killed many birds with one stone.
With the democratization of quota, the caste alignment would see a catalyst change in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. It will affect the electoral arithmetic of Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh who have formed a grand-coalition with an aim to counter the BJP’s might in the state and to consolidate 85% vote bank comprising Dalits, OBCs and Muslims in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.
Uttar Pradesh became one of the crusaders of caste politics in the 90s. Dalits owed their loyalty to BSP, Yadavs, and Muslims to SP and Sawarna Caste Voters to BJP. The caste breakup of 2017 Uttar Pradesh assembly elections was:
OBC – 29%
Muslim – 20%
Dalits – 14%
Yadav – 10%
Brahmins – 10%
Rajput – 8%
Other SC – 7%
Jat – 2%
Currently, among these caste groups, Yadavs, Muslims and Dalits owe their allegiance to the two strong local leaders in UP, Akhilesh Yadav, and BSP supremo Mayawati.
However, in politics 2+2 is not always equal to 4, the best example of which is the 2017 UP assembly elections. The BJP’s core vote banks are voters of Savarna Caste (Brahmin, Baniya, and Kshatriya) and Non-Jatav Dalits who voted for the BJP en masse in 2017 UP assembly elections. Non-Yadav OBCs also voted for the BJP in large numbers in the 2017 elections. OBCs are considered as king-makers in UP, almost every non-Yadav OBC caste is batting for the BJP especially after the reports of OBC reservation changes. The new quota move would further solidify BJP’s core vote bank- Savarna.
For more details: CM Yogi bats for a fair distribution of OBC quota
The SP-BSP coalition may look good at the leadership level but at the cadre level, it is a formula for disaster. They lack a Nitish Kumar like figure to ensure vote transfer as it happened in Bihar. And it’s an open secret that all is not well between Dalits and Yadavs. There exists a traditional rivalry between both the communities and hence a seamless vote transfer in 2019 is just a remote possibility and chances of huge cross voting are very high which will only benefit the BJP.
From the past few months, the Congress was trying to portray itself as a party favoring upper castes and targeted the BJP over the SC/ST act ordinance and its party president left no stone unturned to appease upper caste voters, his party declared him as Janeudhari Hindu. But the latest move of the BJP has left the Congress stunned, now the BJP will definitely ask in its election rallies that if the Congress was so much worried about the welfare of upper caste then why it didn’t provide quota on the economic basis to the weaker section of general category.
Support of Upper castes is necessary for any political party, even the BSP changed its political strategy in 2007 in order to appease members belonging to upper castes. It came up with political plank- Sarv Samaj. The so-called Dalit leaders do not enjoy a monopoly over Dalit voters anymore they need the support of other upper castes also in order to come to power.
As far as Mayawati is concerned, the BJP has already made a significant dent in her Dalit vote bank by bringing non-Jatav Dalit voters in its fold in UP in 2017 state assembly elections. It won 69 of the state’s 85 reserved seats. Rahul Pandita in his article titled ‘Which way will Behen ji go?’ writes, “Mayawati lost a portion of her Dalit voters—16 percent from her own Jatav caste and 35 percent other Dalit voters in 2014 as compared to 2009, according to data put out by National Election Studies. “
New Dalit leaders like Chandrashekhar have also emerged in the state. Recently, BSP’s vice-president and national coordinator, Jai Prakash Singh also joined the Bhim Army.
All is not well within the SP. In September, the SP strongman, Shivpal Yadav formed his own ‘Secular Morcha.’ He has given place to big faces that were once a part of the Akhilesh’s cabinet. It includes the names of Shadab Fatima and Sharda Pratap Shukla. Shivpal Yadav had asked the loyal members to join his faction for the sake of old loyalties, especially towards the ex-supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav. Shivpal Yadav has the support of some of the senior and strong members of the SP which is not a good sign for Akhilesh. With his exit, the SP has become weaker to some extent. It is important to note that Akhilesh has been the face of the party for the last 6 years, but it is Shivpal Yadav who has the cadres and the organizational strength. Shivpal enjoys a good rapport with the old loyalists of the party. The ‘Samajwadi Secular Morcha’ is nothing less than a blessing in disguise for BJP. And in the days to come, controversy regarding seat sharing between the SP-BSP will also emerge. It would be interesting to see how many seats the Mahagathbandhan would allocate for only half of SP’s strength?
The Yadav votes are likely to get divided in UP between Shivpal led Secular Morcha and Akhilesh Yadav led SP. At a time when there are huge chances that votes of caste-based political parties like SP and BSP would get divided, the BJP is working to consolidate its core- Savarna vote bank- and also trying its level best to bring a larger chunk of non-Yadav OBC and non-Jatav Dalit vote bank in its favor.
As for Bihar, the electoral equations are totally in favor of the NDA. They were in the favor of the BJP even before the new quota move. For starters, all partners within the NDA boast of strong and firm leadership. While Sushil Modi is the undisputed leader of Bihar BJP unit, LJP possesses strong leadership in Ram Vilas Paswan. With such strong leadership one can expect a well organised and co-ordinated campaign by NDA in the state which will send opponents in the state packing. The NDA also has well-structured social engineering in its favour. The BJP has a voter base among the upper castes. Similarly, Nitish Kumar has hold of Kurmi and EBC votes in Bihar. Nitish Kumar is also popular as the chief minister of Bihar and is bound to bring greater vote share for the NDA in Bihar. Similarly, Ram Vilas Paswan has sway over Dalits and Mahadalits in the state of Bihar. The main opposition party, RJD holds control over Yadav voter but the RJD is also facing declining fortunes in Bihar. With Lalu already in jail the party lacks potent leadership. Tejashwi Yadav and Tej Pratap Yadav are involved in infighting over leadership of the party.
UP and Bihar together send 120 MPs to the Lok Sabha, and it is said that road to Delhi’s throne goes through these two states. The BJP also knows this well, and its latest move to provide 10 percent reservation for economically weaker section belonging to the general category is in the direction to keep its Savarna vote intact and combine it with OBCs especially non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits to create an invincible voter bloc in these two states. The move will have its reverberations across the Hindi heartland in the states such as Andhra Pradesh (Kapus), Maharashtra (Marathas) etc. The new general quota move would also change the narrative around the reservation system. Once the economic-based reservation system is implemented for weaker sections of the general category then the demands to apply the same yardstick to the OBC, SC, and ST would definitely rise. The members of the general category were demanding reservation on the economic basis from a very long time, and now the Modi government has taken a strong and decisive step in fulfilling their long pending demand. Overall, this move is politically significant as it marks the launch of BJP’s election campaign for 2019 Lok Sabha elections. It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that the move is no less than a political surgical strike.
Get real time updates about our posts directly on your device