Decoding BJP’s Choices For 5 States And New Social Engineering Experiment

by Dr A.K Verma - Apr 12, 2016 05:13 PM +05:30 IST
 Decoding BJP’s Choices For 5 States And New Social Engineering ExperimentBJP president Amit Shah ( RAVEENDRAN/AFP/Getty Images)
  • Do the choices for new presidents in five states reveal a grand strategy of the BJP?

The recent appointments of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state unit presidents in Uttar Pradesh (UP), Karnataka, Telangana, Punjab and Arunanchal Pradesh are clear indications of a smart tactical shift in the party’s strategy. The party wants to achieve its twin goals of development and inclusive politics by amalgamating them with social engineering and ideology.

The BJP is an ideology and cadre-based party. Though its cadre comes from several castes and classes, the dominant factor in organizational decision making is mostly based on ideology. It never cared about social engineering as a conscious political strategy. But, some introspection has surely been done on Delhi and Bihar losses after the excellent performance in the Lok Sabha elections in 2014. Was the party leadership negligent of social engineering requirements in winning elections at the provincial levels?

Social Engineering became famous in 2007 when Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Mayawati successfully managed it as an electoral strategy in the UP assembly elections to form a majority government. Before that, UP was infamous for fractured mandates, hung assemblies and coalition governments.

The Congress attempted social engineering in the 2009 Lok Sabha (LS) elections in UP and the BJP in the 2014 LS elections at the national level. But, their social engineering hinged on rainbow coalitions, not sandwich coalitions.

In a rainbow coalition, a political party gets support across all social groups, but in a sandwich coalition there are two dominant social denominations that form the core support base of the party with other social groups also extending support in a limited way.

On careful examination of the newly appointed BJP state presidents, we find that the emphasis is not only on ideology, but also on social profile. Three among them are from the OBCs (UP, Karnataka and Telangana), one from the SCs (Punjab), and one from the STs (Arunanchal). None of them is from among the upper castes. Keshav Prasad Maurya (UP), BS Yeddyurappa (Karnataka) and K Laxman (Telangana) come from the OBCs, Vijay Sampla (Punjab) from SCs and Tapir Gao (Arunanchal) from STs. That shows that the party is consciously targeting that segment of the society which forms about 66.2 percent of population in India (SCs: 16.6 percent, STs: 8.6, OBCs: 41 percent). The rest are upper castes (19 percent) and Muslims (14.2 percent) of which upper castes have been generally voting for BJP and Muslims voting against it.

It is also interesting to note that all the three presidents in major states of UP, Karnataka and Punjab have replaced Brahmins. That demonstrates the party’s preparedness to risk upper caste estrangement. But, the fact is that upper caste loyalties are never cohesive and homogenized; Brahmins can go to Congress and/or BSP, and Thakurs to Samajwadi Party (SP) or any other party, to safeguard their interests. The BJP can never be sure of their holistic support. So, whatever loss comes through upper caste desertions could be compensated by the accretion of Muslim votes that went up to 8 percent for BJP in 2014 LS elections, and which may go further up as BJP is working hard for that.

Besides, it is a visible signal at the national level to reach out to a major chunk of society, that the BJP has given dominant and numerically superior castes responsibility to run the party in their respective states.

In UP, OBCs are a massive 41percent, though they are not homogenized. They are divided in three categories – Yadavs (who form about 19.4 percent of OBC population), more-backward castes (MRBCs:18.17 percent) and most-backward castes (MBCs:61.69 percent). The appointment of Maurya as BJP chief in UP is targeted to rope in the MBCs as Maurya comes from the Kushwaha community which is listed as MBC in official gazette. Also, MBCs do not have any fixed political affiliation and Maurya appointment is likely to increas the party’s support in the community.

Punjab has highest Dalit population (31.9 percent) among Indian states. Dalits are not permanently aligned to any political party though they had been voting Congress in a big way. BSP has only a marginal presence there. By bringing in Sampla, a Dalit as BJP chief, the party wants to rope in the largest segment of Punjab’s electorate. The ruling BJP-Shiromani Akali Dal alliance is facing difficulties owing to anti-incumbency and the rise of Aam Aadmi Party. Dalits supporting the BJP could be the game changer in Punjab that goes to polls along with UP in 2017.

In Karnataka, Yeddyurappa, a Lingayat (OBC) representing 19 percent of the population has been tasked to head the party. His credentials are already proven; he was the first to give the BJP a taste of victory in south India in 2008 though he was later removed on corruption charges. His re-induction just before the 2014 LS elections made a huge difference to the BJP’s fortunes in Karnataka. By reposing faith in him, the BJP surely wants to come back to power in 2018 when the state goes to polls.

BS Yeddyurappa 
BS Yeddyurappa 

Similarly, in Telangana and Arunanchal Pradesh, appointment of K. Laxman and Tapir Gao respectively have been done to attract the largest communities; OBCs in Telangana and STs in Arunanchal. Laxman comes from the Kapu community which is 17 percent of the population in Telangana; soliciting their support could be a good strategy to counter the Telangana Rashtra Samiti and Congress. Arunanchal also went to polls along with Telangana in 2014 and the BJP performed very well there getting 30.97 percent votes. BJP’s strategy is to further consolidate its base and form the next government.

In choosing its new state presidents, the party has not only done social engineering, but also focused on inclusive politics through the lens of class. By inducting Maurya in UP who in the past worked as a tea seller and hawker and Sampla in Punjab with a background of porter and plumber, the BJP is trying to send a message that the party wants to bring to fore people with humble background. The effort is to showcase that the the party wants to give the poor and the deprived sections important and respectable positions in the party leadership structures.

In doing all this, it has not diluted its ideological plank. Most of the incumbents are tuned to the party’s Hindutva ideology. But, the tactical shift has been towards being inclusive, especially towards the marginalized and the downtrodden. And, in doing so, the party has no problem in keeping development at a high pitch. There may be questions about credentials of the new incumbents, but broad party interests trumped over petty personal greed of local politicians.

While the BJP has taken positive steps towards revamping organisational leadership in major poll-bound states, in years to come, it must also take the next consequential step of projecting faces which could take leadership responsibilities if and when the party is called upon to form governments in those states.

A K Verma is Director, Centre for the Study of Society and Politics, Kanpur.

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