How The BJP Transformed From A Party Of Urban Rich, Upper Castes Into A Party Of Rural Poor, Lower Castes Too

Swarajya Staff

Nov 27, 2019, 03:38 PM | Updated 03:38 PM IST

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Home Minister Amit Shah.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Home Minister Amit Shah.
  • The stupendous victory in 2019 can be attributed to the greater ‘proletarianisation’ of the BJP, driven by the efficient delivery of public and private goods to crores of beneficiaries in rural areas.
  • The victory of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2019 general election didn’t come as a surprise to anyone and certainly not to those who had their ear to the ground. However, the scale of it was something only a few had anticipated.

    Even those correspondents who travelled extensively and reported from various constituencies (like yours truly) documenting the Modi phenomenon that was sweeping the country underestimated its intensity.

    The party besting its 2014 figure and even crossing the 300 seat mark, a first in 35 years by any single party, forced political pundits to go back to drawing board and re-analyse the reasons for such a historic sweep.

    This win was more significant in light of the prevailing economic conditions which were not favourable for the ruling party, And while bad economics and good politics, though, may go together, winning such a huge mandate seemed many times harder.

    GDP growth was slowing down, unemployment was rising, poor growth of agriculture sector was leading to mass farm protests and the economy had not fully recovered from twin shocks of demonetisation and Goods and Services tax (GST).

    Not to speak of the fact that candidate Modi overpromised during the 2014 campaign, but PM Modi underdelivered.

    The voters gave a major scare to the BJP in Gujarat and then a big jolt in the elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh just a few months before the general election.

    Recovering from these and registering one of the most impressive triumphs was no mean achievement.

    How did the BJP do it?

    Diego Maiorano of Institute of South Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore has written a paper on the performance of the BJP in 2019 general election and its ‘ruralisation’ despite weak performance on the agriculture front.

    Using post-poll data, he analysed the voting behaviour of the rural poor (including the farmers) which showed that the BJP drew significant support from rural voters across caste and class.

    “Far from being a party of the urban upper classes and castes, the results of the 2019 elections mark the culmination of a decades-long process of ruralisation and ‘proletarianisation’ of the party,” he reckons.

    Maiorano lists four ways in which the BJP achieved this feat, which seemed impossible when the campaigning started.

    First, the silent labharthi delivered for the party in spades. The BJP bet big on delivering common public and private goods to crores of beneficiaries in rural areas, be it opening bank accounts, building toilets in villages, supplying LPG cylinders to poor women and constructing houses on an unprecedented scale.

    The BJP got 16 crore votes in 2014 and the beneficiaries of these schemes were more than 22 crore in five years.

    On top of it, the government launched a massive health insurance scheme called Ayushman Bharat and moved fast on building roads connecting villages to cities on a mission mode as well as providing power connection fulfilling PM Modi’s vision to electrify 18,000-odd villages.

    These goods may not have transformed lives in a radical manner but it created immense goodwill for PM Modi among the masses. For the first time, crores of poor people got some concrete public goods in such a short time.

    For the first time, they got the sense that the government cared for them and was working for their benefit.

    This was also the main reason for the BJP’s stunning performance, which cut across caste and class lines. As Maiorano writes, “These schemes of the government contributed to the idea that development is for all, irrespective of one’s caste or party affiliation, as distribution and implementation were highly centralised and followed rigid and neutral policy guidelines, rather than local-level political considerations.”

    Second, the rural distress which resulted in various caste-based agitations (such as by Jats, Patidars and Marathas) for reservations tormented the BJP no end. But in the last parliament session before the elections, the BJP addressed this problem by giving 10 per cent quota in government jobs and education institutions to economic backward classes, hitherto uncovered by the reservation system.

    The agrarian distress was real and was reflecting in various indicators. The nominal Gross Value Added (GVA) of agriculture collapsed and so did food inflation, which severely impacted incomes of farmers.

    The upside was that consumers in rural as well as in urban areas benefited. As Maiorano notes, “The wholesale price index for food articles increased by 15.7 per cent. Between 2005 and 2012, by contrast, the WPI had increased by 120 per cent.”

    Runaway inflation had dug the political grave of the Congress and helped the BJP in 2014.

    Under Modi, it went in the opposite extreme direction, thus hurting those dependent on agriculture for livelihood.

    Modi-led BJP didn’t ignore this ground reality. It slowly started increasing the budget for agriculture in 2016-17 and gave a massive expenditure boost in the 2019 budget by launching PM Kisan Yojana, which proposed giving 10 crore farmer families Rs 6,000 each year in three installments.

    They received two installments just before the election and helped turn the sentiment in Modi’s favour.

    The amount was meagre but what mattered was, again, a proactive government always ready to listen to the people’s woes and responding accordingly.

    Implementing the Swaminathan report and increasing Minimum Support Price was another such move.

    The result?

    “Irrespective of the definition of agricultural constituencies, the BJP’s SR (strike rate in terms of seats won vs contested) and VS (vote share) are higher, across elections (2014 vs 2019), in agricultural constituencies, than in urban ones” and in constituencies where “higher the number of people whose livelihoods depend on agriculture, the higher the BJP’s vote share.”

    As far as BJP’s appeal across castes is concerned, Maiorano infers, “while the BJP increased its support among all agricultural classes, irrespective of caste, the larger gains have been among SCs and OBCs.”

    Mairorano credits structural changes taking place in the society for BJP’s expansion to rural areas and its appeal cutting across castes. The lines between urban and rural India are blurring.

    “The increasing pace of urbanisation; the existence of better infrastructures and transportation links between rural and urban areas; the diversification of the sources of income of many farmers into the urban economy; and the expansion of temporary migration by rural dwellers to urban areas are all factors that make rural voters more and more connected to the urban world. This might also help explain the convergence of urban and rural voters’ behaviour in favour of the BJP,” he concludes.

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