19 Apr 2019

The BJP's formidable post-caste bloc

There is an aspirational voter who rejects the idea that their lives should be defined by their caste. This voter has been captured almost entirely by the BJP and represents a formidable bloc.

Narendra Nag

While it is convenient to assume that this voter is primarily urban, what we are seeing across Uttar Pradesh is a voter who is keen to get a move on and feels like they are being held back by traditional notions of propriety.

Convinced that the only way to fix a broken system is to completely destroy it and rebuild it from the ground up, they are attracted to radical rhetoric. And they refuse to believe someone isn’t at fault — a previous generation, a different social group, the rich, the poor, the educated, the uneducated — everyone is fair game in this search for someone to blame.

A sub-section presents impressively cogent arguments on forums like Reddit, Bharat Rakshak and Quora, arguing that years of apathy by Congress governments in particular has led to this situation. This argument has many takers and some substance.

In 2014, Mr Modi captured the imagination of this group with his anti-Congress, deeply aspirational, and aggressive rhetoric. In him they saw not just a leader, but an answer to the caricatured Congress politician.

The difference isn’t just in the substance of what is said by Mr Modi and his BJP, but it shines through in the clear sartorial difference. It would be worth remembering that till Mr Modi burst onto the national stage in his colored jackets and fitted kurtas, every politician wore some version of badly fitted kurta-pyjamas, or white shirts and trousers. The party rank and file became easily recognisable as they adopted these sartorial choices in double quick time.

For this voter looking for a change, Mr Modi and his brand of aggressive Indianness represents real hope.

It is this voter that forms a formidable “bank” for the BJP in this and future elections. It is this voter who is coming out to vote for Mr Modi on a single issue — there is no alternative to him. And it is this voter where we find confusion about why Mr Modi hasn’t focused on a message rooted in aspiration instead of nationalism. They truly believe that everything he has done in the last five years has worked. They cannot understand why anyone would not believe in Mr Modi.

This, then, is how the BJP could stage a recovery in the last three phases of this election cycle (starting with the Kanpur-urban seat in Phase 4). A narrative rooted in aspiration that addresses employment generation, the promise of new structural reform (what’s the Niti Aayog equivalent in 2019?), and an attack on traditional social structures would resonate with these voters and encourage them to convince others to vote for Modi as they would be able to answer, why Modi, with a far more rational argument.

As simple as this sounds, it may be very hard for Mr Modi to pull off: he would have to walk away from the presidential contest he is waging with Mr Rahul Gandhi (but this would cost him in other parts of the country). He would have to acknowledge the BSP-SP-RLD coalition as the chief opponent in Uttar Pradesh and accept the BJP candidates need to represent this message and aspiration, and not just caste arithmetic. And he would have to figure out what to do about Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath — someone who stands in direct contrast to the future-forward persona Mr Modi projects.

This voter is not going away. They want to vote for Mr Modi in this election, and even if the BSP-SP-RLD combine manages to beat the BJP in this cycle, this voter will turn up in the next election.

The BJP faces the critical challenge of being the party these voters want them to be. And the Congress, SP, BSP and other parties need to figure out how to become a party that has something to offer these voters.

These notes are an experiment in data-driven points of view. We are immersing ourselves in information screens and data patterns and allowing ourselves to connect dots. We emerge to write a note — like the one you’re reading — which is our best understanding at a given moment in time. We believe ourselves to be correct in the moment, but are happy to be proven wrong. In either case we learn and improve.

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