10 Apr 2019

The Muslim vote distribution show us three Indias

With most of the media talking about caste/community/religious vote-banks, we decided to show how these narratives don’t take into account the very different Indias that exist side-by-side.

Narendra Nag

In an excellent article in ThePrint today, Hilal Ahmed breaks down how Muslims have been voting in the Modi era.

Muslim votes were also fragmented in the UP election, where 65 per cent Muslims voted for the SP-led coalition, 19 per cent for the BSP and six per cent for the BJP, respectively.

No matter which traditionally defined group you look at you will see votes that defy traditional logic. While it may be tempting to talk about “local factors” that contribute to a “vote splintering” we believe a larger trend is at work.

We see this trend reflected in the bubbles of content and engagement that we find across all platforms. These have been referred to as filter bubbles and echo-chambers online, but they also extend to the physical world. The places we spend our time in reflect the India we belong to. All of this gets expressed in the photos we take and post, the newspapers we end up reading, the TV channels we end up watching.

Another easily-accessible dataset that reflects this really well can be found in the ad-targeting interfaces that self-serve ad-platforms have made available. To try and arrive at your own conclusions, we suggest exploring Tiktok, public Whatsapp groups, and Facebook’s ad platform.

Here’s our interpretation:

There are (at least) three Indians that co-exist side-by-side with very different worldviews. It wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination to suggest that they exist in completely different universes with very little (if any) understanding or empathy.

The first we call a global citizen — their defining characteristic is that they reject their given social identity (caste/religion) and usually use a non-nationalistic passion or behaviour to define themselves. The best way to understand how this cuts across economic classes is to appreciate that some people are Salman Khan fans first, and their caste second (if at all). Or, they care want you to know they are vegan, or climate warriors, or travelers. Their response to nationalism is muted normally — although there is absolutely no rejection of the fact that they are Indian. If anything, they seem to take pride in an alternative Indianness. This manifests itself in different ways, but is an interesting one to watch out for.

The second we call the neo Indian — caste/creed plays a more nuanced role here. They embrace the idea of “Indianness” and so accept they may belong to a particular caste, or practice a particular religion. But they reject the idea that it defines their choices. They all believe that they have the right to assert equality (even superiority) while embracing their caste — the best example would be Tiktok videos where young Dalit boys have their caste shaved into their heads and are asserting their identity. The younger they are, the more likely they are to believe in the notion of an India that is purely meritocratic where each should be rewarded according to what they know/are capable of.

The third we call the classical Indian — they have experienced the negatives associated with their social identity in some form or fashion. This could range from understanding the opportunities not available to them, to poor treatment at the hands of another community. They have also experienced the empowerment that comes with having a member of their community in charge (of something, anything).

The three are unevenly distributed — but you will find more global citizens and neo Indians in urban/semi-urban spaces, while classical Indians dominate the rural landscape.

So, when we talk about how a caste/religious group will vote, we need to be aware that there are very different world-views and aspirations at play within a classically defined group.

And no vote should be taken for granted.

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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