Lucknow: Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) workers celebrate, outside SP office in Lucknow on March 14, 2018. SP on Wednesday took winning leads in both the Lok Sabha seats of Gorakhpur and Phulpur. With BSP backing its bitter rival SP, BJP appeared to be heading for a shock defeat. (Photo: IANS)

Dalits, Tribals & UP Lead Pushback Against Modi, Show Surveys

If the latest opinion polls are anything to go by, Prime Minister Narendra Modi could win a second term in office, however, with a thinner majority than the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The latest State of the Nation Survey by C-Voter predicts that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance could win 265 seats, just seven short of the halfway mark, while the India TV-CNX survey gives it a clear majority with 285 seats.

Though India Today’s Political Stock Exchange does’t give seat predictions, it says that 52 percent of voters want Modi to be the next prime minister.

The surveys indicate that support for the NDA has surged due to two main reasons: The Pulwama attacks and the subsequent air strikes in Balakot, and the BJP forging an alliance with the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra.

However, the BJP is facing a serious pushback on three fronts in particular: Dalit and tribal voters across India, the SP-BSP-RLD Mahagathbandhan in Uttar Pradesh and the Northeastern states.

Dalits, Tribals Drifting Away from BJP

Data from India Today’s Political Stock Exchange reveals a clear caste divide around the support for PM Modi. While support for Modi has surged among Upper Castes and OBCs in the last two months, it has reduced among Dalits and Tribals.

Besides the increasing focus on terrorism after the Pulwama attacks and Balakot strike, this surge in support could also be due to the BJP’s announcement of a quota for Economically Weaker Sections in the general category.

In contrast to the falling support for Modi among Dalits and Tribals, the popularity of Congress President Rahul Gandhi has increased among these sections. Rahul Gandhi also has a significant lead among Muslim voters with 61 percent preferring him as the next PM compared to 18 percent for Modi.

This data goes against the assumption that people cutting across castes and communities will consolidate behind PM Modi due to the Pulwama attack.

State-Wise View

Along with caste, there is a clear regional dimension to this as well. The change in support for Modi in the past two months varies from state to state.

The biggest gain for the BJP comes from Maharashtra, where it is largely due to the finalisation of its alliance with the Shiv Sena, and Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, where it has tied up with the ruling AIADMK and smaller parties.

Other than these states, the change in support for the NDA ranges from a 4.2 percent vote-share increase in Bihar to a 9.8 percent fall in vote-share in Meghalaya and Nagaland. In fact, the BJP has also lost ground in Assam, which indicates that the Citizenship Bill mess could be harming it across much of the Northeast.

The party’s vote share is said to have increased in West Bengal as well but as of now, this isn’t helping it much in terms of seats. However, the C-Voter survey continues to predict gains for the BJP in Odisha.

While the BJP has made some gains in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh – states which it had lost in the Assembly elections last year – it continues to fall in the politically significant state of Uttar Pradesh.

The data from Uttar Pradesh indicates that the single biggest blow to the BJP is coming from the SP-BSP-RLD Mahagathbandhan. The C-Voter survey gives the Mahagathbandhan 47 seats against the NDA’s 29. Despite the Pulwama attacks, the combined vote share of the alliance has marginally increased since two months ago while that of the NDA has fallen by 1 percent.

Key Takeaways

  • The biggest gains for the BJP are because of alliances, not so much its aggressive national security pitch.
  • The non-alliance related gains for the BJP are mainly from eastern and northern India.
  • The pushback to the BJP is strongest in states where a regional issue is driving the mobilisation against it: The Citizenship Bill in Meghalaya, Nagaland, Manipur and Assam and the Special Status issue in Andhra Pradesh.
  • In Uttar Pradesh, the alliance of leaders like Akhilesh Yadav, Mayawati and Ajit Singh – who have strong support among their respective caste groups as well as Muslims – appear to be inflicting heavy losses on the BJP.
  • PM Modi has succeeded in consolidating Upper Castes and OBCs – but he has failed to address the anger among Dalits and Tribals.
  • The BJP’s popularity has reduced by 1 percent in its bastion Gujarat. This is surprising as it should have expected to gain in the state in the pro-Modi surge after the Pulwama attack. We need to watch this space as this decline could potentially accelerate once Patidar leader Hardik Patel joins the Congress and begins campaigning for it.

The big picture is that Modi’s nationalistic narrative following the Pulwama Attack has excited the BJP’s core voters in its core states. However, it is being pushed back wherever caste leaders and regional forces are pushing strong counter-narratives like in UP, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab and the Northeast.