New up­per caste quota: BJP gains to be lim­ited

The Asian Age - - Edit - San­jay Ku­mar

The BJP’s de­feat in three state Assem­bly elec­tions seemed to have wor­ried the BJP lead­er­ship, and it sensed a grow­ing dis­ap­point­ment among the up­per castes to­wards it

From the re­cent an­nounce­ment of the pro­posed pol­icy of re­serv­ing 10 per cent of jobs for the eco­nom­i­cally weaker sec­tions among the up­per castes, the BJP is hop­ing to con­sol­i­date its up­per caste sup­port base, which seemed threat­ened in re­cent years. The BJP’s de­feat in three state Assem­bly elec­tions in Ch­hat­tis­garh, Mad­hya Pradesh and Ra­jasthan seemed to have wor­ried the BJP lead­er­ship, and it sensed a grow­ing dis­ap­point­ment among the up­per castes to­wards it. The BJP is hop­ing that the an­nounce­ment of this pol­icy may be a mas­ter­stroke just be­fore the Lok Sabha elec­tions of 2019. True, the BJP might stand to gain, and may win back at least a large sec­tion of up­per caste vot­ers who had be­gun to desert the BJP, but the elec­toral gains for the BJP over­all may be lim­ited — for two rea­sons. First, the up­per castes are not numer­i­cally very large; and sec­ond, they have been core sup­port­ers of the BJP and have been vot­ing for it in large num­bers be­fore this pol­icy was pro­posed. The pro­posed pol­icy can at best win back some dis­en­chanted up­per caste vot­ers, but it can’t pos­si­bly add too many ad­di­tional votes for the party in 2019.

The up­per castes do play an im­por­tant role in the pol­i­tics of the north­ern In­dian states, but this im­pact is lim­ited to some ex­tent. While there are no of­fi­cial es­ti­mates of up­per castes in dif­fer­ent states, es­ti­mates from the var­i­ous rounds of sur­veys con­ducted by the Cen­tre for the Study of De­vel­op­ing So­ci­eties in­di­cates that up­per castes con­sti­tute roughly be­tween 20 per cent to 30 per cent of the to­tal pop­u­la­tion in dif­fer­ent states, with some ex­cep­tions. Among the Hindi heart­land states, the up­per castes con­sti­tute 18 per cent of the to­tal pop­u­la­tion of Bi­har, 22 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion of Mad­hya Pradesh, 25 per cent of the Ut­tar Pradesh pop­u­la­tion, 50 per cent of the to­tal pop­u­la­tion of Delhi, 20 per cent in Jhark­hand, 23 per cent in Ra­jasthan, 40 per cent in Haryana and 12 per cent of Ch­hat­tis­garh’s to­tal pop­u­la­tion. There are some other nonHindi speak­ing states where the up­per castes are in size­able num­bers — 35 per cent in As­sam, 30 per cent in Gu­jarat, 19 per cent in Kar­nataka, 30 per cent in Ker­ala, 30 per cent in Ma­ha­rash­tra, 20 per cent in Odisha, 10 per cent in Tamil Nadu, 48 per cent in West Ben­gal and 48 per cent in Pun­jab.

While it is true that the BJP pos­si­bly can­not lose votes from this pol­icy, the gains from this pol­icy will be very lim­ited. The rea­sons are sim­ple. In the states where the BJP had per­formed well in 2014, namely Ut­tar Pradesh, Bi­har, Mad­hya Pradesh, Ra­jasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Ut­tarak­hand, J hark hand, Ch­hat­tis­garh and a few oth­ers, the up­per castes had voted for the BJP in very large num­bers. In fact, they formed the back­bone of the sup­port base for the BJP. The CSDS sur­veys in­di­cate

In states where the BJP is not a po­lit­i­cal force to­day, such as Ker­ala, Tamil Nadu or Andhra Pradesh, this pol­icy could hardly mo­ti­vate the up­per castes to vote for it

that a ma­jor­ity of up­per caste vot­ers have voted for the BJP in var­i­ous elec­tions in these Hindi heart­land states. The pro­posed pol­icy can only help the BJP in win­ning back the up­per caste vot­ers who seemed to have just be­gun mov­ing away from the BJP. The re­cent de­feat of the BJP in Ra­jasthan, Mad­hya Pradesh and Ch­hat­tis­garh, be­sides other fac­tors, is also due to the shift­ing of up­per caste vot­ers away from the party. This pro­posed pol­icy and the cri­te­ria of de­ter­min­ing eco­nomic back­ward­ness helps lit­tle as the sug­gested cri­te­ria of de­ter­min­ing back­ward­ness would mean bring­ing a very large pro­por­tion of up­per caste vot­ers into its fold, who are al­ready core sup­port­ers of the BJP. The pol­icy sug­gests the cri­te­ria of eco­nomic back­ward­ness will be of those hav­ing an an­nual in­come of less than ` 8 lakhs, or those hav­ing less than five hectares of agri­cul­tural land, or those hav­ing a flat of less than 1,000 sq. ft. or ow­ing land of less than 100 yards in a no­ti­fied mu­nic­i­pal­ity or less than 200 yards in a non­no­ti­fied lo­cal­ity. Given these sug­gested bench­marks, in most like­li­hood nearly 85- 90 per cent of up­per castes might come un­der the am­bit of reser­va­tions.

In states where the BJP is not a po­lit­i­cal force to­day, such as Ker­ala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh or Te­lan­gana, this pol­icy could hardly mo­ti­vate the up­per castes to vote for it. The pol­i­tics of most of these states are dom­i­nated by the re­gional par­ties, and it is dif­fi­cult to imag­ine that the BJP could take cen­trestage in the pol­i­tics of these states in 2019 just be­cause up­per castes would get mo­bilised in its favour due to the ex­pected gains from this reser­va­tion pol­icy. So the BJP will have lim­ited gains or no gains in these states com­pared to 2014.

There are a few other states, like West Ben­gal or Odisha, where the BJP was rel­a­tively a weak po­lit­i­cal force in 2014, but there are sig­nals of the party emerg­ing stronger in re­cent years. But it is im­por­tant to note that the BJP’s emer­gence in these two states has noth­ing to do with the shift­ing of up­per caste votes to­wards it. It is largely due to the p e o p l e ’ s dis­en­chant­ment with the rul­ing party of the state, the Tri­na­mul Con­gress in West Ben­gal and the Biju Janata Dal in Odisha, and the ab­sence of any other vi­able al­ter­na­tive in these states. The BJP man­aged to emerge as a po­lit­i­cal force in some states play­ing the re­li­gious card, As­sam be­ing an ex­am­ple. The BJP might well emerge stronger in these states in 2019 com­pared to 2014, but that may not be due to the shift of up­per caste votes in the BJP’s favour in these states. Thus, the BJP gov­ern­ment’s move for 10 per cent reser­va­tion for the eco­nom­i­cally poor up­per castes in ed­u­ca­tion and in jobs is un­likely to de­liver any sig­nif­i­cant elec­toral ben­e­fits for the party in these states.

The pro­posed reser­va­tion pol­icy has the abil­ity to cre­ate a lot of noise, to bring this to the cen­trestage of In­dian pol­i­tics be­fore the 2019 elec­tion as no po­lit­i­cal party could pos­si­bly op­pose it openly, but even then, the gains for the BJP may not be to the ex­tent that the party is hop­ing for.

The writer is a pro­fes­sor and cur­rently the di­rec­tor of the Cen­tre for the Study of De­vel­op­ing So­ci­eties ( CSDS). The views ex­pressed here are per­sonal.

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