IDE Research Columns
Rise of a Hindu Nationalist Party—Emergence of Majoritarian Democracy with a Heterogeneous Support Base in the Biggest State in India
(Former researcher at IDE-JETRO)
The rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is a Hindu nationalist party in India, over the last decade has been phenomenal. My research shows the process of the rapid expansion of the BJP in the most significant northern state, Uttar Pradesh, based on the aggregate data of elections and population data. The result confirms that the BJP’s phenomenal growth in the state has been due to its absorption of various peripheral castes/communities, which were traditionally support bases of the rival parties, into the BJP hold. Moreover, this change is observed more clearly in the areas where socioeconomic modernization is advanced.
The Rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
The rise of the BJP, a Hindu nationalist party, in the last decade has been a remarkable phenomenon in the political history of India after independence. Several factors explain the success of the BJP in the elections in the Lower House of Union in 2014 and 2019. For instance, the previous coalition administration led by the Indian National Congress (INC) party had several limitations, such as poor economic management and scandals. Moreover, the leader’s popularity, Narendra Modi of the BJP, has been an important factor, which is shown in a few opinion polls.
At present the electoral support for the BJP is solid and conspicuous in the western and Hindi-speaking states, including the Uttar Pradesh (UP) state, the biggest in the country. The electoral success in the 2017 and 2022 elections for the UP state assembly was remarkable.
Several survey-based studies, such as those undertaken by the Centre for the Studies of Developing Societies (CSDS), have examined the support bases of the BJP. Survey-based studies are crucial for understanding how people vote. Conversely, studies based on aggregate data have their own merits to see the influence of macro factors like socioeconomic development. However, we must be careful not to commit an “electoral fallacy” while interpreting the result of the statistical exercise based on aggregate data. I conducted a statistical analysis based on the aggregate data of the 2017 election for the UP state assembly.
Study of Voting Behaviors Based on Aggregate Data
Several key factors must be considered to comprehend voting practices in India. One is the influence of ethnic, communal, and caste identities, which has been traditionally the central theme of election studies. Furthermore, numerous academics have studied the effects of socioeconomic modernization, party policies and ideologies, and candidate personal profiles.
I analyzed the percentage votes polled by the BJP, the INC, and the main regional parties, namely, the Bahujan Samaj Party (Majority Society Party: BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (Socialist Party: SP) in the 2017 UP state assembly election as dependent variables through regression analysis. The BSP is a party mainly based on the support of “Scheduled Castes” (SCs). SCs are the most vulnerable in the Hindu society because of their historical and social discrimination. The SP’s supporters are basically members of middle castes who work as farmers on lands of moderate size. Muslims are another vital support base of the SP, which is as backward as the SCs in the UP state (Kondo ). In the 2017 state assembly election, the BJP obtained 39.67% of the votes, while the SP received 21.82%, the BSP earned 22.23%, and the INC garnered 6.25%.
Independent variables include population percentages depending on caste, religion, economic strata, etc. Additionally, I included the degree of socioeconomic modernization, which is measured by the percentages of urban population, literacy, households with tap water, and households with electrical light through principal component analysis.
The main findings are as follows:
- People in the modernized areas tend to support the BJP.
- BJP received more votes in the areas with a significant number of agricultural workers and farmers with sizable land holdings.
- BJP obtained fewer votes in the areas where more Muslims live. Muslims are clearly anti-BJP.
- BJP obtained fewer votes in the areas where the percentage of SCs in the population is high.
- It is confirmed that the BSP is based on the support of the SCs. However, it is estimated that some marginal sections of the SCs other than the core SCs supporters of the BSP supported the BJP according to the regression result that the agricultural laborers, whose central portion comprises the SCs people, tend to support the BJP as explained previously. Additionally, the BSP obtained less support in the more modernized areas.
- It is acknowledged that farmers, not agricultural workers or members of the SCs, make up the support base of the SP, and the SP has less support in the more modernized areas. The SP is a party of farmers in rural areas, with middle castes making up most of its membership.
- The SP and INC coalition keeps a firm Muslim support base.
- Socioeconomic modernization tends to accelerate the fluidity of people–party relations.
BJP Created Heterogenous Majority
Overall, it can be estimated that the BJP has grown and made success in the 2017 UP state assembly election by absorbing the peripheral support castes/communities of the main opposition parties, namely, the SP and the BSP, while its traditional support bases, such as high castes and middle classes, have been firmly kept under its hold. These findings are consistent with survey-based studies like that conducted by the CSDS in 20171. This process is seen in the more modernized areas.
In a sense, the BJP succeeded in the UP state to create a heterogenous majority electorate as its support base in 2017. In the 2012 state assembly election, a three-cornered party system comprised the SP, the BSP, and the BJP. Each party firmly held its caste and religious support bases (Kondo ). In the 2017 state assembly election, the BJP succeeded in attracting the marginal castes/community electorates in the SP and the BSP, which resulted in the formation of heterogeneous majority support bases. The statistical research based on the aggregate data revealed the importance of socioeconomic modernization as an accelerator of these processes.
This heterogeneous majority support of the BJP was again observed in the 2022 state assembly election. The case of the UP state might imply the possibility of the same kind of change toward forming a heterogeneous support base for ruling parties in the other states where modernization has been in progress.
This column is based on: Kondo, Norio. 2021. “Creating Majoritarian Democracy: Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2017 Legislative Assembly Election in Uttar Pradesh.” In The Dynamics of Conflict and Peace in Contemporary South Asia—The State, Democracy and Social Movements, edited by Minoru Mio, Kazuya Nakamizo, and Tatsuro Fujikura, 20–40. New York: Routledge.
- According to the survey conducted by Lokniti program at CSDS in 2017, 79% of Jatav (or Chamar, one of the major SC) supported the BSP. Concerning other SC (excluding Jatav), 47% supported the BSP, 24% supported the BJP and its allied parties, and 21% supported the SP and its allied parties. Concerning the SP, 73% of Yadav (one of the major middle-level castes) supported the SP. Furthermore, 74% of Muslims supported the SP. Nevertheless, only 20% of other middle-level castes (excluding Yadav and Kurmi) supported the SP. In comparison, 34% supported the BJP and its allied parties, and 16% supported the BSP (CSDS 2017).
CSDS (Centre for the Study of Developing Societies) . 2017. “Uttar Pradesh Pre-Election Tracker Survey, Round-3, January 2017.” https://www.lokniti.org/media/PDF-upload/1538111211_51917900_download_report.pdf (accessed November 23, 2017).
Kondo, Norio. 2011. “Electric Light and Minorities: The Provision of Semi-public Goods to Weaker Sections in India.” In Inclusiveness in India: A Strategy for Growth and Equality (IDE-JETRO Series), edited by Shigemochi Hirashima, Hisaya Oda, and Yuko Tsujita, 175–209. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Kondo, Norio. 2014. “Communal Riots and States: A Comparative Study of Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh.” In Democratic Transformation and the Vernacular Public Arena in India, edited by Taberez Ahmed Neyazi, Akio Tanabe, and Shinya Ishizaka, 190–208. New York: Routledge.
* Thumbnail photo: Narendra Modi being received by the Governor of Uttar Pradesh, Shri Ram Naik, the Union Home Minister, Shri Rajnath Singh and the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister designate Yogi Adityanath, on his arrival, at Lucknow. (Prime Minister's Office (GODL-India) via Wikimedia Commons)
** The views expressed in the columns are those of the author(s) and do not represent the views of IDE or the institutions with which the authors are affiliated.