Intent vs ability- Why BJP seems to have its heart in the right place

‘BJP has done nothing for Hindus’. ‘They are no different from Congress’. ‘They have just used Hindus as a springboard to get to power and left them in the lurch after that’. These quotes sound familiar, don’t they?

If you are BJP supporter then more often than not, you would have at least heard these quotes, if not used them yourself. Ever since BJP came to power, they have been under constant scrutiny of media, opponents and not so surprisingly of their own supporters. Former accused BJP of pursuing unabashed pro Hindu policies, whereas at the same time latter feels let down because of BJP not pursuing those very policies enough.

Let’s look at some of the common reasons cited by upset BJP supporters:

  1. Even after 4 years in power Anti-Hindu RTE stays
  2. Temples are still under government control
  3. Challenges arising due to demographic changes caused by growing minority population have not been addressed
  4. They haven’t done much about their usual commitments of repealing Art 370, resettling Kashmiri Pandits in the valley and bringing Uniform Civil Code.

None of the above mentioned concerns are unreasonable. However, there is little to suggest that voting BJP out would improve the situation on any of the above. Far from it, situation is likely to be worse if fate of Hindus in some of the non BJP states like West Bengal is anything to go by.

At the same time it would be naive to think that BJP leadership is unaware of backlash from core Hindu voters and are ignoring Hindu issues for some minority votes which have eluded them so far.

Is BJP vote-bloc a monolith?

Unlike Congress, BJP supporters or more specifically their voters in 2014 were anything but monolithic. More so 2014 election was very different from all preceding elections. Here’s why,

Year199619981999200420092014
Total Votes (in mil)336375364387417553
BJP Votes (in mil)6896878678172
Cong Votes (in mil)9698103103119107
BJP Vote share %20.29%25.59%23.75%22.20%18.80%31%

http://eci.nic.in/eci_main/archiveofge2014/2%20-%20HIGHLIGHTS_04122014.pdf

https://data.gov.in/resources/status-political-parties-election-lok-sabha-house-people-2009-states

What’s interesting is the unprecedented 33% growth in overall votes polled. If numbers were anything to go by this was the most participated election. If meager growth in voting numbers between 1996 to 2009 showed voters apathy, then quantum jump in the next 5 years exemplified hopes and expectations. If we analyse these numbers further BJP gained 94 mil votes out of the additional 136 mil votes polled i.e 68% or roughly 2/3 of the new votes- a fair assumption to make, as contrary to public perception Congress retained 90% of its core votes. By again looking closely at these numbers we can conclude that Congress has around 100 mil loyal voters, whereas loyal voters for BJP who have stayed with the party even when they had no chance of winning can be estimated to be between 75-80 mil.

The reason for putting out these numbers is to highlight the key non-core voters will hold for BJP in its bid for re-election in 2019.

Voters of BJP: Hardcore vs Non Core

Let’s analyse the hardcore BJP voters, historically they’ve been supported by traders and small businessmen harassed by Congress during license permit raj, as well as working class Hindus who resented minority appeasement politics of Congress since independence. The party also shored up its pro Hindu image after Ram Janmabhoomi movement which created the awakening and millions of Hindus gyrated towards BJP. However, BJP couldn’t add much to it’s core vote base after coming to power in late 90s and instead played on development and inclusiveness to earn some non core voters and stitched new alliances needed for forming government.But the inability to convert non core voters into hardcore ones came back to haunt them in 2004 and 2009.

Fast forward to 2014 , emergence of Modi (painted by media as a Hindu hardliner) assured hardcore voters to campaign for the party in the hope of seeing an end to appeasement politics, whereas development oriented image from his Gujarat CM days appealed to new voters many of whom had hitherto no any political loyalties.

Has BJP really deserted it’s core voters?

Finally, I’ll talk about the main purpose for writing this article. Has BJP betrayed its core voters? Answer to that lies in two things, one is intent and the other ability. Let’s talk about the intent first. Let’s look at few things BJP has done for Hindus or at least tried doing in the last 4 years.

  1. Stopped Mining at Trikuta Hills where Vaishnodevi Temple is situated – Under the pretext of mining the erstwhile Congress-NC government had created a ground for encroachment of temple land. BJP after coming to power protected it.
  2. BJP Debunked the fake ‘Hindu Terror’ bogey which was coined by Congress to send Hindus on a perennial guilt trip.
  3. PM has Promoted Hinduism to the world by carrying it on his sleeves during all foreign visits.
  4. Government has embarked on an ambitious project to build all weather road to make Badrinath and Kedarnath accessible in all seasons.
  5. Ramayan circuit to promote Hindu culture and heritage.
  6. Released Religious Census report data to highlight demographic changes- This was concealed by Congress for 3 years.
  7. Ended Haj Subsidy- Although it was done because of SC diktat, we often forget that diktat called for removal of it by 2022
  8. Fast-tracked NRC- National Registry of Citizens to identify illegal Bangladeshis in Assam and 4 mil illegal immigrants have been identified in the draft.
  9. Tried deportation of Rohingyas -Again SC scuppered its efforts.
  10. Settled long pending LBA(Land Boundary agreement) with Bangladesh to earmark disputed enclaves and fast-tracked fencing of borders.
  11. Promoted firebrand yet no nonsense leaders like Yogi Adityanath- BJP always had the option of a moderate face like Rajnath Singh than someone perceived to be a hardliner like Yogi.
  12. While all of the above points talk about their intent , I will now talk about their ability.

Yes BJP hasn’t been able to move courts for faster resolution of Ram Mandir case, yes they haven’t done enough to resettle Kashmiri Pandits or scrap RTE, or they haven’t removed temples from state control (though they had put this in their manifesto for Karnataka elections) . Here at the risk of annoying many hardcore supporters, i would cut BJP some slack. They inherited a system where minority appeasement is institutionalized and watched closely by an ecosystem waiting to pounce on them at every opportunity, they might have thought against picking some avoidable battles with no major gain.

Any hardcore supporter would wonder whether BJP was not voted to changing the status quo or on the promise to build Ram Mandir and end minority appeasement? I am no political expert, but can be certain of political acumen of BJP leadership, they for sure understand that minority appeasement won’t get them any votes and I don’t think that they are targeting minorities either.

It’s the non core voters we have seen in the above table that BJP is ostensibly chasing in two ways. Long term approach of converting them into hard core voters through membership drive, outreach programmes on social media as well as monthly Mann Ki Baat interactions. And the short term one by keeping them with the party through development initiatives. While Ram Mandir resonates well with the electorate in parts of UP,it won’t appeal to majority of voters in Metros or Tier 1 towns where infrastructure, jobs and prices are more pressing issues . It would also not work with farmers affected by drought. We must not forget that they all form the part of non core vote bloc

While I certainly attest that more needs to be done by the party to address concerns of it’s core voters , it also needs to be appreciated that for any long term solution BJP should be in power for long. And for staying in power, converting or at least retaining non core voters would be essential. Any posturing from the BJP leadership needs to be seen from that perspective.

PS- Since I fall into the category of hardcore supporters, I too am upset with the party not keeping it’s supporters happy, but I feel challenges are too daunting for the them. I still believe that BJP has it’s heart in the right place, but inability and/or lack of experience is getting the better of them as far as the issues of hard core supporters are concerned. To borrow a metaphor from cricket, since the track is bowler friendly, priority for the batting side at the moment would be to save wickets, keep rotating the strike with ones and two’s to keep the scoreboard ticking and focus on big hits later on.

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