BJP’s backward-class strategy begins to pay dividends in the South – opinion
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) recently turned a municipal election into a national one and managed to make inroads into a stronghold of Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), the ruling party in Telangana. This election of the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) mattered to the BJP for several reasons. First, the party seizes every opportunity to anchor itself in a region that has so far resisted its dominance. In recent state and national elections, the BJP had already set foot in Hyderabad. It received 18% of the votes in the Hyderabad district in the 2018 assembly elections and 34% in the general elections the following year (27% in Secunderabad and 42% in Hyderabad).
Second, Hyderabad is not only a stronghold of a former BJP ally, the TRS, but also the base of operations for the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM), which rocked the BJP in recent elections. of Bihar. . Bringing the fight back to AIMIM’s homeland provided an opportunity for the party to send some strong signals to its Hindu base. The Bhagyanagar campaign, the new name proposed by the BJP for the city, was one of them.
Also read: Why BJP believes there is an ‘opportunity to grow independently’ in Andhra
The BJP made impressive strides in this election, winning 48 seats to four in 2016. TRS lost most of it, going from 94 seats to 56. AIMIM maintained its base by winning 44 seats in its historic strongholds and Congress was left with one miserable two seats. Although the TRS remains in front and in control of the GHMC, its percentage of votes is identical to that of the BJP (there is only a difference of 0.3%).
Beyond its symbolic aspect, this choice mattered to the BJP for a third reason, which has to do with identity politics. This local election gave the BJP the opportunity to test in the South a strategy that has yielded positive results in the North: the mobilization of non-dominant backward classes. In the general election, the BJP distributed only three tickets out of 17 in the state to candidates from Other Backward Classes (OBC), against eight tickets for the Middle Castes (mostly Reddys); Six seats were reserved. Two of the three OBC candidates won their seat. In the municipal elections, the party opted for the mobilization of the most backward classes (MBC) who are notoriously underrepresented in Telangana politics.
Since the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh and the creation of Telangana in 2014, almost half of the seats in the Telangana assembly have been won by middle-caste candidates, nominated by all the major parties. While the backward classes make up 50.7% of the population (according to the 2010 Srikrishna Committee on the Andhra Pradesh Bifurcation), their participation in the assembly has decreased from 19% in 2009 to 14% in 2018. Among them, the Munnuru Kapus form the largest group, but represent only a quarter of all OBC MLAs, belonging to a wide variety of smaller groups. This leaves a large segment of the population without descriptive representation, a space that the BJP now seeks to occupy. According to the Srikrishna Committee, 41.2% of Hyderabad’s population is Muslim and 34.9% OBC. Muslims tend to be concentrated in the central (and older) part of Hyderabad and in the south of the city. This is where AIMIM won its seats, while the BJP won its seats in the rest of the city and in the Secunderabad territory.
Also read: What Hyderabad says about the BJP | HT Editorial
The BJP’s strategy involved mobilizing the various smaller segments of the city’s great backward classes, largely ignored by TRS and other parties. This is reflected in the social profile of the candidates. The BJP gave 26 of its 149 tickets in these elections to MBC candidates. This may not sound like much, but it sent a clear signal to the many voters who belong to those small groups. Eight of them were elected, along with 17 other OBC candidates. In Jubilee Hills, the wealthiest neighborhood in the city, a BJP MBC candidate won against a Kamma candidate, presented by TRS.
The TRS also shipped many OBCs but fewer MBCs in comparison. The BJP OBC candidates belong to 11 different groups, against seven from TRS, which predominantly give tickets to the Goud and Munnuru Kapu candidates.
Tickets are not the only way to attract support. Before the campaign, the BJP and RSS worked hard to build and consolidate support among MBC groups such as Kurumas, Kummaris, Vadderas, Viswakarma, and Chaattada Srivaishnava, and among larger OBC groups such as Gouds, Mudirajs, Yadavs, and Padmasalis. The RSS carried out many caste-based functions, performed in RSS schools by officials belonging to similar groups. They promised representation from each group against their effort to poll members of their caste throughout the city.
The BJP also appointed several CBMs to prominent positions in the party, including the president of the state and the secretary of state organization (both also belong to the RSS). He also managed to get candidates from the upper and middle castes chosen, including 14 Reddys. This ability of the BJP to combine the support of traditional elites and a set of small and fringe backward groups has become a trademark of its electoral strategy. The difference is that the BJP does not necessarily avoid locally dominant groups, but also prioritizes marginalized segments. This differs from the situation in the North, where non-dominant CBOs gain representation but remain marginalized within the BJP.
An important implication of these observations is that caste is at the center of the BJP’s southern strategy and that reading the progress the BJP makes in the South through a purely communal lens is insufficient. Obviously bending identities back in the Hindutva mold is part of the story. But the BJP also develops a caste-based mobilization language that mimics the forms of mobilization that regional parties used to carry out in the early 1990s. The BJP seeks to expand its presence in the South by offering representation to communities that have historically been marginalized and that form a significant part of the electorate.
Gilles Verniers is Associate Professor of Political Science at Ashoka University and Co-Director of the Trivedi Center for Political Data. Surya Rao Sangem is the BC Times founder and Hyderabad-based political analyst. Kiran Kumar Gowd is an academic researcher in the Department of Political Science at the University of Hyderabad. The views are personal.