BJP Keeps Its Brahmins, Thakurs Supporters Happy

The puzzle in the three Hindi heartland states where the BJP won recent elections has been solved. The BJP has named surprising choices in all three states and has adopted a formula of Chief Minister plus two Deputies.

Along with the Speaker’s position, the BJP has tried to manage expectations of all sections of society in an attempt to create an invincible social coalition ahead of the 2024 national election. At the same time, it is fostering a generational change.

This is the caste break-up in each state:

Rajasthan: Brahmin Chief Minister + Thakur Deputy + Scheduled Caste Deputy + Sindhi Speaker

Chhattisgarh: Scheduled Tribe Chief Minister + Non-Yadav OBC Deputy + Brahmin Deputy + Thakur Speaker

Madhya Pradesh: Yadav (OBC) Chief Minister + Scheduled Caste Deputy + Brahmin Deputy + Thakur Speaker

The upper caste or general category has traditionally backed the BJP, since its formation in 1980. In fact, the BJP was labelled a “Brahmin-Baniya” party.

Even in the recent state elections, the Brahmins and Thakurs voted in large numbers for the party.

In Madhya Pradesh, 58% Brahmins voted for the BJP while 32% for the Congress. In Chhattisgarh, 58% Brahmins voted for the BJP and 30% for the Congress. In Rajasthan, 63% Brahmins voted BJP compared to only 21% for the Congress.

In Madhya Pradesh, 56% Thakurs/Rajputs voted for the BJP and 33% for the Congress. In Chhattisgarh, 64% Other Upper Castes including Thakurs and excluding Brahmins voted for the BJP and 26% backed the Congress. In Rajasthan, 64% Thakurs voted for the BJP while only 20% picked the Congress.

The BJP has acknowledged their long-term support and rewarded both these communities with a Chief Minister, three Deputy Chief Ministers and two Speaker positions. These communities have bagged two of the four coveted posts in each state.

In the Mandal era, the general perception was that Brahmins, whose writ prevailed from the 1950s to 1990s, cannot be Chief Ministers in any Hindi belt state. In Uttar Pradesh, the last Brahmin Chief Minister was Narayan Dutt Tiwari in 1989; in Rajasthan it was Haridev Joshi in 1990; in Bihar, Jagannath Mishra in 1990; and in Madhya Pradesh, Shyamcharan Shukla (1990) was the last Brahmin Chief Minister.

A caste-wise, party-wise breakup of the database of Nishant Ranjan shows that the BJP has had the highest share (30.9%) of OBC (Other Backward Classes) Chief Ministers, while this number is the lowest for the Congress (17.2%). The share of non-Congress non-BJP parties among OBC chief ministers is 28%.

Especially in the Modi era a section of the BJP’s traditional Brahmin and Rajput voters have been disillusioned at what they saw as “the OBC-fication” of the party. So much that Brahmins had virtually given up on any member of their community making it to the top in a big Hindi heartland state.

Brahmins account for 8-14 per cent of the population in many states, and are considered an influential community that can get the support of other caste groups as well. In Uttarakhand, it is 40%, Himachal Pradesh 20%, Uttar Pradesh 11% Delhi 10%, Maharashtra 10%, Rajasthan 8%, Gujarat 9%, West Bengal 8%, and Madhya Pradesh 6%.

The traditional rivalry between Brahmins and Rajputs adds another complexity. With the BJP opting for Thakur or Rajput Chief Ministers in Vasundhara Raje, Raman Singh and Yogi Adityanath, the Brahmins were getting jittery though they continued to support the party. There was heartburn within the community. The BJP seems to have sensed this and rewarded the Brahmins for their loyalty.

Over the years, the greater consolidation of the upper caste voters in favour of the BJP has been a bonus for the party at the cost of the Congress.

During the 1996 Lok Sabha elections, only 35% of the upper castes voted for the BJP; this went up to 40% in 1999 but fell in 2009 to 29% (CSDS post poll data). This increased to 47% in 2014 against the backdrop of huge voter dissatisfaction with the Congress, and further to 61% in 2019.

Eighty of its 88 upper caste candidates were elected in the Hindi heartland in 2019. Out of the 147 candidates that the BJP fielded in unreserved constituencies, 88 were from the upper castes.

Ahead of the crucial 2024 election, in which the BJP may try to break Rajiv Gandhi’s record of 404 seats in 1984, the support of the Brahmins and Thakurs is essential as the fight for each seat heats up. The BJP has tried to keep in good humour its loyal and anchor voting blocs through its nominees in the three states.

(Amitabh Tiwari is a political strategist and commentator. In his earlier avatar, he was a corporate and investment banker.)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.

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