What Determines India’s Electoral Choices? Find Out Here

New Delhi: The 2014 Lok Sabha polls and BJP’s landslide win was viewed by many as a vote for development and inclusive growth. BJP had made these issues a poll agenda to capture power at the Centre.

Caste and religious equations had taken a backseat, it was assumed. But a new study has busted such claims. The study conducted by professors Abhijit Banerjee, Amory Gethin and Thomas Piketty concluded that identity and religious-ethnic conflicts, rather than economic issues and social policy have determined India’s electoral choices in all elections including the 2014 polls.

Comparing data from national and state elections between 1962 and 2014 with electoral surveys and social spending data, the study revealed that BJP and other right-wing parties, such as the Shiv Sena and the Shiromani Akali Dal, have drawn support from the Brahmins and other forward castes. On the other hand, the Congress, centre-left and left parties have drawn support from Muslims and lower caste Hindus.

Abhijit is a professor with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge while Amory Gethin and Thomas Piketty are with the Paris School of Economics, Paris. The study has been published by the Economic and Political Weekly.

“The role of caste in predicting support for what is conventionally described as parties of the right (the BJP, Shiv Sena and Akali Dal) has not diminished from 1999 to 2014. The upper castes were always much more likely to support these parties than the rest of the electorate and this continues to be the case”, they said.

Moreover, the authors also said that economic policy had no impact on voters’ choice. The study found no correlation between developmental expenditure and support for a political party. The only social policy issue that influenced voting behaviour was reservation in government jobs and educational institutions

Other religious and communal issues, such as cow slaughter, the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, and triple talaq, polarised the vote base, the authors said.

“While caste divisions have remained more or less stable over time, religious cleavages (division of voters into voting blocs) have increased dramatically. Muslims have been the only social group to not become more likely to support the BJP, remaining faithful to the Congress and other centrist parties. Strikingly, while education and income have played a role in some specific elections, we find no evidence of the emergence of a new cleavage linked to economic or human capital over time,” the study concluded.

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