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Modi has captured the ABCD of voters’ minds. He doesn’t need caste to win in 2024

As PM Modi spearheaded the cultural renaissance of India in the last 10 years, many castes merged into a unified Hindu identity. It shot up BJP's vote share.

With four phases of India’s latest general election, the biggest democratic exercise on planet Earth, now over, newsrooms are buzzing with analyses of voters’ minds. Having interacted with people across India over the years, I have developed an equation to understand an average voter’s behaviour when she enters the polling booth and presses a button on the electronic voting machine, or EVM.


In TV news studios, we are often tempted by the binary of performance politics vs identity politics. Some of us articulate it as—“Will the 2024 electoral battle be about kaam (performance), or Ram (Hindutva), or Jaat (caste)?” I think what goes inside a voter’s mind in the polling booth is more complex than that. I believe voting behaviour is a function of four factors. Let’s call them A, B, C, and D. In mathematical terms, f (x) = A + B + C + D.


Factor A represents the significant changes in a voter’s life for better or worse. Factor B is their identity, be it caste, religion, region, language, gender, or age. Factor C is the nation’s well-being, which does not always affect us directly, but as citizens, we take pride in it. Factor D is the perception of the leader who executes A, B, and C, and the political party that the leader represents. These four factors carry different weightages for people from different economic classes. For example, factor A may be of utmost importance for those from the economically weaker sections of society, and factor C may be important for the people involved in international trade.


Let’s analyse how these four factors played out during the incumbent years of 2014-2024 under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.


Food, water and housing

Has the life of a person from the economically weaker section changed significantly enough during this period for factor A to become their primary voting preference? I met Ramavati in the hinterlands of Lalitpur, in the Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh, historically one of the poorest regions of India. She said that on some days she wakes up from a nightmare, fearing that her children are getting wet due to a leaking thatched roof. Then, she realises that she now has a pucca house. She showed me the nameplate outside her home with great pride—under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY), houses were given in the name of the woman of the family. Like Ramavati, four crore pucca houses have been built under PMAY in the last 10 years. For all these beneficiaries, factor A stands out.


Before 2014, Ramavati said she had to wake up before sunrise to find a bush for defecation, fighting off snakes, scorpions, and rogues on the streets. Women used to avoid drinking water during the day so that they could wait until sunset to defecate again in the dark, which would result in many kidney-related problems. It was a national shame that in the 21st century, we were not able to provide something as basic as toilets to our people until 2014. Now, 10 crore Ramavatis have toilets in their homes, built under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (SBA). And for them, factor A stands for their dignity.


While washing her hands under a tap, Ramavati remembered the gruesome days of carrying 20-30 litres of water on her head every day for kilometres, and some days multiple rounds for the same. Her back had perennial chronic pain owing to this. For her, watching a stream of water coming out of a tap was nothing less than magic. Under the ‘Har Ghar Nal Se Jal’ scheme of 2019, 11 crore beneficiaries got tap water connections in their homes. Factor A is important for her as it signifies ease of living.


When she entered her kitchen, and as she lit the gas stove with a matchstick, Ramavati felt that someone had lifted the weight of firewood from her head. Now, she doesn’t need to endure clouds of smoke while cooking with wood and cow dung cakes. Under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, from 2014 to 2018, 10 crore people received a gas cylinder and stove. And the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PM-GKAY) provides grains and pulses to poor households under the National Food Security Act 2013. In this case, factor A is directly connected to the voters’ kitchen.


Modi gave the 10th crore gas connection to a household in Ayodhya and I feel Ram Lalla was waiting for these very elements of ‘Ram Rajya’ before returning home. When I asked about factor A (that is, what changed in their lives), Ramavati showed me her house, Sunita showed me her new toilet, Rama showed me her gas stove, Suresh showed me tap water and an older woman showed me the passbook of her bank account in which her pension now gets credited every month. Children were found studying under lights, and roads were being rapidly built.


Beyond caste cadres, family parties

Farmers talked about the Modi government’s Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi initiative, and the military brothers about One Rank One Pension (OROP). Everyone showed their Aadhaar cards, Jan Dhan accounts, Ayushman cards, soil health cards, and Kisan Credit Cards with great confidence and pride. They said that even if Rs 1 is sent from New Delhi, the whole amount reaches their accounts. As people are getting their entitlements efficiently due to good governance, their reliance on caste cadres (factor B) for sorting their daily lives has reduced. So, with efficient governance, Modi has created a beneficiary voter bank for himself, blurring the caste factor in voting preferences.


And as Modi spearheaded the cultural renaissance of India in the last 10 years, many caste identities merged into a unified Hindu identity. When people saw the Prime Minister observing an 11-day fast and then performing the pran pratishtha (consecration ceremony) of Ram Lalla at Ayodhya, the completion of Varanasi’s Kashi-Vishwanath Temple Corridor project, Ujjain’s Mahakal Lok Corridor and massive renovation of temples at Kedarnath, Somnath and Omkareshwar, they saw the spirit of Malwa Kingdom’s queen Ahilyabai Holkar in Modi. Owing to the beneficiary and Hindu consolidation, Modi added around 15 crore voters to the BJP’s fold in the last two elections. BJP garnered close to 8 crore votes in 2009, which increased to 17 crore in 2014 and 22 crore in 2019.


Factor C (national pride) of voting behaviour also reached an all-time high in the last decade. With India launching space missions to study the Sun, Moon, and black holes, hosting G20 in the manner it did, never buckling under Western pressures in foreign policy, becoming the fifth largest economy, and establishing the third largest start-up ecosystem in the world, the national pride soared and became an important factor in the equation of the voting behaviour.


Factor D is the perception of the leader who executes factors A, B, and C, and the party they belong to. Modi has learned about intricate social structures of society through his 15 years in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). He then acquired skills in creating a strong grassroots organisation through his work as a karyakarta in the BJP. Later, he gained experience in state administration during his 13-year tenure as the Chief Minister of Gujarat (2001-2014), followed by governance at the highest level as Prime Minister for 10 years. The RSS can be called a factory for character-building and creating great social leaders, with Modi being invariably the best product.


In contrast, politicians such as Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav, Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Tejashwi Yadav, Trinamool Congress’ Abhishek Banerjee, and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin are the product of their family names rather than rigorous social and political training.


As a party, the BJP is cadre-based. It has a well-established structure at the central, state, district, block, and booth levels. The party runs on a definitive ideology of nationalism, Hindutva, and good governance. And that makes it an ideologically driven, well-oiled election machine to convert the good work of its governments into votes at the polling booths.


Modi has buried the erstwhile politics of caste and religion arithmetic, minority appeasement, and rhetorical promises. If the INDIA coalition has to take on BJP seriously, it must take into account all the four factors (A, B, C & D) that play into a voter’s mind.


 

SHANTANU GUPTA    


https://theprint.in/opinion/modi-has-captured-the-abcd-of-voters-minds-he-doesnt-need-caste-to-win-in-2024/2084013/

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