Battleground MP (6): Social Engineering to play an important role

The scenario in the state is heating up as we approach the elections date. While Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has embarked on a state-wide Jan Ashirwad Yatra, Congress is trailing the route with its Poll Khol Yatra. Allegations and counter allegations are flying thick and fast. Two recent surveys have given contradictory predictions. While Dainik Bhaskar survey has predicted BJP will retain power, ABP-C Voter poll has predicted a Congress win.

Caste plays a key role in elections in India

Caste is an important factor across states in elections in India. The general perception is that caste rules the roost in Hindi speaking states. However, an ADR survey in Karnataka revealed that 67% people are likely to vote on the basis of caste. 55% of Indians prefer a political leader from their own caste and religion, found the study, ‘Politics And Society Between Elections 2018’, carried out by the Azim Premji University (APU) and Lokniti. Madhya Pradesh leads the pack with 65% in the survey.

After the Mandal movement, caste politics has dominated elections in many states.  However, MP was untouched. Digvijay Singh’s term from 1993 to 2003 confirms this. It came to the centre stage in MP in 2003 when BJP anointed OBC leader Uma Bharti as it’s CM candidate. Madhya Pradesh has 33 percent OBCs, 22 percent upper caste, 21 percent STs, 16 percent SCs, 6 percent Muslims and 2 percent others. BJP has traditionally received the support of upper caste and OBCs, while Congress SC-ST and minorities.

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OBCs support the BJP

In Madhya Pradesh, after Digvijay Singh, the three Chief Ministers, Uma Bharti, Babulal Gaur and Shivraj Singh Chouhan all come from the OBC community. BJP State head Rakesh Singh and ex PCC President Arun Yadav also hail from the OBC community. This class is unhappy with the Congress for removing Arun Yadav unceremoniously from the post. In such a situation, if the Congress does not manage to convince the community, it may suffer losses in the elections.

Congress is trying to activate the OBC face of Gujarat, Alpesh Thakur and Patidar leader Hardik Patel. If we take a look at the previous elections, BJP has on an average received 45% and Congress 29% OBC votes. In 2014 Lok Sabha elections, OBC support for BJP increased to 66% on the back of consolidation as the PM hails from the community. One-third of BJP votes in 2013 are accounted for by the OBCs.

OBC Voting Preference Graph (Source: CSDS Reports)

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BJP’s traditional voters are angry

The traditional voter of the BJP, the upper castes are unhappy with the party because of the reasons listed below:

  • Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s statement that nobody can undo reservations.

  • Both top posts in BJP, Chief Minister as well as BJP President, are held by OBCs.

  • Modi government’s amendment to SC/ST Act nullifying the Supreme Court judgement.

52% Brahmins and 53% Rajputs have supported the party in the last three elections. Congress is trying to exploit the disenchantment among the upper castes by projecting Kamalnath and Scindia. 23% Brahmins and 25% Rajputs have supported Congress in last three polls. If any of the two leaders are made the Chief Ministerial candidate, the graph of support for the Congress among the upper caste could witness an increase. With an eye on upper caste vote bank, SAPAKS Samaj Society, an anti-reservation front is threatening to field candidates in all 230 seats across the state and spoil the chances of BJP.

SC-ST voters could play the role of kingmaker

SC-ST votes have traditionally been with the Congress. In 2003 and 2008 Congress received higher support, however, in 2013, BJP outscored Congress and received higher support. 82 seats are reserved for the SC-ST. There are 137 seats where SC-ST population in more than 20%. BSP enjoys 14%-15% support among SCs but has negligible traction among STs.

BJP has tried to allay the fears of the SC-ST community by nulling the Supreme Court judgement and trying to compensate for the loss of some upper caste votes. However, OBCs and SCs as well as Upper Caste and SCs have a history of antagonism and are unlikely to vote together.  With a section of upper caste unhappy with BJP, SC-ST voters could play the role of kingmaker this time around. To win while BJP has to target minimum 40% support from SC-ST, the number would be much higher at 60% for Congress.

SC Voting Preference

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ST Voting Preference

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Muslims in large numbers vote for Shivraj  

Madhya Pradesh is one of the states where BJP gets the highest Muslim support. 14 percent of Muslim voters in the state vote for BJP. Shivraj Singh Chouhan has a secular image which helps.

45 percent vote share generally assures victory

Who wins Madhya Pradesh, has generally been decided by 45 percent of the votes? In such a situation, BJP must keep its flock of traditional voters the upper caste and OBCs together. If alliance of Congress with BSP materializes, then BJP will have to look at 48% vote share to ensure victory.  On the other hand, Congress is trying to create cracks in the core vote bank of BJP. Like Gujarat, both main parties could gain vote share at the expense of other smaller parties.

How BJP & INC could get to the magic figure

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Whoever gets the caste combination right on each seat is likely to win

In the end, it all boils down to caste combinations in each seat and which party gets it right. The social engineering formula of BJP nationally is targeted towards unifying the Hindu vote, but this could face challenges in MP as it is very difficult to keep all sections of the society happy.


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