Can Hindutva win votes?

Narendra modi

Further, the overall prevalence of pro-Hindutva sentiments among upper-caste voters has been quite stable since the mid-1990s. Therefore, broad pronouncements on the "decline of Hindutva's appeal" appear somewhat overblown: among the elite caste communities for whom Hindutva is important enough to affect voting decisions, no such decline is apparent.

At the same time, this data suggests some strong limits to the degree to which Hindutva's appeal affects the BJP's performance. Even among upper castes, pro-Hindutva views are not the only, nor even the strongest, determinant of BJP support. Indeed, support for economic liberalisation has remained a stronger predictor of upper caste support for the BJP than pro-Hindutva views during this period. So has income, with the BJP enjoying greater support among a "creamy layer" of wealthy upper caste voters than among poorer voters from these caste communities. Finally, Dalit and adivasi backers of the BJP are not appreciably more communal than voters from these communities who support other parties. This result holds true across multiple elections, and even within states where the party has been doing increasingly well among these constituencies (such as Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh). Even the BJP's limited electoral successes outside its traditional "Brahmin-Bania" base cannot therefore be assumed to be either a cause or consequence of growth in Hindutva's appeal.

Evidence garnered from surveys can thus help us develop more nuanced conclusions about how the relationship between Hindutva and support for the BJP varies across caste communities, states and even electoral periods. Yet such evidence comes with its own important constraints. Most importantly, surveys necessarily use narrow measures of concepts, in this case defining Hindutva only through voters' support for specific agenda items.

This limitation draws our attention to a second major issue: "Hindutva" carries variable meanings in different electoral contexts. To ask whether Hindutva's political appeal is greater in Gujarat than in Chhattisgarh, or has declined from 1992 to 2012, in some sense assumes the term carries an unchanging definition across time and space. Such rigidity may seem justified by, and complementary with, the goal of Hindutva's early architects. These founders sought to standardise the practice of Hinduism, in an attempt to overcome the divisions produced by internal caste hierarchies and varied local practices that stood in the way of their majoritarian ambitions.

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