and the vote bank
Vote bank politics has come to become an Indian
reality and democracy in India has come to be the fine art
of balancing different vote banks with very little excep-tion.
Some political parties may openly denounce the politics of
cultivating vote banks but overtly or covertly they practice
it in their own constituencies, for political survival and
It has been said that democratic pro-cesses
would put an end to India’s unique divisions, which
were wilfully exploited by the colonial masters to perpetuate
their rule. It was reasoned that periodic elections would
gradually diminish the divisions based on caste, creed and
religion. However, in the process of empowering the masses,
democracy has sharpened the diversity by transforming them
into vote banks and important ‘variables’ in the
The trend is most prominent in caste categories
within the majority Hindu community. Political parties exploit
the aspirations of caste groups which differ from one another,
or are at least made to think that they differ in significant
ways. In fact, many political parties have become syno-nymous
with certain caste categories. The Bahujan Samaj party and
the Samajwadi party in Uttar Pradesh represent ‘lower’
and intermediary castes as do the Dalit Panthers of India
(DPI) and the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) in Tamil Nadu.
Religion is the other broad category on which
hinges the survival of several political parties. The leading
party of the ruling National Democratic Alliance, the Bharatiya
Janata Party (BJP), is primarily a Hindu party trying to market
Hinduism in the cloak of nationalism. Even its secular face
is Hindutva. The Akali Dal in Punjab and the Muslim League
in Kerala espouse the cause of the Sikhs and Muslims interests
at the provincial level.
Language is another category in the diversity
among the peoples of India. Various political parties have
cultivated linguistic constituencies. The Telugu Desam Party
(TDP) in Andhra Pradesh, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)
and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK)
in Tamil Nadu, as well as the Assam Gon Parishad in Assam,
all flaunt their linguistic constituencies.
The other category for political mobi-lisation
is ethnicity. The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) in the tribal-dominated
Jharkhand and some other political parties in the Northeast
and the hills and tribal regions elsewhere have ethnic groups
as their vote banks. Provincialism also forms the basis of
political divisions with political parties like the Shiv Sena,
DMK, AIADMK, Biju Janta Dal, Assam Gon Prashid, Haryana Vikas
Party being province-based political parties. Then there are
parties which have farmers as their constituency. Ajit Singh’s
Rashtriya Lok Dal in Uttar Pradesh and Om Prakash Chautala’s
Harayana Vikas Party fall in this category.
The left parties, CPI and CPI (M), are ideology-based
political entities and have a committed ideological cadre
as their constituency. West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura are
the few states where these parties are strong.
Even during the British days there existed the religious,
the left, the pro-Raj, the pro-worker, the pro-farmer, and
the pro-landed class political parties, among many others,
which espoused the cause of these myriad groups thus creating
their separate vote banks. The general elections in 1936 and
1946 brought to fore the choices of vote banks for different
political parties in India.
The Congress, which had a pivotal role in the
freedom struggle, was the natural choice of many Indians for
at least the first three general elections after Independence.
The Congress vote bank comprised upper caste Hindus, Dalits
and Muslims. The party had a smooth run till 1967, when for
the first time it lost its majority not in one but in nine
states of the country. That year is considered to be a watershed
in Indian politics. Since then two sets of political forces
emerged in India – one that challen-ged the all-India
supremacy of the Congress and the other that tried to break
free from the centralised structure of the state.
Drill it in!
In fact, from 1967 onwards there has been a
tug-of-war going on in Indian politics. Would political parties
with overarching all-India characteristics govern the country
or would regional satraps forge linkages to run the affairs
of the country? The trajectory that has been emerging of late
reveals that all the parties ruling at the centre have had
to accommodate parties and groups representing different regional
constituencies through coalition arrangements.
The first non-Congress gov-ernment was formed
in 1977 - a coalition of several parties led by the Janata
Party, an offshoot of popular socialist leader Ram Manohar
Lohia’s Socialist Party. The hotchpotch coalition had
sprung to challenge the supremacy of Indira Gandhi’s
Congress. It even included the BJP that emerged out of the
Jan Sangh (formed in 1967 to re-present Hindu aspirations).
Since 1967, parties have emerged left and right of the centre
at the national level, and a flurry of political parties have
come up at the regional and provincial level. The Shiv Sena
in Maharastra, the Asam Gon Parishad in Assam, the Telugu
Desam party in Andhra Pradesh mentioned earlier are some of
The other phase of political develop-ment began
at the national level with the rise of the BJP since 1984
in the country. The party began cultivating the majority Hindu
vote bank by espousing the cause of the Hindus of the country.
It attacked the Congress for pampering minorities and cultivated
its own constituency on the anti-Muslim platform.
The National Front government led by VP Singh,
which drew inspiration from the Janata Party of 1977 and the
Socialist Party of 1967, came up in a big way in 1989 by widening
the net of the vote bank to other caste categories. Thus the
Mandal Commi-ssion report which allowed 27 percent reservation
for OBCs in government jobs in that year was another watershed
event in Indian politics. As a result of the implementation
of the Mandal report, intermediate castes like Yadavs and
Kurmis came into the forefront in the Ganga plain. Parties
like the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Rashtriya
Lok Dal in Uttar Pradesh, the Rashtriya Janta Dal and the
Samata Party in Bihar and the Biju Janata Dal in Orissa are
all post-Mandal offspring.
Hema Malini, 55, is one of the BJP's.
The United Front government led by Deve Gowda
in 1996 was yet another attempt by left of centre forces to
govern the country. The United Front government had regional
and provincial coalition partners such as the TDP and DMK
which played the major role in holding power at the centre
in New Delhi. The formation of the National Democratic Alliance
(NDA) in 1998 led by the BJP reinforces the evolution in Indian
politics where regional and local political parties are increasing
their influence at the national level by forging alliances
with national parties to form governments at the centre.
While it is difficult to predict whether national
parties will be overtaken by combinations, of provincial parties,
all political parties will continue to draw sustenance from
diverse categories within the Indian electorate. There is
no end in sight to the phenomena of vote bank politics in
India. As new groups come forward to demand space in politics,
the creation of new vote banks is an accelerating process.
There is emerging consciousness among various marginalised
groups to get united in the course of political mobilisation.
The result is the emergence of newer political
parties to espouse the cause of the differentiated, and often
marginalised, of India. The fate of democracy is thus entwined
with vote banks. However, in the process of new vote banks
being created, it is also true that narrow and parochial agendas
are gaining an upper hand even as the broad all-India vote
banks lose ground. In the mushrooming of local-regional political
parties some would see Indians discovering their political
identity, with local and regional considerations gaining ground
and it being harder to tie down voters as ‘monolith
Indians’? The answers open up a big debate — is
India is a nation or a nation of nations. Political developments
point to the latter.