Has the BJP taken full advantage of Hindutva in North India? Extreme populist promises are becoming difficult for the saffron party in the 2024 elections

Ananya Shroff
8 Min Read

New Delhi : In the Lok Sabha elections, BJP is leaving no stone unturned to come to power for the third time. The election process will end after the 7th phase of voting on June 1. In such a situation, now everyone's eyes are fixed on June 4. Earlier, BJP and PM Modi have raised the issue of Muslim appeasement and Hindutva for victory. The opposition alleges that BJP is doing all this to divert the attention of the public from the real issues in view of its defeat. At the same time, there is a section of election pundits and political analysts who are talking about the reduction in BJP's seats. As we know that the Hindi belt or Hindi heartland is a central factor in shaping political power in our country. There are 245 Lok Sabha seats in North India. Excluding Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir, there are 226 seats in the Hindi belt.

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The Hindi belt taught Indira a lesson

According to noted political scientist Suhas Palshikar's article in the Indian Express, in 1967 the entire Hindi belt registered its disillusionment with the Congress. This shook the Congress dispensation, but more than that, it ushered in a new politics within and outside the Congress. In 1977 the Hindi belt contributed to the defeat of Indira Gandhi's party and opened the way for a consolidation of political forces. This consolidation manifested itself politically as a counterweight to the Congress. That logic was further taken forward in 1989, when the Congress was once again decisively outmaneuvered. In all these three periods the Hindi belt behaved more or less in the same way. The fourth moment was the mid-nineties, when the BJP made significant gains in the region in three successive elections. This strengthened the politics of Hindutva in the Hindi belt. It was not just a matter of the BJP replacing the Congress in the region. It was also a matter of pre-existing socio-cultural sensibilities transforming themselves into more radical expressions and the region being more easily captured by Hindutva politics. The rise of the BJP in the 1990s and its resurgence in 2014 was possible only due to the party's impressive performance here. In 2019, the BJP won 178 seats in the Hindi belt. In all the remaining Hindi belt states in 2019, the BJP's vote share was between 50 and 60 percent. According to the available data, this means that the number of Hindu votes is very high.

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Now BJP cannot increase its support

According to the article, Muslims do not vote for the BJP in any significant proportion. In other words, the Hindu consolidation that the BJP aims for has been almost fully achieved in this belt. This is often interpreted as a sign of BJP's strength but it also means that the party has reached a point where it cannot add to its support any further. Secondly, the party has won almost all the seats in many of these states. However, in UP, it still lagged behind – with just 60 out of 80 seats. In other states in the region, even if the BJP repeats its 2019 performance, it will not help the party increase its strength. Therefore, it is very important for the BJP to win more seats in UP to improve its performance in 2019. It cannot win more seats in Bihar, as it is again in alliance with state-level parties. So it has had to share seats with them.

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BJP's troubles are increasing

The article mentions that Modi's popularity and the allure of Hindutva still persist, but on the other hand, a decade of power and overtly populist promises has left the BJP in a quandary. In this decade and overall, Hindutva has provided its followers with symbolic euphoria, mostly unconnected with life conditions. The imaginary enemy was systematically marginalised. The construction of the Ram temple and limited facilities for the backward castes. Promises of national reconstruction and material advancement as a result of Hindu supremacy have remained distant dreams. A pre-poll survey conducted by Lokniti in late March found that 60 per cent of voters in the region mentioned inflation and unemployment as issues that would determine their vote. This proportion was higher than in the south or the east. This brings us to the question: Will the Hindi belt remain fascinated by Hindutva even as economic issues and Hindutva rhetoric reach a peak? Many have commented on 'Modi fatigue', but is it possible that there will be 'Hindutva fatigue' as well? This does not mean that the Hindi belt will suddenly turn away from Hindutva. But we must ponder over the question: will voters, despite their love for Hindutva, begin to exercise their potential, assess factors such as performance and look for alternatives?

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The process of change will be difficult

Suhas Palshikar believes that if this process starts, it will not be limited to any one state in the Hindi belt. As mentioned above, there is a somewhat similar trend across the region, despite state specificities. This is where the challenge lies for the BJP. If there is fatigue with Hindutva, it will manifest at different levels across the region. If the BJP loses the extra leverage it has gained since 2014 in the region, it could knock the doors off electoral competition. When the campaign began, the competition looked in favour of the incumbent government. As it draws to a close, the central question is whether North India, which has distanced itself from major incumbents from time to time, will bother the BJP, start paying attention to it or keep the emotional appeal of Hindutva going for some time.

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