The commonly held notion is that caste based voting is common among Hindus but not bloc voting as a community, while Muslims tend to vote as a monolithic group. Media reports and our field reports suggest that Hindus have indeed voted as a bloc and tactically in recent state elections in Kerala and Assam. In the post-Ayodhya Rathyatra era, this is a discernible trend in voting patterns of Hindus and has significant portents for the future.
What is more significant is the fact that this tactical voting and reverse mobilsation of Hindus was observed in a state like Kerala, a state associated with high levels of literacy and social development and hardly a candidate for consolidation of Hindu votes along religious lines.
With alliance partners like the Muslim League (MUL) and Kerala Congress (M) that appeal to the sizeable presence of Muslim and Christian communities in Kerala – Muslim and Christian voters account for 25% and 19% respectively – the Congress led United Democratic Front (UDF) has strongly canvassed for support among them. As a result, these UDF partners have done exceedingly well in the Muslim and Christian dominated regions. The MUL swept polls winning 20 of the 24 seats it contested and the Kerala Congress (M) has won 9 of the15 seats it contested. The MUL which had only eight seats in the previous assembly has more than doubled its tally.
However, the Congress party which is the principal pole of the UDF ended up as a loser and barely managed to win 38 of the 87 seats it contested. This is because the UDF partners benefited immensely from religious polarization in the minority dominant districts, while the Congress which contested most of the seats in Hindu dominant regions paid the price for the mobilization of minority communities’ votes by its partners.
The aggressive mobilization and wooing of Muslim and Christian voters has resulted in polarization of Hindu voters towards the Left Democratic Front (LDF). Accordingly, the LDF did remarkably well in Hindu dominant regions. This was the principal reason for the surge of the LDF in the later stages of the campaign which led to an almost upset LDF win. Would you call the Left Democratic Front communal? No. It was just a beneficiary of the Congress led UDF’s mobilization of Muslim and Christian voters along communal lines.
In Assam also, a similar trend of Hindu polarization was witnessed as a result of aggressive mobilization of Muslims by the All India United Democratic Front (AUDF) led by Badruddin Ajmal. AUDF benefited immensely winning 18 seats and emerged as the state’s principal opposition partying the state assembly.
Curiously, the Congress party was the beneficiary of Hindu polarization in Assam which contributed to the party’s unexpected electoral success and helped it counter ten years of incumbency in the state. Ironically, the Congress party which often resorts to minority appeasement as an electoral strategy has returned to power in Assam as a result of tactical voting by the Hindus. Should the Congress be called a communal party because Hindus voted tactically in its favour?
The just concluded assembly elections have shown that aggressive mobilization of minority communities results in a reverse mobilization by the Hindus. This evidence comes from two states which are a study in contrast in terms of their development profile and geographic location with Assam located in far-East and Kerala in the farthest South.
Hindus vote as a community only under strong provocation or in a rare reaction to community-wise intensive buildup by the minorities. The Congress party is a beneficiary of this Hindu reaction in Assam in response to Muslim consolidation in favour of AUDF, while it suffered a erosion in its support among Hindus on account of the aggressive mobilization of minorities by its alliance partners in Kerala.
That Congress party has been aggressively wooing the Muslim community nationally is evident from some of the statements of its national leaders like Digvijay Singh and Rahul Gandhi. Digvijay Singh has gone to the extent of referring reverentially to Osama bin Laden as “Osamaji” in his media interactions and for complained that he was not given a proper burial. His attempts to lend legitimacy to the preposterous theories of the Rastiya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) being the architect of 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attack is aimed at earning the sympathies of Muslim fundamentalists. Ordinary Muslims are as much horrified at these crass attempts as are Hindus.
Similarly, the Congress party has been targeting popularly elected chief minister of Gujarat Narendra Modi, whom it has failed repeatedly to defeat politically in Gujarat. The Congress party is subverting various institutions, investigating agencies and even egging on government officials to implicate Narenda Modi. The Congress party has chosen to mark him out for attacks on all fronts. The latest instance of that party objecting to Jayalalithaa’s invitation to Modi for her swearing-in is stretching things too far. It appears likely that the Digvijay Singh’s (Congress party’s) communal statements and unceasing barbs against Narendra Modi are part of a calibrated strategy to mobilize Muslim votes in its favour.
But in the light of the Hindu voting patterns in Kerala and Assam, a moot question arises if the Congress party’s explicit attempts at appeasing the Muslims by its blatantly communal statements and targeting of Narendra Modi would produce a Kerala-type reaction among Hindus all over the country.
Politics is all about perceptions. If the Congress party pursues an overt minority appeasement agenda for electoral gains, it may incur the wrath of Hindus as a community. Attempts by Rajiv Gandhi regime in the eighties to appease Muslims have alienated Hindus and later Muslims too when the Congress began to reverse the process by appeasing Hindus. Mother-son duo of Sonia - Rahul Gandhi seems to be taking the Congress party in the same direction.
The Congress party would do well to reassess its cynical minority mobilization strategies or at least be prepared for the possible adverse consequences of its actions in a Kerala or Assam like fashion.
GVL Narasimha Rao is a noted poll analyst