Chandigarh: A post-poll survey by Lokniti-CSDS, an election research institution based in New Delhi, has shown that a shift in voting traditions – especially of voters who belong to Dalit and Other Backward Class communities – was responsible for putting a major dent in Bharatiya Janata Party’s chances of retaining power in Himachal Pradesh.
The survey claimed that in 2017, 47% of Dalit electors had voted for BJP. This came down to 34% in 2022, a loss of 13% vote share.
Notably, 25% of the total population of Himachal Pradesh comprises members of Dalit communities – the second highest Dalit population in the country in terms of percentage after Punjab.
This change appears to have taken a toll on BJP’s overall numbers in the states, including its loss of seats in reserved constituencies.
Seventeen out of 68 assembly segments in the Himachal state assembly are reserved for Scheduled Caste communities. When BJP formed the government in 2017 with a total of 44 wins, 13 of them came from seats reserved for SC candidates.
In the 2022 election, BJP could win just seven of these 17 reserved constituencies as its overall tally was restricted to 25. The party’s loss of support among Dalits is said to be the main reason, according to the survey.
Congress, whose vote share among Dalit voters, as per the survey, increased by 5%, won as many as 10 SC seats. These were crucial for the party to reach the majority mark and form the government.
Another factor which contributed to Congress’s victory in the SC seats is the split among Dalit votes. As many as 14% of Dalit votes, as per the survey, went to independents and other parties.
BJP lost OBC votes too, the survey said, while pointing to loss of 12% vote share – from 48% in 2017 to 36% in 2022. Congress had 43% vote share of OBC voters in 2017. In 2022, it had 58% vote share of OBC voters.
OBC communities constitute 13-14% of the total population in the state. Such communities are largely concentrated in Kangra and Hamirpur districts, said Shimla based poll analyst professor Ramesh Chauhan.
As per 2022 election records, this is where BJP lost massively to Congress. In Kangra, with 15 seats, BJP could win only four seats this time. In 2017, it won 11. It lost all five seats in Hamirpur district. It had won two in 2017.
On the contrary, BJP’s support base among ‘upper’ caste voters remained intact except a marginal drop in vote share among Brahmins, the survey pointed out. This appeared to have saved BJP from a worse defeat in the election.
Explaining the possible reasons for BJP’s loss of support among Dalit and OBC voters, professor Chauhan, who was also involved in Lokniti-CSDS survey, told The Wire, “One can safely say that BJP did not do much for these communities in last five years of their rule, which forced them to go back to Congress.
In April this year, BJP held a two-day Scheduled Castes Morcha meet in Shimla to work out an outreach programme to inform the SC community about various central and state schemes available for their welfare.
This was on the lines of a similar experiment BJP attempted during its successful bid in Uttar Pradesh during which the ‘Labharthi’ (group of beneficiaries of state and central welfare schemes) emerged as a new bloc.
If the Lokniti-CSDS survey is to be believed, this attempt did not work during the party’s Himachal bid. Most of Himachal’s voters, the survey claimed, did not reap benefits of government schemes in a way that could translate into voters.
Notably, Dalit and OBC voters, are largely the intended beneficiaries of government schemes brought by the state and Union governments.
As per the survey, BJP’s performance among women voters also suffered – 42% of women voted BJP in this election against 48% in 2017.
However, Harish Thakur, who is the chairperson of department of political science at Himachal University in Shimla, is of the view that a single factor can’t be attributed to BJP’s defeat in this election.
“No doubt, it lost support from OBC and Dalit voters, as the survey pointed out. But one can’t discount the rebel factor as well as loss of support among government employees due to the old pension scheme,” said Thakur.
As per the election records, there were at least eight seats where BJP rebels ruined the winning chances of the party’s official candidates.