Election Insights: Voters in Rajasthan, MP, Chhattisgarh Reject the Allure of Freebies

From cultural nationalism to civic nationalism, the idea of the nation has permeated the consciousness of voters and forms the basis of their electoral decision.

Sunday’s election result, with the victory of the BJP, is not only emblematic of inclusivity championed by the party, but also reflective of the new journey that Bharat has embarked upon. It is a journey of a political evolution characterised by the politics of empowerment rather than the politics of entitlement – it emphasises Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas and Sabka Prayaas. There is a distinct shift in the traditional voting pattern, which was earlier determined by identities and incentives but is now influenced by economic empowerment, cultural assertion and social assimilation.

The PM’s Ladli Behna Yojana is reflective of the altered pattern of voting with women voting for economic empowerment and financial inclusion, and not along the lines of social identities or giving in to family pressure.

In Chhattisgarh, those on the ground could have foreseen the result. The carefully crafted image of the outgoing CM Bhupesh Bhagel as a champion of social justice and Chhattisgarhiya contrasted with a pardesiya (an outsider) identity did not bring the expected outcome — despite the promise of the highest minimum support price (MSP) for paddy rice and quotas to appease OBC voters.

It is also worth noting that the Congress’s intention of encroaching on OBC votes largely held by regional satraps was in vain. Even the caste census failed to garner the support of electorates, despite the Congress betting big on it. Until leaders from the OBC, SC and ST communities are given political leadership, electorates will not continue voting for those from dominant communities.

Another major reason for the Congress’s setback was its weak record in the tribal belt. The Modi government’s vision has always been for the holistic welfare of tribals and the protection of their rich cultural heritage, which had largely been ignored. Initiatives like the allocation of Rs 24,000 crore under the Pradhan Mantri Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PM-PVTG) Mission have been undertaken with a focus on civic amenities, basic infrastructure and livelihood opportunities.

Moreover, tribal identity is as important an issue as tribal rights and livelihood. From the Rani Durgavati Gaurav Yatra in June to the renaming of a railway station after a tribal icon Tantia Bhil, to PM Modi mentioning the freedom fighter Govind Guru of Banswara, a revered tribal icon, in his Mann ki Baat address, the Modi government has consistently honoured the tribal identity.

Through the recognition of Birsa Munda with Janjatiya Gaurav Diwas and festivals like Aadi Mahotsav in the national capital, the BJP government has struck a chord with tribal communities and reinforced the idea of cultural nationalism. These initiatives are not just initiatives for tribal people but they are also led by tribal people with President Murmu being at the helm of affairs.

Freebies vs Free Will in Elections

Voters in the three poll-bound Hindi heartland states and Telangana, voters were lured with schemes, guarantees and promises. However, this election has reinforced that Indian voters aren’t short-sighted and understand the core issues of their electorates as well as those of their state and nation. They are as concerned about rozgaar (jobs), awaas (housing), bijli (electricity) and paani (water) as they are of national security and the Indian sociocultural ethos. Voters want to weigh in on core sociopolitical issues and development policies rather than being lured by doles and sporadic development.

In Telangana, BJP’s KVR Reddy, a local leader, emerged as a dark horse by defeating both Bharat Rashtra Samithi’s CM K Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) and Congress’s Revanth Reddy in Kamareddy. KVR Reddy’s contribution to local development impressed voters, who acted against the brazen infrastructural development initiative of the KCR government, which sought to acquire agricultural lands in adjoining villages for a ring road. The BRS’s eventual defeat also represents the unpopularity of freebie schemes such as Rythu Bandhu. Yesterday’s result and the overall trend have shown that electorates are moving away from freebies to free will.

Women as Independent Voters

This election has shown that women do not vote according to the preferences of the men in their families. BJP won Madhya Pradesh primarily on the shoulders of female voters. Despite the BJP facing heavy anti-incumbency, the resounding victory for any party in the last two decades can be attributed to the larger participation of women who bring in a silent majority to support farmer welfare and tribal-centric initiatives. Babasaheb Ambedkar has emphasised that passing the baton of economic empowerment is the first step towards uprooting marginality.

The Ladli Behna Yojana at the state level, along with several women-centric schemes of the Modi government across the spectrum, from Direct Benefit Transfer to Nari Vandan Adhiniyam seeks to do just that. Women voters, like other marginalised electorates, are becoming mindful that appeasement or freebies cannot help them out of poverty and stop caste-based discrimination. The voting pattern of women, SCs, STs and OBCs is, therefore, slowly towards the BJP — making it a broad-based big tent party, a tag that was held by the Congress for long.

Nationalism and Hindu Identity

Issues of national security and other nationalist concerns are not merely election issues; they have deeper resonance with the people. The same party that plays an anti-Hindutva card in other states cannot expect to win in an election-bound state by attempting to cater to the majority there. Voting patterns and subsequent results have conveyed this sentiment. The assertion of a national identity and India’s rich cultural ethos has become the mainstay of today’s socio-political discourse.

In Rajasthan, we saw that neither an ostentatious show of appeasement nor a last-minute temple run can swing votes. From cultural nationalism to civic nationalism, the idea of the nation has permeated the consciousness of voters today and forms the basis of their decisions in elections not just at the national level but also at the state level.

As Devesh Kapur, a professor of South Asian Studies at Johns Hopkins University, perceptively noted, “Now that old Nehruvian India is giving way and is being replaced by Modi’s India, one that is less embarrassed by its limited English and heavy accents — its nationalism is unapologetic about India’s Hindu roots, and it is prepared to be more assertive in defence of what it regards as its national interests, even if it means redefining the idea of the ‘nation’.”

What we see is a welcome change where the politics of appeasement has conceded to the politics of aspiration, assertion and assimilation and the latest election results lay truth to that claim.

Aditi Narayani Paswan is Assistant professor, Lakshmibai College and founder of DAPSA.

The article was first published in The Indian Express as Rajasthan, MP, Chhattisgarh results show that freebies don’t strike a chord with voters on December 4, 2023.

Disclaimer: All views expressed in the article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to the organisation.

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Acknowledgment: This article was posted by Aasthaba Jadeja, a research intern at IMPRI.