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“Our leader is now with Congress, but I feel Modi has done a lot of work, so we were in two minds before the elections. But finally decided to vote for Modi as he will be the Prime Minister” was the summation of a young ITI graduate Prashant Meghe in a village near Yavatmal. The ‘leader’ he was referring to was Nana Patole, widely proclaimed by local media to be the tallest Kunbi leader of the region. Young Prashant Meghe’s dilemma pretty much sums up the situation of the Nagpur division of Vidharba in Maharashtra which went to polls in phase 0ne of the 2019 LS elections on Thursday last.

Kunbis account for nearly 24% of all the voters in the 7 MP seats of this division, but of course, within Kunbis too, there are a lot of sub-castes like Tirole, Ghatole, Lewa, Jadhav etc. One of the reasons why Kunbis have been traditionally powerful here is because a large number of Police Patils control the village power matrix. Although Kunbis have been traditionally Congress leaning voters, they had started moving towards BJP-Shiv Sena over the last 2 decades which all came to fruition in 2014 when Nana Patole joined BJP and defeated NCP strongman Praful Patel by a huge margin.

Much water has flown into the Kanhan river since 2014 as Patole left the BJP for Congress and more churning resulted across the region. It was therefore very important for us to focus on how the different OBCs and other segments voted in the first phase of Maharashtra elections this time. Although Congress-NCP was the first choice among a big chunk of Kunbis, the lead was not emphatic as the NDA alliance too got nearly 4 out of 10 Kunbi votes in the region as our MAPi – Micro Analytics Projections (INTELLIGENCE) – tracker clearly shows.

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Our servers tracked 13350 polling booths out of 14919 belonging to the 7 LS seats that went to polls in this phase one which enabled our algorithms to accurately map the behaviorial dynamics of different caste-ethnic groups. While the Kunbi division was almost exactly 60:40 in favor of Congress, the counter-polarization among other communities was near total in favour of the BJP-SS alliance. Take the case of Telis, the traditional rivals of Kunbis who account for 11% of the voters here – BJP-SS got a whopping 74% of the Teli vote in phase 1. On the other hand, the SC votes saw a three-way split with the third pole being the BSP and the Prakash Ambedkar led VBA which had also put up significant candidates in at least 3 seats here.

There are two main reasons why the Kunbi votes got divided here. Firstly, among the Kunbis, the numerically larger Tirole Kunbis generally preferred Congress alliance while others like the Ghatoles and Jadavs were seen to be more inclined towards NDA. Secondly, many sitting legislators of the NDA, especially BJP are also strong Kunbi leaders in their own sub-regions and have worked hard in this election. And of course, there is always that third reason of PM Modi whose appeal cuts beyond caste considerations.

When we look at a seat by seat analysis, the stark contrast of Kunbi vote division while other communities going uni-direction in favor of the saffron alliance becomes pretty clear. In Wardha, for instance, sitting MP Ramdas Tadas a powerful Teli leader was pitted against Charulata Tokas. The problem was that Mrs. Tokas was seen as an outsider even by the Kunbis themselves because she has lived in Gurgaon for more than 2 decades and hardly has any connect with the people here. Furthermore, Datta Meghe, the former Congress MP and the tallest Kunbi leader in the district is now with the BJP while his son is a sitting MLA here.

Similarly, take the case of Bhandara-Gondiya, a seat which was won by Congress only last year in the by-election as Nana Patole had rebelled against the BJP and quit his MP seat. Today, Nana Patole has moved on to Nagpur to take on Nitin Gadkari leaving a vacuum for Congress to fill here. On election day, 280000 Kunbis exercised their franchise and our models show that Congress has got about 1.8 lakh of those votes while the NDA has managed to get nearly 1.7 lakh votes of the 1.9 lakh Teli voters who voted that day. Also adding to the Congress party’s woes is Prakash Ambedkar’s VBA which has managed to get a large enough chunk of the Dhivar community (SC) vote in the constituency.

Of all the seats that went to polls in phase 1, the Congress-NCP alliance had its best chances in Ramtek and Yavatmal-Washim seats, but they seem to have messed up even there. In Ramtek, for example, the once Mukul Wasnik backyard, Congress totally messed up its ticket by being in confusion until the very last moment and finally gave ticket to a former IAS officer who was not only reluctant but also unprepared for the battle. In Yavatmal-Washim, the Kunbis call the shots as they account for nearly 35% of the votes, especially the Tirole Kunbis. Here, Banjara community votes could be crucial as their spiritual guru, Kabir Maharaj has openly backed an independent candidate.

As per our models, Hansraj Ahir in Chandarpur (where an open and bitter battle between Ashok Chavan and Mukul Wasnik has hurt the Congress a lot) and Ashok Nete (BJP) in Gadhchiroli-Chimur have easy leads and are heading for victory. Nitin Gadkari should also hold his Nagpur seat although his lead will come down this time.

From the west, we travel to Bihar and the scene here is pretty much similar. In fact, if anything the OBC support for BJP is even stronger here than Maharashtra (apart from the Yadavs). The USHV – United Spectrum of Hindu Votes – of Bihar is one of the strongest in India today as NDA has got 2 out of 3 voters on its side from almost every segment of Hindu voters minus the Yadavs. This is an astonishingly strong performance by the BJP and its allies. This is the model on which future USHV trajectories could be built wherein 66% of all the major segments of Hindu voters get saffronized irreversibly.

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Our Micro-trackers had always put this phase in Bihar as virtually an NDA sweep with 2 seats of Aurangabad and Nawada being in the NDA column even before polling day as the groundswell of support here was quite strongly in favor of the ruling alliance. In Auranagabad, on the polling day, our teams reported that the opposition was missing in many polling station areas as this was one of the seats given to Jitan Ram Manjhi’s party despite of the fact that it has almost 20% upper caste voters. Manjhi simply doesn’t have the resources or the machinery to fight a battle in this seat, even as Congress workers were seen working for the NDA here.

In Nawada, popularly known as the safest Bhumihar seat, things went into tailspin when RJD chose a convicted rapists wife as the candidate only to consolidate Yadav voters which has clearly backfired as there was massive polarization among non-Yadav voters. Although this seat was given to LJP, the vote transfer seems to have been quite smooth for the NDA partner.

In Jamui, where Chirag Paswan , the son of Ramvilas Paswan was contesting, the only x factor was how would the Mahadalits vote given that RLSP had put up a former JDU MP as the opposition alliance candidate. The MAPi tracker has shown us that the 12% Mahadalit vote has split 62-39 in favor of LJP even as OBCs have by and large stood by the NDA. The only constituency where the contest was a bit tighter was Gaya which saw a Manjhi v/s Manjhi battle – this seat has been classified in the range of lean NDA to tossup by our models as the margin of victory could be quite small.

Wherever we go in India today, a lion’s share of OBCs identify themselves with PM Modi. Whether it is the Jats or Kashyaps or Sainis or Kushwahas of Uttar Pradesh or Telis and Malis of Maharashtra or Kurmis of Bihar, they all see his rise as a symbol of a new India where their last names don’t matter. This is not just a caste leveraged identitarian political movement, but is a deeper underlying catharsis of the erstwhile have-nots joining the high table as equal stakeholders in building a new India. Many in Maharashtra villages talk about the Kisan Samriddhi Yojana of getting 2000 Rupees, while women in Bihar still rave about getting free LPG cylinders, but all of these are mere symptoms of a larger underlying cause.

For a large number of OBCs and poorer sections of the society cutting across caste lines, Modi represents the first leader who not only knows their pains but also understands their aspirations despite being in the highest office of the land. In a sense, he has decoupled the Prime Minister’s office from just being a statesman-esque citadel of loftiness to a decentralized space which even the poorest man in a village can relate to. This is also the reason why many intellectuals and political pundits have so many issues with Modi, for they always believed that the PM should be in this Nehruvian or even a Vajpayee-ian mold where he should be more concerned about abstract concepts like NAM – Non Aligned Movement – or recite great poetry and indulge in high international diplomacy rather than talk about building toilets and providing healthcare; in the eyes of the intelligentsia it is almost like denigrating the office of the PM, because they believe these are stuff that Chief Ministers and MLAs should be doing, not the PM of the land.

This is why Modi has changed the office of the Prime Minister so deeply that no future Prime Minister can ever afford to sit aloof in his office like a Manmohan Singh, instead he will have to constantly be working without a break. How will the future Prime Ministers bring the energy of a Modi is the question that will haunt the next generation of Indian politicians.

These are our final projections for Phase 1

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