The Week
New Delhi

As India waits with bated breath for the Lok Sabha poll results, political analysts say this year's election was "one of the most polarised" with parties using caste and religion to garner votes.

While the BJP focused on integrating various backward castes under the Hindutva fold, the INDIA bloc tried to win over Other Backward Caste (OBC) voters by promising to conduct a caste survey if it is voted to power, they said.

Jagdeep Chokar, the co-founder of the poll rights body Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), said this election was "one of the most polarised" he has ever witnessed.

"There was polarisation along the lines of caste, religion and region. It was not like this before. Caste has always been one of the most important mobilising factors in elections, but here, both caste and religion-based politics were at play," he told PTI.

Dr Iftekhar Ahmad Ansari, an associate professor at Aligarh Muslim University, pointed out that the realignment of castes has presented a challenge to the BJP.

Bread-and-butter issues like unemployment and inflation raised by the INDIA bloc and its promise to conduct a caste survey if it is voted to power has cut into the carefully crafted OBC vote bank of the BJP, he said.

Social engineering by the BJP focused on integrating various backward castes under the Hindutva fold but this strategy is now under threat as the traditional vote banks realign, he added.

In Uttar Pradesh, Ansari said, the Samajwadi Party has undertaken social engineering by forming the 'PDA' (Pichda, Dalit, and Alpsankhyak) coalition. In Bihar, the political landscape is shaped by the 'MY BAAP' (Muslim, Yadav, Bahujan, Agra, Adhi Abadi and Poor) alliance.

In Maharashtra, Marathas and Muslims have united behind the Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray), he added.

In states like Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, OBC politics remains dominant due to the legacy of social reformers like Periyar.

The Mandal Commission's impact was the most significant in north India, where dominant OBC castes like Yadavs and Kurmis benefitted, while the Most Backward Castes (MBCs) lagged, according to Ansari.

However, Sushila Ramaswamy, a Political Science professor at Jesus and Mary College, argued that while caste and religion are significant factors, they have limited influence.

"Caste is a basic reality in the Indian context but there are limits to caste mobilisation. Identity politics across caste and religion has seen its limits. People now aspire for a good life, beyond these traditional divides," she told PTI.

Ramaswamy emphasised the shift towards aspirational politics, where economic opportunities and a better future take precedence over identity politics.

On the ground, voter sentiments reflect these complex dynamics.

Radha Rani from Khair village in Uttar Pradesh's Aligarh said a caste survey must be done.

"A caste survey has to be conducted and the opposition has a valid point about giving reservation to those left behind in development," she said.

Padmini Srivastava, a housewife from Aligarh, said the Ram temple consecration strengthened her support for the BJP.

"We want a Hindu Rashtra, so we voted for a prime minister who is unapologetic about Hinduism. The Ram temple consecration strengthened my resolve to choose the BJP," she said.

Sundar Dwivedi, a Brahmin shopkeeper in SC-reserved Hathras, expressed frustration over political parties fielding outsiders.

"Why is it that every time an outsider is chosen to represent Hathras? Do political parties believe we are not capable of taking care of Hathras?" he said.

The election's outcome hinges on how effectively parties have navigated the intricate interplay between 'mandal' and 'kamandal' politics.

While caste-based considerations remain crucial, the rise of temple-centric politics underscores the evolving landscape of religious mobilisation.

With hours to go for the Lok Sabha poll results, Ansari said the significance of 'mandal' versus 'kamandal' encapsulates the intricate dance of identity politics and cultural narratives in India, highlighting the enduring relevance of caste-based considerations and the emergent contours of religious mobilisation in shaping the nation's democratic discourse.

'Mandal' refers to caste-based voting blocs, a concept popularised during the Mandal Commission era of the 1980s.

Conversely, 'kamandal' symbolises temple politics, a phenomenon characterised by the mobilisation of religious sentiments and issues related to the Hindu identity.

In recent years, the 'kamandal' factor has gained prominence, with the parties leveraging temple-centric narratives and agendas to appeal to Hindu voters, particularly in regions with significant religious symbolism.

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