ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Growing Cleavages in India?

Evidence from the Changing Structure of Electorates, 1962–2014

This paper combines surveys, election results and social spending data to document a long-run evolution of political cleavages in India. The transition from a dominant-party system to a fragmented system characterised by several smaller regionalist parties and, more recently, the Bharatiya Janata Party, coincides with the rise of religious divisions and the persistence of strong caste-based cleavages, while education, income and occupation play a diminishing role (controlling for caste) in determining voters’ choices. More importantly, there is no evidence of the new party system of being associated with changes in social policy, which corroborates the fact that in India, as in many Western democracies, political conflicts are increasingly focused on identity and religious–ethnic conflicts rather than on tangible material benefits and class-based redistribution.

What governs the choice of who to vote for in India? How has it changed over time? A claim that is often heard is that the traditional cleavages of caste and religion have been shrinking over time and that this process accelerated because of Narendra Modi’s leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which placed it on a broad and inclusive platform around the theme of development. Milan Vaishnav (2015), while summarising the 2014 Indian elections for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, writes:

Economic factors played an unusually large role in shaping voting behavior. Traditional patterns of caste-based voting were much less evident, and regional parties, often thought to be gaining ground, suffered a setback. A slightly deeper look, however, reveals that these changes were not necessarily unique to the 2014 general election. There is evidence to suggest that many of these trends have been percolating beneath the surface for some time. What 2014 has done is to bring these trends to the fore of public consciousness.

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Updated On : 15th Oct, 2019
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