The 2014 Lok Sabha elections could be interpreted as a vote against the Congress and one for development. But bigger story is how Narendra Modi overcame the caste axis to receive votes cutting across caste lines in much of North India, particularly in the key swing states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
It would seem that after two and a half decades tussle ‘kamandal’ worsted Mandal across the Hindi heartland. For the BJP, this came about after taking recourse to use of forces that Mandal released nearly 24-years back in 1990.
The BJP’s clever mix of a message that contained development with its Hindu subtext spread by its OBC mascot Narendra Modi successfully overcame UP and Bihar’s caste politics. As a result, the BJP has completely decimated caste parties in both UP and Bihar.
The BJP was reduced to two seats in 1984 elections. In June 1989, the party by its Palampur resolution resolved to build a Ram temple at the site of Babri mosque in Ayodhya. A year later as L K Advani prepared to embark on his Rath Yatra, Prime Minister VP Singh announced the implementation of the Mandal Commission report to reserve jobs for OBCs.
The politics across UP and Bihar was never the same again. The BJP’s hopes of consolidated Hindu votes on the issue of Ram Janmabhoomi after initial success showed diminishing returns in the subsequent years with the OBC and Dalit leaderships carving out electoral spaces for themselves that successfully challenged the BJP in UP, reducing the party to 10 seats and 17 percent vote share in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.
But the BJP has hit back in 2014. In UP, the BJP has dented Mulayam Singh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party’s Muslim and Yadav alliance. It also succeeded in swaying enough Dalits to its side to break the back of Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party. In the adjacent Bihar, neither Laloo Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal nor Nitish Kumar have managed to stand up to the wave in Modi’s favour. Similarly, the party has done commendably in even the tribal dominated areas in Assam and Gujarat.
It has been an electoral verdict India hasn’t witnessed since 1984. There would be immense pressure on Modi to work towards three of Sangh Parivar's core tenets - the abrogation of Article 370, construction of Ram temple and implement a Uniform Civil Code. But a unanimous vote in his favour puts huge pressure on Modi to not just work for the interests of BJP’s traditional vote banks but also its new ones among Dalits, OBCs and even minorities.
The next challenge for the BJP would be to replicate this success in the assembly polls in UP in 2017 and in Bihar in end-2015. Could a predominantly upper caste leadership of the BJP in UP and Bihar accommodate enough from OBC and Dalits to give a crippling blow to Mulayam, Laloo, Nitish and Mayawati?