This article aims to explain the concept of vote-bank politics as it occurs in India.

In the usual contemporary setting, most of us have come across the term “vote-bank politics”. This simple expression, denoting the so-called politics of appeasement, was first used in a research paper in 1955 by noted sociologist M.N. Srinivas to showcase the political influence exerted by a patron over a client. Vote-bank politics is the practice of creating and maintaining vote banks through divisive policies; it encourages voting based on the self-interest of certain groups, often against their better judgement.

A Multifaceted Approach to Vote-Bank Politics

Prevention of othering of the minority groups of a country is an unsaid role that a ruling party must fulfil to keep the spirit of secularism intact. The present-day Modi government has always been in question for using its“Hindutva ideology” to restyle the country as one with only the trappings of democracy, which has led to the widening of the gap between the centre and many minority groups of India, leading to a trust deficiency.

As an example, though the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—the party that now has hegemonic control over national politics—increased its vote share to 37.4 per cent from 31.1 per cent in 2014, its share of Muslim votes remained constant at 8 per cent. This indicates that despite earning an incremental vote share in the last years, the government has failed to earn the backing of a key social group—Muslims—further denoting the under-representation of the group in the party.

The Congress, which claims to be the flagbearer of secularism and enjoys disproportionate support from this social group till date, is no better. In 2014, the party nominated only 27 Muslim candidates for the Lok Sabha elections, a paltry 5.6 per cent of its total candidates, and in state elections for “critical states” such as Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, and Tamil Nadu, the number of Muslim candidates fielded by the Congress remained very low.

Before delving deep into the topic, let us consider these two statements:

  1. A particular section of people is made to believe that the concept of “majoritarianism” at the elected level will hinder their identity as an ethnic group.
  2. Another group of people believes that the historical foreign sieges and invasions have led to the withering of their culture and their collective oppression.

Do you notice a similar pattern in the aforementioned points? Even if most of their fears have not been actualised, there is a lingering feeling of doubt and commotion in the minds of the individuals. This is what this article calls “victim mentality”, which plays an important role in vote-bank politics.

The Victim Mentality

Before developing stringent perspectives, we need to understand the process of radicalisation of the victim mentality, which is one of the root causes of conflicts in a multiethnic country like India.

Victim mentality is an acquired behaviour in which a person tends to recognise or consider themselves as the victim of the actions of others. The victim often believes so even in the face of contrary evidence of such circumstances. The word “acquired” in the above definition has special significance. 

One may consider collective victimhood in political settings. In such a scenario, the citizens collectively feel victimised, most probably due to the thought of being suppressed by the hands of a major group (as stated in the above examples). They end up supporting certain leaders to further their political cause of “justice”. However, those leaders may be more likely to advocate violent conflict resolution or suppression of freedom of speech.

Certain political psychologists have laid out the points that collective victim mentality develops from a progression of self-realisation, social recognition, and eventual attempts to maintain victimhood status. Currently, in India, there are several different political parties with their very own varying ideologies. However, most of them utilise this victim mentality of their subjects, and this is how the concept of vote-bank politics has evolved.

To explain this concept, let’s analyse the psychological aspects of Dalit victimhood. It has been observed that “passive acceptance” of the victimhood stance by the Dalits can be credited to the rigid caste structure. The construction of Dalit symbolic suppression as a dominant social identity by political parties like the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is nothing but a tactic of mobilising the Dalit vote-bank. In the state assembly election of Uttar Pradesh in 2007, the BSP won 206 seats out of 403 seats forming an absolute majority. This result is evident how Dalit victimhood has turned into Dalit power through the political manipulation of the Dalit victim identity.

Now the question arises: Is vote-bank politics bad in itself or do political parties narrow-mindedly analyse its context?

Arguments against and for Vote-Bank Politics

It is considered dangerous because political parties try to woo particular caste groups and communities by making promises that are specific to those groups. Prime Minister Modi has stated vote-bank politics as the root cause of all the evils by comparing it to “termites”. Vote-bank politics has been used as a tool to invoke regional and casteist prejudices among the people of India. Babri Masjid demolition, exploitation of people of Uttar Pradesh and Bihari in Mumbai, the decision of releasing the killers of Rajiv Gandhi, or even the Gujarat riots are some of the examples of ill consequences of vote-bank politics.

Critics argue that in such a scenario, parties start favouring only certain groups that form the core of their support, thereby hampering the overall societal development. Given its potential for misuse, vote-bank politics should be seen as an instrument to be deployed by citizens, and not by the political class for dissecting the society.

On the other hand, it is often deduced that the pressure groups in the population, including vote banks, keep a check on the parties elected by following this approach. Since no parties want to witness the fall of their elected government, they would proactively deal with the issues of the people.

The “vote banks”, in turn, see this as an opportunity to get their demands fulfilled if their choice of party comes to power.  However, the statement counter-attacks itself if the ruling party has a bigoted outlook, seeking to polarise one particular group with respect to the other groups of the society.

Final Words

In a situation where vote-bank politics has become integral to the political fabric of a country, how can its positives overcome its negatives? It is by how well one can assess their environment. To clarify, political parties should be open-minded and futuristic in their approach, as the proper usage of vote banks (without the elements of propaganda and bigotry) would ensure the longevity of the regime by enhancing the faith of the general public.

One wise, well-founded vote against an avalanche of ill-considered votes can’t do much good; that’s why the voters should also be conscious about their rights and should not get swayed away by hollow promises with little to know applicability on the ground level. Ultimately, the victim mentality cannot be allowed to govern the politics of the country.

 One should seek first to understand, then to be understood.

Read our article on Women in Politics.

Article by Anupriya Pandey, Team ulaunch.

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