That women voters have played a big role in the BJP’s victory in Uttar Pradesh has emerged as a strong narrative after these results.

Mar 12, 2022New Delhi

Everyone likes to explain election results in hindsight. The temptation to ascribe big verdicts to just one or two factors is often difficult to resist. Such tendencies, however, do not help us in understanding the diverse and layered terrain of Indian politics. The latest Uttar Pradesh election results, when read with the findings of the Axis-My India exit poll survey – their headline vote share projection of 46% and 36% for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)- and Samajwadi Party (SP)-led alliances is pretty close to the actual numbers of 43.8% and 36.3% respectively – highlights this.

The women vote advantage for the BJP is real…

That women voters have played a big role in the BJP’s victory in Uttar Pradesh has emerged as a strong narrative after these results. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his speech after the BJP’s election victories, also mentioned this fact. The headline numbers on vote shares by gender for the SP and BJP alliances suggest a much bigger gap between their support among men and women. “The single biggest difference between both the parties is female voters. Women are voting extraordinarily in favour of BJP where the difference is 16% as against 4% difference among male voters”, the Axis report said.

…but might not be a homogenous thing

However, the claim of the BJP enjoying a general advantage among women vis-à-vis the SP comes under question when read with another data point given in the Axis report, namely political preferences of women after classifying them by their caste identities. Within its core support base of Yadavs and Muslims, the SP actually has a greater support among women than men. The gender gap in support for the SP comes into play among communities which have not been core supporters of the SP, BJP or the BSP such as Jats and Kurmis. In traditionally non-SP aligned social groups, too, there is little gender gap in support for the SP, even though the overall support levels are low. These statistics underline the pitfalls of reading too much into the women factor in election results without acknowledging the intersection of gender with caste.

Did BJP’s welfare push trounce economic pain?

Once again, the evidence is more complicated than the narrative. The Axis report said that free ration from the government or benefit under any other government welfare scheme was the “particular reason” 12% (6%each for both these factors) of the voters voted for a given party. The share of voters who voted because of unemployment or inflation related concerns is exactly the same. As is to be expected, the BJP was the major beneficiary for voters driven by free ration and welfare schemes, whereas the SP gained when voting decision was made keeping inflation and unemployment in mind. The Axis report also shows that both the BJP and the SP seem to have an equal pool of loyal voters. Overall, 13% of voters listed party-loyalty behind the reason for their voting. Where the SP seems to have really lost out vis-à-vis the BJP is in its inability to sell a development narrative to the electorate and counter the BJP’s attack on its law and order record. These two factors were listed as the reason for voting choice by 30% of voters.

Importance of organisation, representation and narrative-setting in politics

Why did the SP do better among women in its core social groups? Why did it fail to make a mark among women in communities, which can be described as traditionally vacillating, despite being able to attract a much larger share of men?

The SP has to answer these questions itself. Its approach to attracting such caste groups was based on alliance-building with regional leaders and parties just before the elections. This support was demonstrated through what were male-dominated political gatherings. Was this enough when it came to reaching out to women? Parties such as the SP have never had a cadre-based organisation, and traditionally, canvas support on community lines. The BJP, on the other hand, is known for investing in cadre-building. There are women organisations of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) which are known to lend their boots on the ground to BJP’s election outreach. If the SP did not even make an effort to reach out to women outside its core-base, can it blame them for not supporting it in what was a newly formed community-wise political alliance?

Similarly, while the SP and most opposition parties have been critical of immediate economic issues such as unemployment and inflation, the Opposition has little to offer in terms of a comprehensive critique of the BJP’s economic vision or what an alternative should be. The BJP, on the other hand, has made considerable political investment in selling this narrative, best seen in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s push to propagate these ideas through various platforms such as his radio telecast Man Ki Baat or set of webinars conducted after the presentation of this year’s Budget. The political dividend the BJP reaps on the issue of development is a fruit of this consistent effort. The Opposition, including the SP in Uttar Pradesh, is guilty of organisational and intellectual lethargy in challenging the BJP on these counts