Most observers of India have an implicit model of how Indians vote. They assume that voters in India act on their primary identities, such as caste or community, and that parties seek votes based on group identities—called vote banks—that can be collated into majorities and coalitions. K.C. Suri articulates the logic of this dominant model:
People of this country vote more on the basis of emotional issues or primordial loyalties, such as caste, religion, language or region and less on the basis of policies. The victory or defeat of a party depends on how a party or leaders marshal support by appealing to these sentiments or forge coalitions of groups and parties based on these feelings. People of India, unlike in the West, do not think and act as classes, and they vote for the party or leader they think their own, regardless of its or his policies.
Scholarship on India has accumulated strong evidence that elections are permeated by caste, language, religion, and identity politics. The prominence of parties such as the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), organized around Dalits and Muslims respectively, seems to confirm this dominant model. India also has many regional parties, such as DMK, AIADMK, and AGP. The two major parties—the Congress Party and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—also constantly seek to signal religious, caste-driven, and identity-based ideas and policies at the local level in an effort to garner political power. Similarly, intermediate and discriminated caste groups mobilize around caste identity to seek political representation.
© 2016 Brown Journal of World Affairs
Aseema Sinha, “Why Has “Development” Become a Political Issue in Indian Politics?” Brown Journal of World Affairs, Vol. XXIII (1), (15 pages), Fall-Winter 2016.