Electoral Politics in Urban India

The results of 16th Lok Sabha elections somehow pose a serious challenge to the conventional distinction between urban and rural Indian voting behaviour. The assumption that urban India attracts more towards sophisticated and mature issues (such as political stability of the governments, growth of the economy, urbanisation and so on) while rural India gets trapped in emotional issues and votes on caste/religious lines, turned out to be rather irrelevant this time.

The findings of the Lokniti-National Election Survey 2014 indicate that although the analytical value of the urban Indian voting behaviour has increased, the rural-urban distinction does not have any drastic impact on the vote share of almost all the political parties (at least at the national level). The survey, more specifically, points towards three important aspects of urban voting.

Table: Urban-Rural Vote Share at the National Level (Source: Lokniti-NES Survey 2014)    

 

Congress

Congress+

BJP

BJP +

Left

BSP

SP

 AAP

Others

NOTA

Rural

 

19.2%

4.3%

30.2%

7.0%

5.1%

4.4%

4.0%

.8%

24.3%

.7%

Urban

 

19.4%

1.6%

32.6%

7.5%

3.3%

3.5%

2.3%

4.3%

23.2%

2.1%

Total

 

19.3%

3.4%

31.0%

7.2%

4.5%

4.1%

3.4%

2.0%

23.9%

1.2%

 

Firstly, the findings offer us a broad outline by which the changing support-base of political parties can be reevaluated. For example, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is often described as the party of urban-middle classes, gets a significant rural support this time (though the party’s urban vote share remained expectedly higher). The Congress’ support, on the other hand, did not fluctuate and the party received a somewhat stable response. The case of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is quite interesting. AAP, which emerged as a “metro-phenomenon” after its remarkable victory in Delhi assembly election last year, did not deviate from its city-centric appeal. As a result, the party’s performance in rural India was almost depressing.

This national picture needs also to be seen in its fragments. The uneven trajectories of urbanisation at the state level also played a significant role. For instance, in Uttar Pradesh, the difference between national level performance and state level vote share in urban areas for all the main political parties is virtually identical. BJP, which won most of the seats, secured 42% votes in cities and town of UP and around 43% votes in rural areas respectively. But, the political scenario in Bihar is quite different. BJP and its allies got 44% votes in urban Bihar; while in rural areas, party’s vote share was 32%. This significant difference underlines the specificity of the state-level competitive politics.                   

Finally, the survey also highlights the changing modes of political mobilisation in urban India. The political parties used technology quite extensively for reaching out to urban electorates in this election. Unlike others, BJP employed modern media techniques more creatively for political canvassing. This helped the party to secure more urban votes throughout the country. However, one cannot ignore the critical space offered by the social media in urban centres, which also raised the level of electoral consciousness. The relatively higher turnout in metros and most of the cities is a reflection of this multiple media centric electoral politics in urban India.           

About Author

Hilal Ahmed (ahmed.hilal@gmail.com) ​ is Associate Fellow, Centre for the Study of Developing societies, New Delhi. He is the author of Monuments, Memory and Contestation: Muslim Political Discourse in Postcolonial India (Routledge/Forthcoming). Ahmed writes on popular Islam and Muslim politics. He is working on his second book project, Politics of Muslim Political Representation.     
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