Vote banks are groups of voters that a political party can depend on for votes during elections. In return, the party promises to uplift that group/sect by taking care of their needs and demands. For example, dalits are a vote bank for the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and upper caste Hindus are typically a vote bank for the BJP.
Here are tips (as learned by the politicians) to play vote bank politics right.
Before any party comes to power, they have to make their vote banks happy to ensure loyalty on their part. This would include promises to revamp their locality, support their demands for reservations in government offices and educational benefits. Make sure you communicate these promises in a quirky way by using catchy taglines and sentences. Like ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao ‘ and ‘acche din aayenge’. That will ensure your vote banks remember you.
However, you can achieve the best result by meeting them face to face. Take the recent Karnataka State Assembly elections. During the elections, both the national parties – BJP and Congress – went all out to woo the different castes and sections by mutt hopping. As a part of their campaigns, both Rahul Gandhi and Amit Shah visited the heads of various mutts and temples, where they can target a majority of the castes a.k.a. potential vote banks. As pointed out by a Congress leader, these mutts have a set of followers from dominant communities, so no way they can miss out on them. One being the Lingayat community – a Hindu sect forming 17% of the Karnataka population. A week before elections the Congress-led state government recommended granting this community religious minority status to the Lingayat community. This claim seemed to have worked out positively for the party as the leaders of the community were seen supportive of the Congress.
Step 2! After giving them all the privileges and rights, try and stir an anti-caste or religion movement, especially targetting communities that don’t historically get along with your vote bank. For example, right-wing parties targeting Muslim minorities to appease their vote bank – Hindus. There have been a number of incidents in which BJP MLAs are seen pitting the Hindus against the Muslims for the sake of keeping their vote banks happy.
For instance, during the Gujarat Assembly elections last year, a video advertisement was released which mainly targeted the Muslims (apparent enemies of the party’s vote banks) and associated the community with fear. The advertisement starts with a young woman walking down the street fearfully with the ‘azaan’ (a Muslim call to prayer) being played in the background. The video ends with the woman reaching her home and saying that now as Modi is here, we do not need to worry (Full advertisement here). Another example of this could be the exploitation of north Indians particularly ‘Biharis’ in Maharashtra by the Shiv Sena and the MNS. These parties, have always referred to as ‘Biharis’ and north Indians in Mumbai as infiltrators. This is seen as their way of securing their vote bank – the Marathis. These Biharis and UP migrants typically compete with the Marathas for jobs. This is fully exploited by both the parties.
After a series of promises and targetted policies, once you are in power – you have to protect your vote bank from all sorts of scandals, scams and conflicts. For instance, if your vote bank is a part of a scandal like a murder, just to make sure they are loyal to you, the party can find a way to ‘deal’ with this problem. Or simply do not punish them for their actions. Or even better – maintain silence. There have been many incidents in which the vote banks walk out scot-free just because the government cannot afford to upset them. For instance, the Rajasthan CM, Gulab Chand Kataria defended a Hindu mob for the murder of a Muslim on the suspicion of transporting cows. He stated that the cow protectors have done a good job by protecting the cows from smuggling. In fact, even the police reports were against the victims – charging them with killing a cow. Likewise, the Congress has always encouraged the illegal immigration of the Bangladeshi Muslims, as they could form a chunk of fake voters which would be used by the party. That was they very reason why the Congress government in 1983 had passed the IMDT Act which made it possible to retain the illegal immigrants.
Well, to be on the safe side always keep temporary vote banks handy. Venture out of your comfort zone and target new banks. You never know, they too might help you win the elections.For instance, the BJP’s attempt to introduce Triple Talaq Bill was seen as an attempt to create a new vote bank and targeting the Muslim women. Ahead of the UP elections in 2017, PM Modi promised and ensured to protect the constitutional rights of the Muslim women. According to the opposition, the BJP was simply politicising the issue for a ‘new vote bank’. And it did work as well! As per the winning BJP party, substantial votes in the elections were from the Muslim women. In fact, Amit Shah had well instructed all the election managers to use ways and means to secure maximum of minority votes from female Muslims by targeting the oppressive practices within the community. Although this did prove to be a success for the UP elections, it had mixed reactions from the Muslim women. While it struck the chord for some women, who actually sent Rakhis to the PM. On the other hand, Muslim women activists are very well aware of the party’s attempt to create a new vote bank. They went back to citing how Congress had used it as a vote bank during Shah Bano case in 1986.
Minories like Muslims are just used by the government for their benefits. A lot is said and spoken to uplift the – but the gross representation of the Muslims in Lok Sabha does not translate that into reality (Only 22 out 543 seats are held by Muslims).
Here is an infographic which shows whether you are eligible to stand for a Lok Sabha seat or no: