United Voters of India: The Logic of Collective Action (Part 3)


The idea of votebanks is not new in Indian politics. From Wikipedia:

Votebank, in the political discourse of India, is a term referring to a loyal bloc of voters from a single community, who consistently back a certain candidate or political formation in democratic elections. Such behavior is often the result of an expectation (real or imagined) of benefits from the political formations, often at the cost of other communities. Votebank politics is the practice of creating and maintaining votebanks through divisive policies. As it encourages voting on the basis of self-interest of certain groups, often against their better judgement, it is considered harmful to the principles of representative democracy.

The term was first used by noted Indian sociologist, M. N. Srinivas (who also coined the terms Sanskritisation and dominant caste), in his 1955 paper entitled The Social System of a Mysore Village. He used it in the context of political influence exerted by a patron over a client. Later, the expression was used by F. G. Bailey, a professor of anthropology at the University of California, San Diego, in his 1959 book Politics and Social Change, to refer to the electoral influence of the caste leader. This is the usage that has since become popular.

Some of the first identified votebanks were along caste lines. Others based on other community characteristics, such as religion and language, have also occurred. Votebanks are generally considered undesirable in electoral politics.

Another term used is “voting bloc”. From Wikipedia:A voting bloc is a group of voters that are strongly motivated by a specific common concern or group of concerns to the point that such specific concerns tend to dominate their voting patterns, causing them to vote together in elections. For example, Beliefnet identifies 12 main religious blocs in American politics, such as the “Religious Right”, whose concerns are dominated by religious and sociocultural issues; and Jews, who are identified as a “strong Democratic group” with liberal views on economics and social issues. The result is that each of these groups votes en bloc in elections.”

Whatever we call it (I prefer voting bloc), two things are clear in the Indian context. First, politicians know and leverage the idea of voting blocs in election campaigns. Second, voting blocs have been seen to be along caste, community and linguistic lines. There has never a voting bloc organised on economic issues and prosperity.

Tomorrow: Part 4

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.