BJP's Reserved Seat Conundrum: Unpacking Mistakes and Social Justice Implications

The Congress has seen a rise in its count from seven to 32; whereas, the BJP's count has decreased from 77 to 55.
BJP's Reserved Seat Conundrum: Unpacking Mistakes and Social Justice Implications
Prachi Dureja/Newslaundry

New Delhi: The focus on social justice and reservation during the last two months of Lok Sabha poll campaign ostensibly led to the BJP’s tally of reserved seats being reduced to 55 from its previous 77 – a total of 131 constituencies are reserved for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes across the country.

The BJP lost 19 SC seats which it held across Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Haryana, Karnataka, Bihar, Punjab and West Bengal. Additionally, it lost 10 ST seats across Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Rajasthan and West Bengal. The Congress captured 12 of these SC seats and seven of these ST seats from the BJP.

Other parties also contributed to the BJP’s losses on reserved seats: the Samajwadi Party (SP) took five SC seats in Uttar Pradesh; the Trinamool Congress (TMC) won in Coochbehar; the Bharat Adivasi Party, a new entrant, secured Banswara; Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) won in Dumka; and the Nationalist Congress Party-Sharad Pawar (NCP-SP) took Dindori.

Significant defeats for the BJP included Jharkhand’s Khunti, where Congress candidate Kali Charan Munda defeated former CM and Union tribal affairs minister Arjun Munda by nearly 1.5 lakh votes; Rajasthan’s Banswara, where the Bharat Adivasi Party won by almost 2.5 lakh votes; and Karnataka’s Chamarajanagar, where the BJP lost to the Congress by over 1.88 lakh votes.

In the 2019 elections, the BJP had increased its tally from 71 to 77 reserved seats. The Congress, which had won only seven such seats in 2019, has increased its count to 32 reserved constituencies in 2024, including the 19 it wrested from the BJP.

The BJP experienced its greatest losses in Uttar Pradesh, where it lost six SC and ST seats – one to the Congress and five to the Samajwadi Party. The SP, which had no SC seats in Uttar Pradesh in 2019, won seven this year, including two that were held by BSP and Robertsganj, which was represented by Apna Dal-Soneylal.

The BSP also lost its only other SC seat in Uttar Pradesh, Nagina, to the Azad Samaj Party’s Chandrashekhar Azad, who won by a margin of over 1.5 lakh votes.

Of the 55 reserved seats the BJP won this year, 25 were ST seats (down from 32 in 2019), and 30 were SC segments (down from 45 in 2019).

The BJP made gains in ST seats in West Bengal (Alipurduar), Chhattisgarh (Bastar), and Odisha (Nabarangpur and Keonjhar), and in SC seats in Odisha’s Jagatsinghpur and Bhadrak – all previously held by the BJD. Additionally, the BJP retained all its SC and ST seats in Madhya Pradesh, with Union social justice minister Virendra Kumar winning the Tikamgarh seat by over 4 lakh votes.

The bigwigs who lost

The BJP’s NDA partners like the Janata Dal (United), the Lok Janshakti Party and the Hindustani Awam Morcha emerged victorious in five of the state’s six reserved seats. Only one was won by the Congress.

Among NDA bigwigs who lost such seats were BJP ministers Arjun Munda, Kaushal Kishore, Nisith Pramanik and Bharati Pravin Pawar. Union minister Arjun Ram Meghwal won, as did NDA allies Chirag Paswan and former Bihar CM Jitan Ram Manjhi.

In Bihar’s Sasaram, held previously by a BJP MP, Congress’s Manoj Kumar emerged victorious. Similarly, in Haryana’s Sirsa, Kumari Selja of the Congress defeated the BJP’s Ashok Tanwar.

Jharkhand saw Nalin Soren of the JMM win the Dumka (ST) seat from the BJP, while in Khunti (ST), Arjun Munda lost to Congress’s Kali Charan Munda.

In Telangana, the governing Congress won four – three SC and one ST – seats of the total five. Karnataka saw the BJP lose the Gulbarga (SC) seat to the Congress; the state has five reserved seats – three for SCs and two for STs. In Maharashtra too, the Congress dislodged BJP MPs in six of the nine reserved seats. In Rajasthan, the Congress wrested multiple SC and ST seats from the BJP.

In Uttar Pradesh, Union minister Kaushal Kishore lost his Mohanlalganj (SC) seat to the SP. And in West Bengal, Union minister Nisith Pramanik lost the Cooch Behar (SC) seat to the TMC.

400-paar, strategic mistakes

Experts suggested that the BJP’s “400-paar” rhetoric might have triggered such losses in reserved seats across the country. They opined that the BJP’s decline in reserved constituencies in the north and its fractured mandate in the reserved seats in the south was influenced by a combination of strategic missteps, effective opposition messaging and socio-political dynamics unique to different regions of India.

“The INDIA bloc’s narrative that an overwhelmingly BJP-majority government poses a threat to the Constitution resonated strongly with voters,” said Satish Prakash, a Dalit rights activist and physics professor at Meerut College.

“Concerns echoed through Dalit settlements about potential changes to the statute crafted by Baba Saheb (BR Ambedkar) and the risks to the protections it enshrines for them. These fears, fueled by statements from the BJP itself, prompted voters to become vigilant and determined to safeguard the Constitution. This played a significant role in the election outcome.”

He said allegations about a tacit alliance between the BSP and BJP led many Dalits to shift their support to the opposition alliance, believing it to be a more reliable defender of their interests. “As a result, numerous voters distanced themselves from the BSP, traditionally a stronghold for the community, feeling it was no longer capable of effectively challenging the BJP. For SCs and STs, reservation is not just policy – it’s survival as it paved the way for their political, economic, social, and educational advancement. Therefore, protecting it is sacred to them.”

Prakash criticised both the Congress-led INDIA alliance and the BJP, stating that both parties have historically sought to deprive Dalits and tribals of their constitutional rights. He pointed out that previous Congress policies under Prime Minister Narsimha Rao promoted privatisation, which narrowed spaces for Dalits in employment and education, as reservation policies do not apply in the private sector. He alleged that the SP is equally anti-Dalit, citing incidents during Akhilesh Yadav’s tenure that opposed the reservation bill and reversed pro-Dalit decisions made by previous governments.

“Mayawati government’s decision to rename Lucknow’s King George College as Sahuji Maharaj Medical was withdrawn by the SP government in the state. Manyawar Kanshi Ram Medical College in Saharanpur was changed to Shaikh-ul-Hind Maulana Mahmood Hasan Medical College during the Akhilesh regime. One lakh Dalit officers in the state were demoted by retrospectively implementing a Supreme Court order,” he alleged.

Asked about Mayawati’s silence on several issues of people’s concerns, he said, “Dalits are principled, socialists, rational and argumentative. They don’t indulge in actions of politics, which can potentially harm other sections of society. SP leaders provoked UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath during protests against the contentious CAA and proposed NRC, but who bore the brunt? It was Muslims, who faced brutal police crackdown and bullets.”

Professor Badri Narayan of Jawaharlal Nehru University said the “key to reserved constituencies is held by OBCs (Other Backward Castes)”. He said the SP-Congress alliance in UP won the majority of seats as a majority of OBCs voted in their favour.

Meanwhile, Sushil Pandey, a professor at the Baba Saheb Ambedkar Central University in Lucknow and author of Caste and Politics in Democracy, highlighted voter dissatisfaction with the BJP’s candidate selection and the opposition's strong messaging on social justice.

Senior journalist Hrishikesh Bahadur Desai of The Hindu echoed Prakash’s views, adding that influential groups in various states can sway the votes in favour of their preferred candidates. He said the Jains in Rajasthan and Gujarat, Gounders in Tamil Nadu, Lingayats in Karnataka, Marathas in Maharashtra and Reddys in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are in smaller numbers but have the power of influencing other communities.

“In the caste system, the unprivileged communities always want themselves to be seen with privileged communities as those who at the bottom intend to ride to the middle and those who are in the middle want to move up,” he said.

Desai also noted that the BJP’s influence in south India is limited as voting is largely influenced by culture rather than caste. “The Dravidians cannot be defeated by Hindutva,” he said.

“The situation of Dalits and tribals in the south is not as bad as in north India. The state has 101 Scheduled Castes, but only six communities are beneficiaries of reservation. Similarly, there are 52 ST communities, but only one of them has benefitted from quota. Dalits here don’t want confrontational politics as they have to live in the same society. They adjust to the situation,” he said.

Vithal Das Pyage, a retired college principal from Karnataka, said Dalits in south India, except Karnataka, have not experienced the BJP government and how it treats the Scheduled Castes in north India. “The SCs here have not directly suffered so much if compared to Muslims. There are several Dalit castes, such as Lumbanis, in the region who are not untouchables. Most of them are well off and subscribe to the saffron party’s ideology. They have also been given their due representation.”

Senior journalist Akshaya Mishra from Odisha said the BJP’s best ever performance in the state is in fact “a loss to the BJD (Biju Janata Dal), and not a victory of the saffron party”. “Despite welfare schemes and infrastructural development, the BJD lost miserably because its government was run by bureaucrats who are not liked by electorates. The party’s reliance on an outsider, VK Pandian, also contributed significantly to the loss.”

As part of a special series for Newslaundry, The Mooknayak had earlier reported on the election campaign in several reserved constituencies, such as Gaya, Bahraich, Bharatpur, Kutch, and the rise and fall of the BSP.

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