Religion-as-Ethnicity and the Emerging Hindu Vote in India

AuthorNeelanjan Sircar
Published date01 June 2022
Date01 June 2022
Subject MatterSpecial Section: India @75: Religion and Citizenship in IndiaArticles
Religion-as-Ethnicity and
the Emerging Hindu Vote in India
Neelanjan Sircar1
Religious division formed the basis for the subcontinent’s partition and has continued to be a major
social cleavage in local relations. Yet remarkably religious parties have rarely been successful in India.
This may be changing with an ascendant Bharatiya Janata Party mobilizing the Hindu vote. Accordingly,
this article seeks to explicate the conditions under which successful religious parties may emerge. In
order to do so, I conceive of electoral mobilization on religion as a form of ethnic mobilization, what I
refer to as religion-as-ethnicity voting. I argue that religion-as-ethnicity voting emerges when the reli-
gious group meets certain spatial demographic criteria (density and pivotality) and when a governing
party representing these interests can use state power to reify boundaries between religious groups. I
use this framework to explain the emergence of the Hindu vote in the Indian state of Assam.
Campaigns and elections, ethnic conflict, Indian democracy, religion and politics, voting and elections
In 2014, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stormed to power, winning a single-party majority in the lower
house of India’s parliament (Lok Sabha). In the next election, it bettered its performance—growing from
282 seats in 2014 to 303 seats in 2019 out of a total of 543 seats in the Lok Sabha. Since it has come to
power, the BJP has sought to inject the politics of Hindu nationalism into the public discourse—from
rewriting citizenship laws that disadvantage Muslims to renaming streets and cities to reflect ‘Hindu
Yet, as Sitapati (2020) notes, winning elections is part and parcel of the present Hindu nationalist
strategy (if not previous iterations of it). The ruling BJP has been unapologetic in its focus on winning
elections across India. If we are indeed in a period in which a stable ‘Hindu vote’ across India will
determine national electoral outcomes, then this would be a major departure from the past. India’s
electoral history is suffused with parties that contest elections on a caste or linguistic basis, with little
electoral success for religious parties, Hindu or otherwise. A key project of Hindu nationalism is to
1 Centre for Policy Research, Delhi, India.
Corresponding author:
Neelanjan Sircar, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi 110021, India
Studies in Indian Politics
10(1) 79–92, 2022
© 2022 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/23210230221082824

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