Understanding Vote-Bank Politics - The Positive Side

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March 30, 2019

What is the issue?

Despite the negative connotations, vote banks are favourable in terms of raising the bargaining power of individuals and groups.

What does 'vote-bank' mean?

  • The term ‘vote-bank politics’ was first used in a research paper in 1955 by noted sociologist MN Srinivas.
  • He used it in a very specific context to showcase the political influence exerted by a patron over a client.
  • Today, the term denotes voting on the basis of, among other things, caste, sect, language and religion.

What is the present understanding?

  • Almost all commentators, journalists, political parties, and columnists use the term ‘vote bank’ to showcase a type of politics.
  • It generally connotes a politics of appeasement and the term is usually used negatively.
  • Just as a market treats a person as a consumer, a political party or leader sees the masses merely as voters.
  • The discourse on the subject reduces the identity of a citizen to a vote-bank and thereby it has come to assume a negative connotation.

What are the favourable aspects?

  • A positive aspect is that vote bank politics increases the individual and collective bargaining power of the people vis-a-vis those in power.
  • In vote-bank politics, a particular group is aligned on the basis of caste, sect, religion, or language.
  • Significantly, this is recognised by the political parties.
  • In effect, the chances of demands and aspirations getting fulfilled are much higher for a group that is recognised as a vote bank.
  • For instance, persons with disabilities are not considered as a vote bank despite being 40-60 million in number.
  • So, mere numerical strength does not matter as much as the recognition of the group as a vote bank by political parties.
  • Similarly, women, despite accounting for almost half of the total population, are not considered as a separate vote bank.
  • This is because, over the years, political parties have realised that women do not vote as a group or community for one single party.
  • During elections, their identity as women takes a back seat while their identities of caste, religion and sect gain prominence.

Should vote banks be promoted then?

  • It is argued that political parties often try and ‘cultivate’ vote banks in order to secure more votes. However, this is not always the case.
  • Once a group or community starts feeling that it can be recognised as a vote bank, their collective strength increases manifold.
  • Consequently, all political parties keep appeasing these groups to gain support and votes.
  • In this way, vote banks serve the purpose of both the voters as well as political parties.
  • Nevertheless, vote-bank politics is criticisable when it is misused to manipulate the demands of one group/s to polarise the society.
  • Given its potential for misuse, vote-bank politics should be seen as an instrument to be deployed by citizens, and not by the political class for dissecting the society.


Source: BusinessLine

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