The recently conclude assembly elections in Maharashtra & Haryana have elicited peculiar reactions from all sides. The results have thrown up a result where both sides are neither fully jubilant nor fully crestfallen about them.
During the 2014 Maharashtra assembly elections all the 4 major parties in the states had fought separately instead of fighting in an alliance like they have historically done for past several election cycles. NDA (National Democratic Alliance) partners BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), SS (Shiv Sena) fought separately as did UPA (United Progressive Alliance) partners INC (Indian National Congress) & NCP (Nationalist Congress Party). BJP won 122 seats & since they fell short of the 144 halfway mark, they had to again enter into an alliance with SS who won 63 seats. The opposition INC & NCP won 42 & 41 seats respectively.
This time around both the NDA & UPA partners fought in an alliance (just like they did in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections a few months ago). Based on a whole host of factors like the poor performance of the INC & NCP during the Lok Sabha elections where they only won 6/48 seats, popularity of incumbent BJP CM Devendra Fadnavis & PM Narendra Modi, lack of robust campaigning of the part INC & some pre poll survey projecting a lot of seats for the NDA alliance the expectations for NDA were sky high. Most analysts & journalists had projected that NDA would easily win 200+ seats & even up to the 220 – 240 range. Many folks whole heartedly bought into this hype & the contest was referred to in some circles as a “done deal” or the opposition giving the NDA a “walkover”.
In the end the NDA alliance did win but their tally of 161 (BJP 105 SS 56) proved to be much lower than all the pre poll projections. They also ended with a tally that was 24 seats lower (2014:185) than five years ago.
CM Devendra Fadnavis has mentioned that they are in touch with many of the independent candidate winners (some of whom are BJP rebels) who will join the NDA alliance which will bring the alliance numbers then closer to the 2014 numbers.
Usually in elections when there is a change in fortunes of major political parties (without the entrance of any new big players) usually the vote% of one side dips while others will increase. However in 2019 vs five years ago interestingly all the 4 major parties saw their Vote% dip.
This would most likely be due to the fact that all 4 had fought separately & had contested almost all (260-287 seats out of 288) seats in the previous cycle. This also makes the comparison of vote% between both cycles not an “apples to apples comparison” as the no. of seats contested in 2019 is approximately half of what it was in 2014. Two major groups do stand out in Vote% increase between 2014 & 2019. There is a 5.2% increase in the Independent vote% which doubled from 4.7% in 2014 to 9.9% in 2019. This can be attributed to the vast number of influential rebel candidates from many parties that contested this time as Independents after being denied tickets by their respective parties. Also the entry of VBA (Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi) formed by Prakash Ambedkar in 2018 garnered 4.6% of the overall votes.
A better (but still not an ideal comparison by any means) would be to look at the vote shares per alliance.
Due to all the 4 big parties losing Vote% it is but natural that both alliance would also lose Vote%. However the loss for UPA at 2.6% being almost half of the 5.0% loss for NDA could be a factor in the +15 seat gain for the UPA alliance. Here the multiple rebel candidates from BJP who fought as Independents would have dented the NDA Vote% making their loss higher.
BJP has come under criticism for having won fewer seats than last time around but its Win% (sometimes referred to Strike Rate which is Seats Won / Seats Contested) is at a very respectable 64% which is way higher than all the other competitors which are well below it in the 30-45% range.
Note: Data from ECI website indicates that there were 164 BJP candidates in the fray. However it was reported that few of these candidates were from smaller allied parties who fought under the BJP symbol. This would then make the “filtered” BJP Win% ~70% (similar to what was reported by some in the media).
2014 saw the formation of a BJP government for the first time ever in its history. Similar to Maharashtra the expectations from many were that this would be a cake walk for the BJP where they could win even up to 70+/90 seats in the Haryana assembly. During the 2019 LS elections just a few months prior BJP had swept the state winning all the 10 Lok Sabha seats in Haryana. However during the assembly polls, BJP only could manage to win 40 seats (vs 47 in 2014) & thus ending up short of the 46 seat majority mark.
This resulted in a hung assembly where both BJP & INC started reaching out to JJP (Jannayak Janta Party) & Independent candidates to form the next government. As per reports today JJP has agreed to form a coalition government with BJP where JJP will be given the Deputy C.M. post.
Looking at the vote% both BJP & INC were able to increase their vote% vs the previous cycle by 3.3% & 7.5% respectively. Looking at some of the commentary post the Haryana results which focused heavily on the loss in seats for the BJP, the +3.3% increase in Vote% gets lost among the noise.
The upstart JJP made a dramatic entry into the field getting a handsome 14.8% of the vote share. Its founder Dushyant Chuatala is the grandson of former Haryana CM Om Prakash Chautala. After a power struggle between the various family members of the Chautala family, in Dec 2018 Dushyant was expelled from the party when he formed the JJP. In this election the INLD after winning 19 seats with 24.1% of the Vote in 2014 came crashing down to winning just a solitary seat with 2.4% vote share.
However even adding up theoretically the JJP+INLD Vote% from 2019 it is still 6.8% lower than the last election. Some it has moved on the BJP & INC helping to grow their respective vote shares. Even the Vote% of the all the remaining contestants (Others) has shrunk by 4%.
Many have wondered that what explains this paradoxical situation like those in Haryana 2019 & Gujarat 2017 where the BJP Vote% goes up (+1.2% GUJ +3.2% HAR) but they end up with fewer seats (-16 seats GUJ & -7 seats HAR). Some of it has to do with the shrinking presence of the “Others”. Once upon a time the “Others” which consisted of many smaller parties & also Independents used to have significant vote share%. This translated to some amount of influence in the outcome of elections & also during coalition building post elections. The Indian voter it seems has become shrewder unwilling to cast his vote in favor of some party or independent candidate that doesn’t have the heft to rule for the next 5 years. He considers voting for these smaller parties/others simply as a “wasted” vote.
Most of the states show that over the past 3 election cycles including current one the average vote share of Others has come down from an average of ~24% to ~18% (based on a limited sample of past few elections Note: I have excluded Maharashtra as the major parties fought separately in one cycle & together in next one making comparison not valid) A 1 to 1.5% Vote% could possibly be attributed to being lost to the NOTA option (which was just introduced in 2013). Even after excluding NOTA still it shows that there is a ~5% drop in OTHERS vote share % vs older cycles.
Today INC on a national level looks moribund having been routed in successive general elections. However at a state level things are not so dire. Having encountered incumbency after a long stint of 10 years at Centre (UPA 1 & 2 years) combined with being in power in some states INC bottomed out on a state level in most state elections during the 2013-14 year time frame.
Since the 2017 INC has gained about 1.5 to 7.5% Vote% in various assembly elections compared to the previous cycle of 2012-14 when they were completely out of favor with the voters post 10 years of UPA rule. BJP on the other hand has a mixed story where Vote% have increased in Gujarat, Karnataka & Haryana while getting reduced in MP, Rajasthan & CG.
The above mentioned ~5% in Others Vote% doesn’t seem to be significantly transferring in votes to the BJP but more so seems to be transferring to INC & other opposition parties.
So the BJP dominance over past few years is coming under stress from 2 separate dimensions
- Collapse of the Others Vote% which appears to be mostly going to the opposition
- Small rebound in the INC/opposition Vote%
BJP in the 2013-14 time frame due to the voters being completely fed up of INC chose options other than BJP. Many times the anti INC vote was spread out over a whole host of parties including BJP & other regional outfits. However BJP being the biggest of them all combined with the appeal of Narendra Modi was able to take the most advantage of it. This resulted in some spectacular outcomes like in Haryana in 2014 where they had only 33.2% of the Vote% but gained 47/90 seats to gain an absolute majority: basically saying that they reaped huge benefits of the first past the post system.
Opposition voters now are tactically choosing whom to vote for by voting for the big opposition parties vs Others (i.e. concentrating their votes) & a small rebound for the INC makes the challenge tougher for the BJP. The same past the post system quirks that helped BJP sweep earlier now helps INC & other opposition gain more seats even in cases where BJP Vote% went up! For e.g. 33.2% Vote% in one cycle helps BJP win 47/90 seats in Haryana but in the next cycle with a higher 36.5% Vote% they can only win 40/90 seats. The only clear way for BJP to stay ahead of the game would then be to either find new pre poll allies to significantly increase its Vote% or organically grow its support base which would help it in face of slightly more united opposition voter base.
Now this doesn’t mean that over the next few years BJP is going to automatically lose the next set of assembly elections. The outcome of elections is determined by a large list of complex factors not just the above two ones. Even in the various elections listed above some have resulted in BJP wins, some in BJP defeats & some in hung assemblies. What however is happening that while earlier BJP encountered relatively easier victories with first past the post electoral system, now the “margin of error” for it to emerge victorious (which it certainly can) has now reduced vs before.
EXTRAPOLATION & FUTURE:
The last point is about the extrapolations between general/national & assembly elections. The Indian voter has shown over the past 12 months that he/she votes differently on local & national issues. Nothing else can explain BJP losses in MP/RAJ/CG in Dec 2018 followed by a thumping NDA victory under PM Modi in May 2019 & now the underwhelming success for BJP in Maharashtra & Haryana. This crazy obsession of political analysts & followers on all sides of the political spectrum to directly extrapolate national election results to assembly elections & vice versa needs to stop. We had opposition folks salivating about the end of the Modi government after the assembly polls last December. Similarly based on the general election results some BJP supporters in May 2019 were dreaming of 225+ (as NDA got more votes than UPA in 225+ assembly segments in Maharashtra for 2019 LS) for the assembly elections to be held few months later on. While PM Modi is extremely popular, now 5 years down the road there is some level of anti-incumbency especially against the local BJP governments which are not held in the same high regard as the PM. PM Modi being the star campaigner can help energize the BJP electorate but the outcome is more influenced by local issues than national issues. If the local BJP governments underwhelm in terms of performance it would not be surprising to see that one hand while the central government enjoys pro incumbency local governments would still suffer anti-incumbency like we are used to see regularly in Indian polity. There could cases over the next few years where local BJP governments are voted out of power or come back with smaller majority or there is a case of hung assembly. These outcomes could be completely disassociated with PM Modi’s popularity. Even with his herculean campaigning efforts there is only so much that the PM can do to overcome unpopularity of local NDA/BJP governments. Also any setbacks in assembly election should not be taken as a harbinger of outcome for the 2024 general elections.
P.S.: I want to specially thank Vivek Madani for helping to pull the data for all constituencies (from the ECI website).