Is The BJP's Post-2014 Electoral Record Overrated?
NEW DELHI: Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders commonly cite their party’s recent electoral record as proof of popular endorsement of the Modi Sarkar’s performance. ‘If the electorate is as unhappy with the Modi Sarkar as its critics claim, how come it votes the BJP to power in election after election?’ they ask.
However, data from the 16 states where assembly elections have been held since the BJP’s parliamentary election win of May 2014 suggests that the party’s performance, though impressive, is not as overwhelming as it is made out to be. Which, in turn, places a question mark around claims of prime minister Modi and his government’s high approval ratings.
The 16 states – together accounting for about 60% of the parliamentary and assembly seats in the country - are Assam, Bihar, Delhi, Goa, Haryana, Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), Jharkhand, Kerala, Maharashtra, Manipur, Puducherry, Punjab, Tamil Nadu (TN), Uttar Pradesh (UP), Uttarakhand and West Bengal (WB).
At one level, the BJP boast seems justified. Aggregate numbers from the most recent and immediately preceding assembly elections to the 16 states point to a sharp increase in the BJP’s vote share (from 12% to 24%) and seat tally (from 359 to 757), and the party, either alone or together with alliance partners, is currently in government in 10 of the 16 states. The increase in BJP vote share (from 10% to 19%) and seat tally (from 312 to 445) is notable even if the normally skew-inducing UP numbers are excluded.
Meanwhile, the corresponding numbers for the Congress, the BJP’s chief rival, aren’t flattering. There has been a dip in both the Congress’ vote share (from 17% to 14%) and seat tally (from 450 to 357), and it is currently in power only in Puducherry and Punjab.
A closer look at the numbers though presents a more sobering picture for the BJP.
One: It has lost three out of every five seats it has contested in assembly elections since May 2014. Of the 2,371 assembly seats where elections were held, the BJP contested 1,991 and won 757 (a ‘strike rate’ of 38%). If the UP numbers are excluded, the BJP won 445 of the 1,607 seats it contested (a strike rate of 28%) - meaning it lost roughly three out of every four seats it contested outside UP.
Two: The BJP comfortably achieved the numbers needed for government formation only in four of the 16 states (Assam, Haryana, UP and Uttarakhand). It took post-poll maneuverings to muster the numbers and form/ join governments in Bihar, Goa, J&K, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Manipur. As for the remaining six states (Delhi, Kerala, Puducherry, Punjab, TN and WB), the party was humiliated, contesting 698 of the 883 seats and winning only 10!
Three: There isn’t much indication of an uptick in the BJP’s performance after Modi was sworn in. The list of states (among the 16) where the BJP finds itself in power is dominated by those where it went into the assembly elections with the momentum created in the run-up to the 2014 parliamentary elections (its vote shares in the parliamentary elections in these states ranged from 28% to 56%), and where its rivals were facing anti-incumbency sentiment. The ground for the wins in these states was thus prepared before Modi assumed prime ministership. In other states, the BJP either failed to carry its May 2014 momentum into the assembly elections (Delhi, WB) or found the electorate as indifferent as it was in May 2014 (Kerala, TN).
Also, while parliamentary and assembly election vote shares are not ideally juxtaposible, it is noteworthy nevertheless that the BJP dropped more than 5% vote share between the parliamentary elections of 2014 and the assembly elections that followed in Assam, Delhi, Goa, J&K, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand. (It also dropped a sizeable vote share in Delhi and WB.)
The point of this analysis is not to deny the BJP’s expanded footprint (or the Congress’ reversals), but to question whether it can be ascribed mainly to what the Modi Sarkar has ‘achieved’ (as is repeatedly done).
Contrary to what media coverage and social media noise suggests, there are few incremental electoral gains in evidence post May 2014 for the BJP across 16 polls covering 60% of the country’s political theater. If anything, there have been slippages. Plus, with the BJP having received only one of every four votes cast, won only two out of every five seats it has contested and receiving a comfortable mandate only in select states, it may also be time to reflect on whether the Modi magic dazzles the electorate to the extent it is said to.