by Nilofar Suhrawardy 30 October 2019
Paradoxically, despite having literally swept the 2019 parliamentary elections, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has failed to display a similar show in assembly elections held recently in states of Maharashtra and Haryana. BJP has failed to win the required number of seats to be able to form state governments in Haryana as well as in Maharashtra. This certainly may be viewed as an alarm bell for BJP and also its key leaders, particularly Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Despite Modi having campaigned actively for these state elections, its electoral impact has not been very effective. What does this indicate? Political drama raised ahead of national elections, which seems to have played a crucial role in return of Modi-led BJP to power, has failed to click at the regional level in these two states. There is no denying, even illiterate, common Indians are democratically smart enough to distinguish between importance of regional and national elections. Within less than six months of Modi having outsmarted his rivals during Lok Sabha (Lower House of Indian Parliament) elections, voters appear to have turned their back towards him.
Equally significant is the strong fight given by Congress, even though the party members did not campaign too actively for these two assembly elections. Or at least, even if they did, not much attention was paid by media to the nature of their campaign. Clearly, the Congress was not expected to perform well in these two states. It may be recalled, despite the party having campaigned actively for Lok Sabha elections, it failed miserably. A different story has been conveyed by results of assembly polls in Haryana and Maharashtra. It is indeed amazing. Miserable performance of Congress in parliamentary elections had led to perceptions that the party was almost “finished.” It was “a leaderless” party and so forth. Against this backdrop, Congress was not expected to display any commendable political show. However, electoral gains of Congress, particularly in Haryana assembly, have stunned its critics as well as rivals. This may be viewed as a wake-up call for party activists. It is too early to view the Congress as being a “finished” party. Congress is down but not out of the political race yet. Also, voters have not still given up totally on this party, particularly at the regional level. Irrespective of perceptions or misperceptions held about party’s leadership at the national level, regionally, voters still retain confidence in their leaders. At least, this is suggested by votes and seats gained by Congress in Haryana.
It is possible, the impression created about Congress because of its performance in parliamentary elections may not be totally correct. The general trend is to analyze political issues from the angle of what politicians in power say, media coverage accorded to them and also opinions/speculations circulated about the same through various outlets of communication, including Facebook, WhatsApp and so forth. Statistical significance of votes at the time of electoral verdict tends to be subsequently overshadowed by various parties and independent candidates’ share of seats. Political rhetoric indulged in by winning parties/candidates often minimizes significance of percentage of votes won by them. The role played by regional issues and local leaders’ campaign also tends to be sidelined.
When studied in context of importance of votes gained by rival parties in Lok Sabha elections, nothing seems surprising about electoral verdict of Haryana and Maharashtra assembly polls. The question is not of BJP and/or Modi-wave having failed to sweep these polls but that of votes’ significance. BJP failed to bag fifty percent of seats as well as votes in both the states. Compared with Lok Sabha result, the difference seems stunning, maybe shocking for BJP. Modi-led alliance literally swept the Lok Sabha polls in the two states. Paradoxically, a different picture surfaces when voting percentage gained by rival parties is glanced at.
BJP fell short of securing sixty percent of votes in both states’ assembly elections though a different picture was displayed by its gain in Lok Sabha election. Undeniably, Congress failed miserably in gaining Lok Sabha seats from Maharashtra as well as Haryana. The political reality of the party and its allies having secured around thirty percent votes in these states cannot be ignored. This suggests that Congress did not put up as dismal performance as indicated by seats gained by it in Lok Sabha. This message has been asserted more strongly by the recent assembly polls’ results.
The anti-Pak card used by Mr. Modi ahead of Lok Sabha polls probably carried little importance for voters during assembly elections. Besides, neither BJP nor Congress can afford to be unaware of voters’ calculative strategy while deciding their role in assembly elections. It may be recalled, BJP’s victory in 2014 Lok Sabha election had literally no impact on Delhi voters when they chose to favor Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in 2014 as well as in 2015 during this state’s assembly poll. Seriously, this raises the billion dollar question about Modi-wave being responsible for BJP’s 2014 victory as well as the party’s return to power in 2019? If BJP had swept the recently held Haryana as well as Maharashtra assembly polls, this question would not have had any significance. But the party has faltered, falling on support of other parties to head the two state governments.
Let us take another look at votes’ significance. In Lok Sabha election, BJP won 37.36 % of the votes. The Congress won 52 seats, 19.49% of votes. The difference in seats and votes won by both the parties cannot be ignored. BJP won less than 50% of votes, but secured more 55% seats in Lok Sabha. Despite securing nearly 20% votes, Congress managed to win just around 10% seats in Lok Sabha. In a few states, BJP swept the polls, that is won more than 70% of seats though it won less than 90% votes. In Uttar Pradesh, BJP won 62 of 80 seats though it received less than 50% votes. In Rajasthan, BJP won 24/25 seats but less than 60% votes. In Madhya Pradesh, BJP won 28/29 seats and less than 60% votes. In Delhi, BJP won all 100% (7/7) seats but less than 60% votes.
The so-called master-cards used by BJP’s key members/supporters during their campaign for Lok Sabha election appear to have had little importance for voters in recent assembly elections. Less than six months ago, the party’s campaign focused on anti-Pak war-like noise, anti-Muslim card used actively by right-wing elements, Kashmir-issue, Ayodhya-card and hype raised over similar such issues. For a while, these cards certainly weakened rivals’ campaign, almost silencing them but that was it. It seems, frenzied campaign regarding these can succeed for a while but not always in securing votes. Electoral rhetoric over similar issues cannot convince and win over voters for too long a time. In the end, voters base their decision on what they may gain. This clearly is a strong message for key parties in the race. BJP’s limited success in recent assembly elections and votes gained by it Lok Sabha election are apparently signals to Modi-wave not being as strong as it is presumed to be. Also, it is a little early to consider Congress as being a totally weak party. Clearly, these alarm bells for BJP may be viewed as a wake-up call for Congress activists. The latter need to start preparing more actively for the next polls before it is too late!