With the Lok Sabha elections due in April-May this year, the invincibility of the ruling party at the Centre, that is, the BJP’s herculean election machinery and the durability of the ‘Modi factor’, is being openly questioned.
This notwithstanding, it doesn’t look like the Congress party alone can beat the BJP in the 2019 general elections. Thus, the idea of a mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) has been afloat for a while, but it is yet to see fruition.
100 days is a long time in politics, and the narrative for the general elections in 2019 is yet to be set. Here, we analyse the math for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Voter Bases & the Task of Government Formation
BJP’s lowest vote share during this period (as above) (excluding the 1989 number when party was still young) is 18.8 percent in 2009. This is its core vote bank, comprising core voters drawn by the Hindutva narrative, politics of Ram temple, and the fervent nationalism of the party. The Congress’s lowest performance is 19.5 percent in 2014; its core vote bank is drawn by secularism, their centrist ideology, and the Gandhi family legacy.
So, the combined anchor voter base of both parties is 37-38 percent, which will vote for these parties regardless of what happens.
With regional parties’ core vote banks at 43.5 percent (lowest in 1991), this leaves a floating voter base of 18 percent, which has been alternating between the Congress, BJP and regional parties over the years, and holds the key to government formation.
- Highest tally of regional parties was in 1989 (in the aftermath of Bofors) when they got 261 seats, and the lowest was in 1991 when they got 179 seats (the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi which boosted INC seats due to sympathy)
- Average tally of regional parties is 231 over last 8 elections
- BJP-INC combine’s average tally is 312, with 272 being the majority mark; neither has gotten a majority on its own since 1989
- Except in 2014 when Congress was routed, scoring below 50, could BJP cross the half-way mark
- Half-way mark for BJP or INC on their own has been difficult historically, since the beginning of the coalition era in 1989. Especially when both parties do not have a wider pan-India presence, the Congress in the north and east, the BJP in south and east
Neither BJP Nor Congress Can Get Majority on Its Own
The Lok Sabha elections since 1989 has exhibited tendencies of the ‘see-saw game. The pivot of the see-saw in this case is the block of regional parties who, on an average, have bagged 230 odd seats, leaving 310 odd seats for the BJP and the Congress, each sitting on one end of the see-saw.
- BJP’s tally decreased from 182 in 1999 to 138 in 2004, while Congress’s increased from 114 to 145 during the same period
- BJP’s tally increased from 116 in 2009 to 282 in 2014, while Congress’s fell from 206 to 44
With a strong pivot, the BJP and Congress are likely to gain or lose seats at the expense of each other. With an average combined tally of 312 in last 8 elections, it is very difficult for either of them to get a majority on their own, as the majority of 272 accounts for 88 percent of their combined tally over the past 3 decades. On an average, BJP-Congress combine has bagged 57 percent of seats, while regional parties have bagged 43 percent of seats. 2014 clearly stands out as an outlier.
Modi Remains Popular Despite Lowered Ratings
In 2014, 60 percent of the votes polled by BJP comprised its core voter base; 13 percent votes were brought in by the individual candidates / strong state leadership, while a whopping 27 percent was pulled by the ‘Modi mania’.
BJP successfully managed to pull more than 2/3rd of the floating voters towards itself, and won a historic mandate. The BJP defeated Congress by 6.5 crore votes; 4.6 crore was on account of the ‘Modi wave’. While there is a dip in his popularity ratings and Rahul is catching up, Modi still enjoys a handsome lead.
An Open Contest
To sum up, the contest is wide open for 2019. The mood of the floating voters, see-saw dynamics of the polls (given a strong pivot), and the durability of the ‘Modi factor’ may well decide the course of 2019 elections.