#Elections2019: Why AAP and Congress need each other in Delhi?

The Congress party has decided that it will not enter into any alliance with AAP for Lok Sabha polls in Delhi. AAP has been wooing the Congress leadership for an electoral understanding to prevent split of anti-BJP votes. This is seen as a setback to efforts of opposition to put up a united / joint candidate against BJP. Kejriwal, unhappy with Congress decision, has accused the grand old party of having a secret understanding with the BJP. Hard core Congress loyalists are questioning its decision and accusing it of playing a big brotherly approach even after being reduced to less than 50 seats in 2014 Lok Sabha polls and failing to open its account in 2015 Delhi Vidhan Sabha elections.

Why did Congress say no to AAP’s offer?

The grand old party wants to revive itself in the national capital. Victories in three Hindi heartland states last December has boosted Congress party’s confidence of making a comeback in Delhi as it considers itself to be the top national alternative to BJP. It didn’t want to commit its 2013 mistake when after supporting AAP from outside in a hung assembly situation, it got wiped off in subsequent election in 2015. Almost the entire vote share of Congress shifted to AAP, with BJP at similar levels in 2015. Additionally, Kejriwal is a maverick leader. He has been attacking Congress top leadership in the past. He could continue to do so outside Delhi thus embarrassing the party. His statement that Congress has a secret understanding with BJP proved this point. Also, AAP unilaterally announced candidates to 6 out of 7 seats, which was seen as pressure tactic by Rahul Gandhi and Sheila Dixit.





Votes % Party Seats Votes %













INC 8 24.7 INC 0


Source: http://www.indiavotes.com

Reasons in favour of alliance

1. INC + AAP > BJP

The vote share of Congress and AAP across polls since the new kid came on the block has been more than BJP, signifying the two together they could take on the party and its famed organizational might.


2013 VS

2014 LS 2015 VS 2017 MCD
















BJP 33.3 46.6 32.3


Source: http://www.indiavotes.com

2. To prevent split of anti BJP vote

Both parties contesting separately will lead to division of the anti-BJP vote. This was evident in 2014 Lok Sabha elections. BJP won all the seven seats sweeping Delhi. In 6 seats, Congress which finished 3rd recorded higher vote share than margin of victory, thus denting the prospects of AAP.

3. Similar anchor voting segments freely transferable

In any alliance, transferability of votes is crucial. AAP and Congress have support of complementary vote blocks. Dalits, Muslims, Gujjars (33% of population), poor and lower classes, which were traditional supporters of Congress in the capital, almost entirely voted for AAP in 2015. In the 2017 MCD elections, these voters were split between AAP and Congress. This vote block is mostly anti-BJP which is likely to stay with these two parties indicating AAP and Congress are natural allies. Due to this factor, the leakages are likely to be low, in other words, both partners can theoretically do a seamless transfer of votes to each other.

5. Congress lacks leaders to match Modi-Kejriwal charisma in the state

Congress party doesn’t have leaders in the state to match the charisma of Modi and Kejriwal. They have once again fallen back to old warhorse Sheila Dixit to head the party. Younger predecessors like Ajay Maken and Arvinder Singh Lovely couldn’t revive the party’s fortunes. At a time when 65% of India’s population is between 18-35 years of age, expecting Sheila to connect with the youth is too much of a task. Central elections are becoming more and more Presidential style. In such a scenario, combined popularity ratings of Rahul-Kejriwal-Sheila might have been higher than Modi.

5. AAP could have proved handy in Punjab as well

AAP has emerged as the main opposition party in Punjab. The alliance could have been extended outside Delhi as well. The two together have 60%+ vote share in the state. AAP and Congress could have swept the 20 seats in Punjab and Delhi. AAP is among few regional parties like BSP which has a good number of votes outside their home states of Uttar Pradesh and Delhi.

Party Name

% of Votes from Main / Home State in 2014 Lok Sabha Polls











Source: www.politicalbaba.com

The arithmetic was clearly in favour of the alliance. However, alliances are not always about arithmetic but also about chemistry, and here is where it lacked. Congress could not forget the acrimonious past. Obviously, it has not been able to shed its big daddy mentality. While polls suggest a hung house, Congress party’s strategy is to get higher number of seats for UPA than the non-NDA regional parties. Even if they would have agreed to contest together, seat sharing arrangement would have posed problems. Its advantage BJP for now in Delhi…..



#Elections2019: Three factors which will decide who wins 2019 Lok Sabha Elections

The Election Commission is likely to announce the election dates for 2019 anytime now. Speculations are rife as to who will win the elections. Pre-poll surveys which were predicting a hung Parliament are re-assessing the situation after surgical strike 2.0. In my opinion these three key factors will determine who wins 2019.

1. To what extent these elections are held Presidential style (Presidential vs Local)

General elections in India are increasingly becoming Presidential style. In 2014 Modi’s persona weighed heavier than any other parameter. According to CSDS which carried out a National Election Study 2014, 28% voters gave importance to PM candidate, 26% to the local candidate and 18% to state level leadership. PM candidate emerged as the top most consideration for voters. With opposition not putting up any PM candidate, Modi had an open field of sorts. Further, 27% people who voted for BJP in 2014, had not done so if Modi was not the PM candidate. This fetched BJP around 5 crore votes out of its total 17 crore votes.

The opposition cannot afford to run a presidential style election this time if it wants to win. Though Rahul is catching up with Modi on popularity ratings, PM is still ahead in the race. Congress and anti-BJP regional parties need to raise the issues on the ground and failures of the existing MP of BJP to exploit the agrarian / rural distress and unemployment issue. Opposition will have to convert a single / national election into 543 mini contests.

Terrorist attack like Pulwama and response in form of Surgical strike 2.0 is helping BJP to make it a Presidential ‘majboot versus majboor sarkar’ contest. The opposition is falling in to the trap by raising the issue of number of casualties. Congress needs to learn from its victories in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh where it downplayed the leadership angle and focused on local issues, failures of local representatives rather than just targeting Shivraj Chouhan and Raman Singh.

2. First time voters and their preference 

In 2019, 8 crore plus voters aged 18-19 will be voting for the first time in Lok Sabha elections. The total voting population is expected to increase from 81 crores in 2014 to 90 crores in 2019. This number is likely to go up as dates for enrollment are still open. As per an Indian Express report, in 282 seats, first time voters are more than the winning margin in 2019. On an average 1.5 lakh first time voters have registered for each seat. A large section of these first-time young voters may not be tied to any ideology. 29.4% of first-time voters were not supporters of any party as per NES 2014. They are more likely to vote for development rather than caste considerations alone. A media survey in 2014 said that almost half of 15 crore first time voters in the 2014 general election, wanted to see Modi as PM. The turnout among these voters is also higher than other age groups.

Realizing their importance, BJP has made this as their focus group for 2019 polls. In a rally in Chennai on January 14, 2019, Modi asserted that BJP is the natural choice for first-time voters as they are not interested in dynasty parties. He exhorted party workers to organize meetings with first time voters and educate them about his government’s developmental projects.

Congress is also gearing up to get this set of voters on their side. As per an Economic Times report, its manifesto could include, providing English lessons to students in remote areas, sorting out paying guest accommodation of girl students from northeastern states and take initiatives to boost women’s security.

3. Quantum of undecided voters and herd mentality

14% respondents in NES 2014 stated that they decided whom to vote for only on the day of voting. Another 11% just 1 or 2 days before the D-day. This is significant, one-fourth of voters who polled in 2014, meaning about 14 crores out of 55 crores who voted in 2014. This trend was visible not only in 2014 but also in 2004 and 2009 polls. A large section among them could be herd mentality voters, who normally go with the wave. In a wave less election like 2019, these voters could hold the keys to government formation. The real challenge for campaign strategists is to convert this set of voters and bring them in party fold


2009 2014

On the day of voting




A day or two before voting 14.0% 11.0%


To sum up, an exciting contest on the anvil in 2019. Whether BJP or Congress depends upon the ability of ruling party / opposition to nationalize / localize the elections and impress the first time and undecided voters.







#Elections2019: Opposition benefitted more than BJP from Split of Votes in 2014

The Election Commission has announced the dates for 2019 Lok Sabha Elections. The seven-phase poll will begin on 11th April and culminate on 19th May. Results will be announced on 23rd May. The next 2.5 months is likely to witness immense frenzy about elections which will be fought on all fronts, print, electronic, social media and on the ground. Who will win these elections is on everybody’s mind? Before we try to find out who will win 2019, let’s bust some myths about 2014 elections. History doesn’t repeat itself but it does rhyme.

Busting myths about 2014

1. BJP doesn’t enjoy a truly national mandate

For the last five years, many commentators often put out the fact that BJP received only 31% vote share in 2014, while others contesting separately 69%. So, BJP doesn’t enjoy a national mandate. Going by this theory no party ever in India’s general elections history has won a national mandate, as no party has ever won more than 50% vote share. Congress party’s best performance has been 47.8% in 1957.

2. BJP benefitted from split of votes in 2014 as opposition was not united

When the 3rd candidate (second runner up) gets more votes than margin of victory, it can be argued that the winner benefitted from split of votes between runner up and second runner up. Let’s say 1st candidate gets 1 lakh votes, 2nd candidate 80,000 and 3rd 45,000 votes in an election. Here the votes secured by 3rd candidate is more than the margin of victory. An analysis of 543 seats in 2014 shows that the vote share recorded by 3rd position candidate was more than the margin of victory in 223 seats.

Split of Votes.png.jpg

Source: www.politicalbaba.com

So, split of votes helped the victorious candidate in 41% of Lok Sabha seats. Further grilling of data shows that BJP won 80, Congress 26, TMC 25, AIADMK 19, BJD 12, TRS 8 and CPM 7 out of these 223 seats. The split of votes helped Congress and opposition parties more than BJP. While BJP won 80 out of 282 (28%), Congress 26 out of 44 (59%), TMC 25 out of 34 (73%), AIADMK 19 out of 37 (50%), BJD 12 out of 20 (60%), TRS 8 out of 11 (73%) and CPM 7 out of 9 (73%) of its seats due to split of votes.


Seats won due to split of votes

Total Seats Won Proportion


282 28%

























46 106


Total 223 543


Source: www.politicalbaba.com

So, BJP benefitted only in 28% of the seats it won versus national average for all parties at 41%. Opposition parties benefited more than BJP sue to split of votes.

Will Split of Votes Play Similar Role in 2019

a) Impact of split of votes in 2019 on BJP

Out of 80 seats where BJP benefitted from split of votes 38 were in UP, 10 in Bihar, 4 in Delhi, 6 in Jharkhand and 3 each in Haryana, Rajasthan and Punjab. BSP and SP each were runner up in 19 of these seats, INC in 16 and Others in 26 such seats. This time the SP and BSP have formed an alliance, the split of votes may not favour BJP in 38 of these seats, unless Congress puts a spirited fight. In Delhi, BJP would again benefit from split of votes as there has been no alliance between AAP and Congress. In Bihar, JDU which contested separately in 2014 and finished 3rd on most seats, is now back in NDA, which will help. In Jharkhand a Mahagathbandhan has shaped up and is likely to impact 6 seats. All in all, 44 seats which BJP won due to split of votes in 2014, are in danger in 2019.

b) Impact of split of votes in 2019 on INC

Out of 26 seats where Congress benefitted from split of votes in 2014, 7 were in Kerala, 5 in Karnataka, 3 each in Bengal and Assam, 2 each in Punjab and Telangana. In 2019 as well, all these states are likely to face triangular or multi cornered contest which will help Congress due to split of votes. So, there is no danger to these 26 seats, unless Congress loses due to other issues like non-performance of MP, caste / class considerations etc.

c) Impact of split of votes in 2019 on Regional Parties

TMC is not likely to be impacted much as Bengal is likely to witness a quadrangular contest again. Similar situation prevails for TRS, CPM and BJD, triangular contests in Telangana, Kerala and Odisha could benefit these players again. Tamil Nadu is difficult to predict. In 2014 it was AIADMK vs DMK vs NDA vs Congress. AIADMK benefitted in 19 seats due to split of votes. This time a lot of regroupings have happened, AIADMK is in NDA fold, DMK-INC have patched up. Rajnikanth has said his party won’t contest.

d) Triangular contests likely to decline in 2019

The impact of split of votes on elections 2019 is likely to decline vis-à-vis 2014. This is because in many states we may not witness truly triangular contests, like UP, Bihar and Tamil Nadu. These states account for 159 seats, 29% of Lok Sabha strength. 86 of these seats helped winning party through split of votes.



2019 E


BJP vs SP vs BSP





Tamil Nadu AIADMK vs DMK vs NDA



#Elections2019: 55 years versus 55 months

The second reason is that pan-India, the Mahagathbandhan has not shaped up yet. The opposition’s dream of organising one-on-one contests on the 1977 model, has not worked out. Bua and Babua (aunt Mayawati and nephew Akhilesh Yadav) have left out Congress from the UP grand alliance.

Congress has decided it will go alone in West Bengal, Andhra, and Telangana. In Kerala, the Left cannot form an alliance with Congress and neither can Biju ally with the grand old party in Odisha.

In Delhi, AAP and Congress have not been able to sink their differences, while Haryana is likely to see a multi-cornered contest like in the recent by-polls. There is no news of settlement with AIUDF in Assam and neither is PDP expected to join the National Conference-Congress combine in Jammu and Kashmir.

These 10 states itself represent 242 seats (45 per cent of Lok Sabha strength), which will witness a triangular or quadrangular contest.

UPA hasn’t expanded much, the only notable inclusion being Janata Dal Secular in Karnataka. In Bihar and Jharkhand, some small regional parties have joined the UPA, but they are not expected to significantly change the electoral dynamics. If anything, they have increased headaches over seat distribution.

On the other hand, BJP has managed to cool Shiv Sena and added AIADMK into the NDA fold in Tamil Nadu, which may prevent a DMK sweep.

Thirdly, many regional parties have no option, but to back BJP or abstain during the confidence vote, if it comes down to it.

There are several regional parties whose entire politics has been based on anti-Congressism in their home state, as that is the principal opposition party.

These include Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal, KCR’s Telangana Rashtriya Samiti and Jagan Reddy’s YSR Congress, to name a few.

Jagan and Rahul/Sonia share an acrimonious relationship. KCR and Rahul can’t see eye to eye. Some of these parties have been helping NDA pass important legislations and register victories in the Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman elections.

These three parties are expected to bag 41, 38 and 43 seats respectively, as per three well-known TV channel surveys conducted in January 2019. This could compensate for some of the losses of BJP in the states where it peaked in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

Fourthly, the Congress party won just 44 seats in 2014, while UPA could muster only 59. Some opinion polls are projecting 166-167 seats for UPA. Their gains are primarily coming from Tamil Nadu, Punjab, and Jharkhand.BJP has firmed up alliances in Maharashtra (Shiv Sena) and Bihar (JDU+LJP) and is most likely to retain its 2014 tally, as per polls, with minor losses.

Four states, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan, where the Congress put up a good fight or won recently in state elections, will see a direct contest between the BJP and the Grand Old Party.

These states account for 91 seats with BJP sweeping 88 out of these in 2014. Based on extrapolation of state election results, the Congress could gain 30-40 seats here.

These states account for another 245 seats (45 per cent) where bulk of the gains are expected.

Still, the UPA is expected to fall 60-70 seats short of NDA. Nobody, even anti-BJP brigade at this point of time, is predicting that UPA will cross NDA.

Lastly, the Congress is raising issues, but not providing solutions. It has raised the Rafael issue, but even surveys predicting a hung Parliament, show that this may not be working with the public.

Unless the Congress comes up with specific bribery allegations, this will not work. The party has raised the issue of farmer distress and unemployment, but has not come up yet with specific solutions.

To sum up, while there is a lot of hooplah over a hung house, all latest polls show NDA ahead and within striking distance of forming the government. The narrative of “55 years versus 55 months” is likely to propel NDA and Modi back to power.

This article was first published dnaindia.com on 27th Feb 2019.

Problem of plenty for Mahagathbandhan in Bihar, will it go the UP way?

The Mahagathbandhan (in Bihar is facing teething troubles. The seat arrangement was to be finalised by January 31 and then on February 3 when Rahul Gandhi held a rally at Gandhi Maidan in Patna.

However, there is no news on the distribution of seats even as the National Democratic Alliance has sealed the deal with 17 seats each for Janata Dal (United) and Bharatiya Janata Party and 6 for Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party.

The new math

In the last five years, Bihar politics has witnessed all the elements of a Bollywood potboiler. JDU exited NDA in 2013, a week after BJP named Modi as its Campaign Committee chief. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, JDU contested independently and was routed, bagging only 2 seats.

The BJP and allies won 31 out of 40 seats. In 2015 Bihar Assembly elections, friends-turned-foe Nitish and Lalu Prasad came together to stop the BJP juggernaut. However, in 2017, relations between the two socialist leaders soured, they turned foes again, and Nitish made a ghar wapsi in the NDA.

Two NDA partners, ex-chief minister Jiten Manjhi’s Hindustan Awam Morcha and Union minister Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party have left the NDA and joined the Mahagathbandhan. The aggregate vote share of NDA partners in 2014 was 52.4.%. Against this, the probable Mahagathbandhan which is shaping up recorded 35.6% vote share. HAM and Sharad Yadav’s Party were not in existence then.

 NDA 2014 Vote Share MGB 2014 Vote Share
BJP 29.9% RJD 20.5%
LJP 6.5% INC 8.6%
JDU 16.0% RLSP 3.1%
NCP 1.2%
BSP 2.2%
Total 52.4% Total 35.6%

Source: http://www.indiavotes.com

NDA could face double anti-incumbency after losses in by-polls

NDA suffered reversals in by-polls, held last year. Lalu’s Rashtriya Janata Dal retained 2 seats, Araria Lok Sabha and Jehanabad Vidhan Sabha, despite break-up with JDU. Tejashwi Yadav is emerging as heir to Lalu in RJD. Nitish has been ruling the state for almost 13 years and it is natural to develop anti-incumbency against such long-tenure governments.

The Modi government also has started feeling the heat after defeat in three Hindi heartland states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.

The NDA victory in 2019 Lok Sabha elections was a foregone conclusion a year ago. However, all polls now predict a hung Parliament. NDA could face double-anti incumbency with both state leadership (Nitish) and national leadership (Modi) losing ground to Tejashwi and Rahul,. respectively.

Caste holds the key

Caste is an important consideration for voters in the Hindi heartland. Development politics of Modi trumped caste equations in 2014. However, in 2019, the caste summation is even-stevens for NDA and the Mahagathbandhan. While the upper caste Kurmi and Koeri community are expected to back the NDA, Yadavs, Minorities, Dalits and Mahadalits are expected to back the Mahagathbandhan. Most Backward Classes which account for 24% of population hold the key to the state results.

Problem of plenty in the Mahagathbandhan

Kushwaha left NDA because he was offered just 2 seats as per reports. RLSP contested 4 seats in 2014 and won 3 of them. He felt that in the Mahagathbandhan he could get his due. But the Mahagathbandhan is expanding with new entrants. So much so that today there is a problem of plenty. There are 7-8 parties who are part of the Mahagathbandhan — RJD, Congress, Nationalist Congress Party (Pawar), HAM (Manjhi), VIP (Saini) and RLSP (Kushwaha).

In 2014, the RJD contested on 27, INC on 12, NCP on 1 seat. Tariq Anwar who contested on NCP ticket and won from Katihar has joined Congress. Tejaswi is keen to accommodate BSP (1 seat). Pappu Yadav whose wife Ranjit Ranjan is in the Congress is also hopeful of a ticket from the Mahagathbandhan. And we have not yet counted the Left parties.

A section in the RJD feels that leaders like Sharad Yadav, Manjhi and Kushwaha are well past their prime and do not bring much to the table. The Yadav vote is already with the Mahagathbandhan. Dalits are most likely to vote for parties other than the BJP like we saw in state elections in 2018.

Kushwaha won’t be able to do much damage to NDA with Nitish back in their camp. Tension is brewing among the main players RJD and Congress. While RJD is opposing the 10% reservations for Economically Backward Sections in the General category, Congress supported it in Parliament. Congress is expected to give many tickets to upper caste in its efforts to revive its traditional vote bank. In 2014, one-third of its contestants belonged to forward caste category.

This Aarticle was first published on in.news.yahoo.com on 11 Feb, 2019.

#Elections2019: Uttar Pradesh, A cakewalk for none

Mayawati and Akhilesh have sealed the deal for the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) which sends the highest number of Members to Parliament. BJP swept the state in 2014 riding on Modi wave and its development agenda trumping caste politics. Opinion polls predict heavy losses for BJP in the state. In this article, we look at eleven key factors which will determine the results of UP in 2019.

Transfer of votes without leakages: The success of any alliance depends upon the ability of partners to transfer their votes to each other with limited leakages. While in Bihar in 2015, a similar Mahagathbandhan (MGB) of Lalu, Nitish and Congress succeeded in doing so, in UP, alliance of SP-Congress failed to shift votes to each other in 2017. An informal alliance of SP and BSP for three bypolls succeeded vote transfer in bypolls last year.

Management of rebels: SP and BSP contested separately in 2014 and on an aggregate fielded 158 candidates. Almost half of these candidates (82 out of 158) will be denied tickets this time due to an alliance. Both parties will have to put in a lot of efforts to quell rebellion and reduce the impact to minimum levels. Uncle Shivpal’s party and even Congress could accommodate such rebels.

Ram Mandir & reverse polarisation: The Mandir issue is hot currently with RSS and other Hindu organisations. UP CM Yogi Adityanath has many times reiterated that bhavya Ram mandir will be built in Ayodhya. In such an environment, any attempts to consolidate the minority vote by MGB in their favour could be counter-productive and unify the Hindu votes towards BJP.

Voting preference of non-Jatavs: The prime reason for decline in BSP’s influence in UP has been that it is losing support of its core vote bank of Dalits. They account for 21 per cent of the population; Jatavs (Mayawati’s caste is 12-14 per cent) and non-Jatavs (7-9 per cent). The support of non-Jatavs which was 64 per cent for party in 2009 declined to 30 per cent in 2014. BJP emerged as the choice for 45 per cent of non-Jatavs in 2014 as they were unhappy with Jatavisation/ Brahmanisation of BSP.

Voting preference of non-Yadav OBCs: OBCs account for 40 per cent of the state’s population. Yadavs (10 per cent) have been backing the SP while non-Yadavs (29 per cent), including Kurmis, Lodhis, Patels mostly supported the BJP till the time Kalyan Singh was there in the party. After his exit in 1999, the party lost the NYOBC votes to SP-BSP. From 43 per cent in 2002, support of Kurmis/ Koeris for BJP declined to 20 per cent in 2009. The fact that Modi belongs to the OBC community, strategic alliance entered with Apna Dal and disenchantment of non-Yadavs with SP due to their neglect led to massive consolidation in favour of BJP (60 per cent) in 2014.

How many sitting MPs are denied tickets? Modi and Shah follow a unique model to curb anti-incumbency. Today there is BJP government at the Centre, in the state and in many local bodies. So, the party has to face what I call triple anti-incumbency. To negate the impact of this, the party usually denies tickets to 30-40 per cent of its existing MPs/ MLAs. In the three state elections held recently, the number was between 25-30 per cent. In MCD elections, all corporators of BJP were denied tickets.

How seriously Congress fights in UP & Priyanka factor: After being snubbed, the Congress has declared it will contest all 80 seats and has made Priyanka in-charge of East UP. She is expected to contest from Rae Bareli. This has enthused the party cadre. The Congress bagged 7.5 per cent vote share in 2014 in peak Modi wave, winning two and finishing second in seats. It also has influence in urban areas and enjoys support from section of upper castes, Muslims and Dalits in the state. If SP, BSP, Congress and RLD had contested together they would have won 57 seats in 2014 instead of 41 if only SP and BSP contested together.

Impact of smaller parties: Smaller parties have traditionally recorded 10-15 per cent vote share in UP. They are community-specific parties like RLD (Jats), Apna Dal (Patel’s), SBSP (Rajbhar), Nishad Party (Mallah) etc. BJP entered into strategic alliances with Apna Dal and SBSP in central and state polls to get the community votes and make inroads. Both allies are unhappy with BJP and posturing for more tickets this time around. Nishad Party is likely to get two seats from MGB quota.

Voting pattern of first-time voters: First-time voters play a crucial role in every election. These young voters mostly do not carry any baggage of ideology and vote on issues/ development. A media survey in 2014 said that almost half of 15 crore first-time voters in the 2014 general election, wanted to see Modi as PM. BJP made good inroads into young Yadav and Dalit voters in UP. As per reports, there are 12.7 crore first-time voters in 2019 out of which 2.2 crores are in UP.

Ability of MGB to manage contradictions in its vote blocks: It will be difficult for a section of SP and BSP cadre to accept each other as allies forgetting their bitter past. Many Dalits have borne the brunt of violence/torture by powerful OBCs.

How does development vs caste politics pan out? In 2014, BJP was able to convert the caste-ridden politics of the state into a narrative of nation-building and got support from all caste/class groups. As AK Verma opines in NES 2014, “This victory signalled a paradigm shift in voter behaviour, with a preference for good governance and development pushing out the identity politics of caste and community.” Whether MGB takes it back to caste politics, remains to be seen!

To sum up, in 2019, voters of UP will evaluate the performance of the Modi government. MGB will try to convert this battle into an ‘agadey vs pichadey’ fight. An interesting battle on the cards with many layers.

This article was first published dnaindia.com on 10th Feb 2019.

#Elections2019: Why Mamata Banerjee is frightened of BJP despite dominating Bengal

Mamata Banerjee’s government denied permission to Yogi Adityanath and Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s helicopters to land in Bengal. This after repeatedly refusing to allow top BJP leaders to hold rallies and conduct yatras in the state. The Kolkata Police, clearly at Mamata’s command, also entered into a stand-off with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) that had come to the city to interrogate police commissoner Rajeev Kumar in relation to the Saradha chit fund scam.

Where have we seen ruling governments denying the Opposition permission for conducting rallies? Which state police has ever arrested CBI officials who have come for investigation? Why is Mamata afraid of the BJP and its leadership which according to her is a fringe player in the state?

It is difficult to fathom! As part of its project to improve its position in east and south India, the BJP is putting in all efforts and using star campaigners like Narendra Modi, Amit Shah, Yogi and Shivraj in Bengal to exploit people’s frustration with Mamata. Possible gains in Bengal will help the BJP negate some of the expected losses in Hindi heartland states, feel strategists.

Why Mamata is in trouble

1. Trinamool Congress has peaked in Bengal

We have heard a lot about the BJP having peaked in many states like Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. But so have many regional parties. The Trinamool Congress (TMC) bagged 34 out of 42 seats in Bengal in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

It is very difficult for the TMC to repeat the performance as the BJP is gaining ground. The Congress has adopted a policy of going it alone in the state and the Left is determined to make a comeback. Mamata knows that if her tally declines, her prime ministerial ambitions will receive a big jolt.

2. TMC is the new Left

People fed up with 34-year rule of the Left Front voted for ‘poriborton’ in Bengal. But it is increasingly becoming clear that Mamata has now occupied the position once held by the CPM-led Left Front. She has adopted a similar strategy of using violence, intimidation and rigging to win elections. Clubs have taken over the neighborhoods. The state government nurtures 20,000-odd clubs with crores of rupees every year and these clubs in turn ensure that the area under them remains loyal to Didi.

3. BJP increasingly taking over from Left as the main opposition to TMC

The BJP, like the CPM, won two seats in 2014. In by-polls held since May 2014, the BJP has done well compared to the CPM and Congress. In 10 by-polls that were held in the state since the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP won one seat and finished second on five seats. The CPM couldn’t win a single seat in this period. Mamata realises the threat from the BJP and that’s why has upped the ante against the party.

4. BJP highlighting corruption scandals and minority appeasement politics of Mamata

Muslims account for about 30% of the population of Bengal. The BJP has been accusing Mamata of minority appeasement. In 2017, Mamata made an appeal to the Hindu community to halt Durga puja visarjan for sometime as it had overlapped with Muharram. She had also banned arms at Ram Navmi rallies which has evoked a sharp response from the Hindus. The recent face-off between the Centre and state over the Saradha chit fund scam investigations has given a chance to the BJP to highlight the fact that Mamata is shielding the corrupt.

5. Complementary vote blocks

The upper castes and OBCs support the TMC in the state. At the national level, these voters are with the BJP. More than 60% of the upper castes and 30% of the OBCs voted for the BJP in the 2014 general election. Even in Bengal, the BJP enjoys decent support among these two groups — 24% and 21% respectively. Mamata’s fear is that the Hindus, frustrated with her minority appeasement politics, could consolidate behind the BJP and that could cause her significant damage.

6. Congress’s ‘ekla chalo re’ niti

The TMC, at the end of the day, is a splinter group of the Congress and they too share complementary vote blocks, mostly from the minority sections. The minority votes were split in the 2014 general elections between Mamata, Left and Congress. Both TMC and Congress were in discussion for a seat-sharing arrangement. However, talks have failed. If they would have contested together in 2014, the Left Front candidates would have lost from the 2 seats they won. The BJP, however, would have still managed to retain their seats. The Congress has a strong presence in central Bengal which has seven seats on offer. The party won all four seats from this region in 2014. It also enjoys decent support among the non-literate and the agricultural workers in the state. An alliance with the Congress would have provided Mamata some cushion.

7. Strong vote segments of BJP

The BJP enjoys good support among urban voters (25%) and the middle class (21%). Twenty-nine percent of the educated voters (college and above) chose the BJP in 2014. It has been able to create a space among these categories of voters and also the youth.

Opinion polls predict significant improvement in BJP’s performance 

The C-Voter opinion poll predicts seven seats for the BJP while VDP Associates predicts 15 seats. Both the polls project a significant increase in the vote share for the BJP in the region, from 17% to 32% (C-Voter) and to 37% (VDP Associates).

However, challenges remain

The absence of a strong cadre has been one of the BJP’s weaknesses in Bengal. This is coupled with a lack of leadership to take on the charisma of Mamata, and hence the BJP’s progress has been stalled in the state. Bengal is also known for class politics. The image of the Left and now TMC has been that of championing the rights of the poor and downtrodden. The BJP is currently seen as a party of the middle and rich class. But all said and done, general elections 2019 will see a cracker of a contest in Bengal and Mamata would not have it easy.

This Aarticle was first published on mynation.com on 07 Feb, 2019.

#Elections2019: Priyanka Gandhi Effect: Mahagathbandhan ‘Cholbe Na’ for Congress

The Congress has announced that it will adopt a policy of Ekla Chalo Re in the key states of Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal for the Lok Sabha polls scheduled in April-May 2019. This comes days after the party appointed Priyanka Gandhi as General Secretary and in-charge of Eastern Uttar Pradesh.

This has punctured the hopes of a nationwide mahagathbandhan to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. After months of parley, no concrete movement has taken place regarding the grand alliance and the one-to-one-contest concept.

The last nail in the coffin was hammered by Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati. The day the mahagathbandhan for Uttar Pradesh was announced, she attacked the Congress with the same intensity with which she attacked the BJP.

The Congress had no choice but to dump these efforts and focus on doing well on a standalone basis. With less than a 100 days left for voting, the party chose to stick to the partners who are already a part of the UPA, rather than look for new partnerships now. This is a big setback for anti-Modi forces in the country. Many people are already blaming the Congress for its failure to bring the whole Opposition under one roof, suggesting that this will help the BJP.

The Grand Old’s Party victory in the three Hindi-heartland states has boosted the morale of the party workers. The formal entry of Priyanka Gandhi, party strategists feel, will improve the party’s prospects among the youth and women. It will also provide a fillip to its UP prospects where, with just two seats, the Congress has nothing to lose.

The party is likely to damage the prospects of both the BJP and the SP-BSP alliance by attracting votes from the core constituencies of Brahmins (BJP) and Dalits-Muslims (SP-BSP).

Congress strategists feel it is in a better position to defeat the BJP nationally. Regional parties can tame the BJP in some states, but it is up to the Congress to defeat the saffron party on a pan-India basis.

Reasons Why Congress Has Decided to Fight Alone

1. Complementary Vote Blocks

Many regional parties have been formed out of anti-Congressism.

Trinamool Congress is a splinter group of the Grand Old Party, though it is now the bigger brother in Bengal. The Telugu Desam Party has always been opposing the Congress tooth and nail in Andhra. Parties like the TMC and Aam Aadmi Party, even SP-BSP, have complementary vote blocks as the Congress – Dalits, minorities, the poor and downtrodden. Allying with regional parties disturbs the Congress’ long-term strategy of growing and becoming strong in these states.

This means that in 11 states, accounting for half of the Lok Sabha strength, the contest is likely to be triangular or multi-cornered.

(Source: http://www.politicalbaba.com)
(Source: http://www.politicalbaba.com)

2. No Guarantee That Regional Parties Will Support Congress After Results

Two opinion polls aired recently, one of C-Voter and another of Karvy, predicted a hung Parliament. In this scenario, the Congress doesn’t want a situation where the parties it forms mahagathbandhan with, go on and support the BJP after the polls. Many regional parties have been with the NDA in the past or have formed governments with the BJP’s help – Trinamool, TRS, JMM, TDP, PDP, INLD, RLD, BSP, JDS, HAM, RLSP, BJD etc.

3. Regional Parties Gaining Strength Reduces Prospect of Rahul Becoming PM

The opinion polls show that regional parties are likely to play a key role in government formation at the Centre. If they gain strength at the expense of the Congress, then it even dilutes the prospects of Rahul Gandhi to emerge as the PM candidate.

The objective is to keep the BJP out of power and at the same time not let regional parties get the entire benefit of reversals, which the BJP is likely to face.

4. Regional Parties Don’t Help Congress in Key Battle States vs BJP

Many think that the Congress is not able to transfer votes to partners it forms alliances with, and that’s why the party was left out by SP-BSP in UP.

While it is not completely wrong, the Congress thinks these parties do not bring any additional votes to any party outside their home turf. Neither Mamata, Naidu nor Akhilesh can get the Congress votes in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, MP, Chhattisgarh, etc.

Being a national party, the Congress cannot accept paltry seats in states where it is not that strong, as it will not send a good message. It alone cannot be expected to follow coalition dharma, for a larger cause. And such states account for one-fourth of the Lok Sabha’s strength.

(Source: http://www.politicalbaba.com)

Decision to Have a Likely Impact on Bihar?

The Congress has an alliance in place in four states, accounting for one-fourth of the House’s strength. The seat-sharing discussions in Bihar have become complex with seven-eight parties entering the fray for 40 seats. The Congress is also unhappy with Tejashwi for meeting Mayawati after her scathing attack on the party, and promising her one seat from Bihar.

The two main parties are also divided over the 10 percent reservations issue, as Congress aspirants are mostly from the forward castes, while the RJD has been championing for the rights of backward classes.

(Source: http://www.politicalbaba.com)

To sum up, one-to-one contest has gone for a toss, and the mahagathbandhan has died even before it was born.

This article was first published on thequint.com on 29 Jan, 2019.

#Elections2019: Left could soon be left out of Kerala if BJP continues to bat on front foot

The Bharatiya Janata Party under its strategy of expansion in east and south India is betting on Kerala. The party finally managed to open its account in Kerala with veteran leader OP Rajagopal winning from Nemom in the 2016 Assembly elections. In another seat in Manjeshwar, it lost by a whisker – just 89 votes. The BJP-led NDA recorded 15% vote share, almost three times its 2011 tally. In many seats, the BJP managed to convert bipolar contest into triangular.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi attacked the Pinarayi Vijayan-led CPM government at a BJP rally in Thrissur on January 25. He reassured the people of the state that the BJP would continue to uphold the religious and cultural traditions of Kerala, and spiritedly face the violence of the CPM.

“For every bomb they throw on us, for every stone they hit at out workers, for each form of their violence, our resolve turns stronger to end their undemocratic rule,” Modi said. He also exposed the hypocrisy of the Congress on the issue.

Caste and religion matrix

Hindus account for 55% of the population and Muslims and Christians form 45%. Muslims and Christians have traditionally supported the Congress while Ezhavas and Dalits have backed the Left. The upper caste Nair vote has been split between the Congress and Left. The BJP’s entry has left both the Congress and Left worried, more so Left because the BJP’s target is Left vote blocks. Upper caste and OBCs are anchor voting segments of the BJP in North and West India. That is why we have witnessed bloody violence in the state where hundreds of BJP / RSS workers have been killed in the past decade.

With the Left’s influence reducing drastically in Indian politics, it being out of power of Bengal and after having lost its fortress Tripura to the BJP, it is naturally worried. The people of the state who had no choice except to vote alternatively for the Left and Congress now have an alternative.

Kerala has one of the highest minority population in India after Northeastern states and Jammu and Kashmir. It accounts for the highest Christian population (61 lakh), and sixth highest Muslim population (89 lakh) in the country. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, 64% of the UDF vote share and 39% of LDF vote share was accounted for by minorities’ support.

BJP increasingly challenging Left’s hold over Hindu voters 

In the past two elections, the BJP has expanded its voter base to impact both the Left as well as Congress. Around three-fourths of the BJP’s vote share came from Ezhavas and Nairs in 2014 and 2016.

The BJP hopes that the Sabarimala issue could help it woo a larger number of Nair and Ezhavas votes from both the Congress and LDF significantly boosting its vote share. This could add another 10-15% to the BJP’s kitty. With a strong push for Dalits and strategy to woo Christian community in line with Goa, the BJP can reach the 25-30% mark which is enough to put it in contention given that 30% vote share in a tripartite environment can deliver numerous seats (30-40) for the BJP.

Karnataka and Assam model

The party became a force to reckon with in Karnataka by targeting urban voters, Lingayats, upper caste, and border districts. In Assam, its strong push on immigration issue helped consolidate the Hindu voters in favor of the majority. In Kerala, a strong push on Hindutva, re-iterating party is a natural claimant of this voting block, together with highlighting the anti-Hindu stance of Left parties nationally in other states, could help party wean away a large section of Left front voters over time.

Sabarimala issue provides ammunition to BJP

Modi in Thrissur rally thundered, “The conduct of Kerala’s LDF government on Sabarimala issue will go down in history as one of the most shameful behaviour by any party and government. We knew that communists do not respect Indian history, culture, and spirituality but nobody imagined that they will have such hatred.” The Congress’s guarded stance and Rahul’s new statement that traditions should be respected shows that it also wants to walk on a balanced path on this tricky issue.

BJP’s inroads could force UDF-LDF to have an under-the-table deal 

The Left and Congress forged an alliance for Bengal and failed miserably. Can they come together in Kerala to thwart competition from the BJP? The Left didn’t attend the Mamata rally in Kolkata, but the Congress did. Any formal communists and Congress collaboration could spell trouble for both parties, especially Left, keeping the 2021 state polls in mind.

With a strong trend of the public overthrowing incumbent governments, the BJP could push to make it a contest between the Congress and the saffron party in 2021. Even during the 2016 state elections, there were reports of under-the-table deals between the LDF and UDF to ensure the BJP doesn’t open its account in Kerala. This could be exploited by the BJP to the hilt to gain an advantage.

However, significant challenges remain

The path to opening its account in 2019 is not all rosy and easy. The lack of strong leadership on the ground, issues with allies and its perception of Hindi heartland party pose challenges. Kerala is the most literate state in India, and the politics of polarisation has chances of backfiring as well, so it cannot be pushed beyond a certain level. Interesting times ahead.

This article was first published On mynation.com on 27 Jan. 2019.

#Elections2019: Why Congress May Damage The Mahagathbandhan More Than The BJP In Uttar Pradesh

The bua and bhatija jodi of Mayawati and Akhilesh have sealed an alliance for Uttar Pradesh. The duo kept Congress out from the scheme of things citing that the party does not have the ability to reciprocate vote transfer. The media is abuzz with debates about who will the Congress damage more, the mahagathbandhan or th Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in this triangular contest. The opinion is divided. In this post the writer will analyse who will benefit from Congress contesting independently. But first let’s take a look at the performance of the Congress party in Uttar Pradesh.


Vote Share And Seats

Since the advent of the coalition era in 1989, and the Mandal and Kamandal issue, which has a lasting impact on state politics, the Congress party’s graph has been witnessing a downward spiral in Uttar Pradesh.

From 31.8 per cent in 1989, its vote share declined to 6 per cent in 1998 when it even failed to open its account. From 1998 to 2014, its vote share has witnessed cyclical pattern. Its best performance in the last three decades was in 2009 when it surprised everybody by bagging 21 seats. In 2014, in Modi wave that gripped the state, it could retain just the family strongholds of Rae Bareli and Amethi.The party got 60.6 lakh votes in Uttar Pradesh in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. It received 9.35 lakh votes in Amethi and Rae Bareli where it won.

On the remaining 65 seats it received on an average 79,000 votes per seat. It finished runner up in six seats, Bara Banki, Ghaziabad, Kanpur, Kushi Nagar, Lucknow and Saharanpur where its candidates received more votes than Samajwadi Party (SP)/Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) candidates. It finished third in five seats where it received more votes than one of the mahagathbandhanpartners; Kheri (>SP), Mirzapur (>SP), Pratapgarh (>SP), Rampur (>BSP) and Varanasi (both >SP and >BSP).

Caste-Wise Support

The party enjoys significant support among the upper caste in Uttar Pradesh. It also enjoys good support among the Kurmi and Koeri community (Other Backward Class or OBC) and Muslims.

A break-up of the Congress vote share in UP in 2014 shows that the biggest chunk of the party’s vote came from minorities (23 per cent) followed by the upper caste (21 per cent) and OBCs (20 per cent). While minorities have traditionally voted for a party which is in a position to defeat the BJP, the upper caste communities are vocal supporters of the BJP.

Five Factors Why Congress Might Damage The Mahagathbandhan More Than The BJP

1. Congress will split the anti-BJP vote

Even after a scathing attack by Mayawati on Congress which, by the way, was no less than her attack on the BJP, Congress sympathisers feel the party will go for a tacit understanding with the mahagathbandhan. My political understanding is that Congress will fight spiritedly and try to prove a point that it can win without SP-BSP support, especially, after the victories in the three Hindi heartland states. While in Uttar Pradesh it cannot win more seats than mahagathbandhan, it can play a key role in 10-15 seats.

2. Congress will get a section of Dalit-Muslim-Yadav votes which would have otherwise gone to the mahagathbandhan

Some analysts are saying that the Congress will damage the BJP by garnering the Brahmin/upper caste votes of the BJP. The upper caste vote is only 21 per cent of total votes of Congress, going by the 2014 data. Muslims, Yadavs and Dalits which form the core vote bank of mahagathbandhan account for 39 per cent of Congress votes. This is almost double its upper caste support. The mahagathbandhan cannot defeat the BJP without the support of non-Yadav OBCs. Here as well Congress scores well with 35 per cent of its total support.

One could argue why Muslims would vote for Congress when they know the mahagathbandhan is in better position to defeat the BJP. This is because:

  • The Congress would also put up Muslim candidates in some seats leading to a split of votes
  • The Congress is in a better position to defeat the BJP nationally, SP and BSP can’t do that as they have no/ limited presence outside UP.

3. Congress could have compensated for leakages if it was part of the alliance

No community votes 100 per cent for any party in any elections and at best one could get is 70 per cent-75 per cent of one group’s vote, hence Congress could retain its Dalit, Muslim, Yadav (DMY) votes, which could hurt the mahagathbandhan in a tight contest. It is incorrect to assume that the Dalit, Muslim, Yadav voters of the Congress would not have voted for SP-BSP candidates in a larger alliance which included Congress as well.

These votes would have been easily transferred to the mahagathbandhan, roughly 3.5 per cent-4 per cent vote share based on the 2014 numbers. This would have compensated for translation losses. For any alliance to achieve pre-poll vote shares is difficult and like we saw in Bihar, 5 per cent-10 per cent leakage is normal. In that case the Congress party’s 7.5 per cent vote share would be handy.

4. Congress is strong in Urban pockets and Awadh region

Uttar Pradesh has 68 rural and 12 urban seats. In the urban seats, Congress performance was much better (+5 per cent) its vote share was almost similar to the BSP and SP vote share. In Awadh regions, which has 13 Lok Sabha seats, its vote share was 17.8 per cent in 2014, of course, helped by the fact that Rae Bareli and Amethi come under this region. In this region, its vote share was higher than the SP.

5. National vs Regional elections

UP has sent the maximum prime ministers to Parliament. In 1989, people voted for V P Singh and during 1996, 1998 and 1999 for Atal Bihari Vajpayee. In 2004, there was no PM candidate of the Congress and people were not gung-ho about Vajpayee’s return. In 2009, L K Advani (PM candidate of the BJP) contested from Gujarat while Rahul Gandhi who was conjectured to take over from Manmohan Singh in UPA 2 contesting from UP.

This is why the Congress surprised all with 21 seats. In 2014, Modi the PM candidate of BJP, contested from Varanasi and people voted for BJP in large numbers. This time it’s clear that the PM candidate of Congress is Rahul Gandhi. With both PM candidates of BJP and Congress contesting from UP, this could make the elections national rather than regional helping Congress like it did in 2009.

To sum up, the Congress contesting alone will damage the prospects of the mahagathbandhan in UP. The main issue why it was not included in the mahagathbandhan is that being a national party it would not have settled for anything less than 12-15 seats. That would have reduced the number of seats of SP-BSP and their ability to bargain in a hung Parliament situation. An interesting contest is on the cards.

#Elections2019: Priyanka Gandhi joins active politics: Congress has thrown its hat in UP, made contest tougher for SP-BSP and BJP

Congress has appointed Priyanka Gandhi Vadra as party’s general secretary for Uttar Pradesh (East). She will take charge in the first week of February 2019 and is likely to contest from Raebareli, the traditional seat of Gandhi family, currently represented by Sonia Gandhi.

Congress leader Motilal Vohra commented on the development and said, “The responsibility given to Priyankaji is very important. This will not only have an effect on eastern Uttar Pradesh but also other regions.” Jyotiraditya Scindia will handle Uttar Pradesh West as the party’s general secretary.

Benefits of Priyanka campaigning

This move is likely to motivate the cadre of Congress, which was feeling low after Bua and Bhatija jodi announced a mahagathbandhan excluding Congress. Congress recorded 7.5 percent vote share in 2014 Lok Sabha elections, retaining only the two family stronghold seats. In the 2017 Assembly elections, the party’s performance declined further, with its vote share reduced to 6.3 percent.

Priyanka bears resemblance to Indira and is likely to attract the female voters who would connect with her far more easily. The turnout of women voters has been increasing over the years. Women are also making independent decisions on voting due to increase in literacy and awareness levels. Congress generally has received higher support from women compared to men in Lok Sabha elections.

Source: CSDS NES 2014

Priyanka in the past has canvassed for party only in Amethi and Raebareli. Her campaign across the state is likely to provide a fillip to fortunes of the party when it is attempting to revive its traditional vote bank of the upper caste (mainly Brahmins and Thakurs), Dalits and Muslims. A section of upper caste, disenchanted with BJP due to its flip-flop on the Ram Mandir issue and not so gung-ho about the 10 percent reservation for economically weaker sections for general class, will be targeted by the party.

The party is likely to attract better candidates for seats as they could now see a higher probability of winning elections on Congress ticket. Even BSP-SP candidates who are likely to be denied tickets due to the mahagathbandhan may flock to Congress for accommodating them.

Big blow to mahagathbandhan

The move is a big setback for the mahagathbandhan, which — despite keeping Congress out — had hoped the party would eventually have a tacit understanding of working with them for the larger cause of defeating BJP. Congress appointing Priyanka and Scindia as general secretaries in-charge of Uttar Pradesh is a clear signal that it will put up a spirited fight and make the contest truly triangular.

The party has not taken well the way Mayawati criticised Congress sharply in the press conference on the day of seat-finalisation of the mahagathbandhan. This is likely to split the anti-BJP vote and help BJP in the state. Congress and the mahagathbandhan share complimentary vote block of Dalits and Muslims and Congress strengthening is likely to be at the expense of the mahagathbandhan.

Over the years, Uttar Pradesh has been witnessing either a regional or national contest. Whenever people have voted on regional considerations, SP and BSP have done well, like in 2004 and 2009 when regional parties won more than half of the seats. Priyanka’s entry will make the contest national as she will be pitched against Modi.

Strategy of BJP disrupted

Priyanka’s entry also complicates matters for BJP as party will try to woo the Brahmin voters of the saffron party. The party will need to come up with a renewed strategy to figure out not only how to tackle the mahagathbandhan but also Congress, which has made Priyanka in-charge of Purvanchal which has 30 seats. BJP swept the region in 2014, bagging 29 seats. Modi contested from Varanasi, which created a wave in favour of the party in 2014.

Source: CSDS NES 2014

Congress hopes to repeat its 2009 performance

Congress finished runner-up in six seats in 2014, despite Modi wave scoring higher than SP and BSP. It finished second runner-up in five seats, getting more votes than either SP or BSP. Its vote share in 12 urban seats of the state is over 12 percent, 5 percent higher than state average.

In 2009, in a surprise result, the party won 21 seats, bagging 18.3 percent vote share. The party’s decision is keeping in mind short-term gains with long-term expansion strategy. It realises that since negotiations with mahagathbandhan was based on past performance, it could never get a good deal.

To sum up, Congress has thrown its hat in Uttar Pradesh by making Priyanka the general secretary. Now, it is all set to give the regional parties a run for their money. The impact of this could also be felt in seat discussions in Bihar.

This post was first published on firstpost.com on Jan 23rd, 2019.

#Elections2019: Mamata Banerjee’s mahagathbandhan initiative the real ‘sabka saath, sabka vinash’

Mamata Banerjee held a rally of Opposition parties in Kolkata on Saturday in which leaders from more than 20 parties were present. Those present at the ‘United India’ rally at the Brigade Parade Ground included former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda, BJP rebels Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie and Shatrughan Sinha, chief ministers Arvind Kejriwal, Chandrababu Naidu and HD Kumaraswamy and former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah, Akhilesh Yadav and Gegong Apang.

“Badal do, badal do, Delhi mein sarkar badal do,” Mamata proclaimed from the rally. The Trinamool Congress chief, however, skirted around on the question of who will lead the mahagathbandhan and said it will be decided after the general elections. Yashwant Sinha rephrased BJP’s slogan of ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’ and said the actual slogan was ‘sabka saath, sabka vinash’. Shourie emphasised on putting up a single Opposition candidate against the BJP.

Let’s look at which parties and groups attended the Kolkata rally and which parties gave it a miss.

The rally is being seen as merely a show of strength by Mamata. She nurses prime ministerial ambitions and is trying to emerge as the natural choice for the regional parties.

However, she has competition from Mayawati who had stayed away from the event. Congress president Rahul Gandhi, who has said in the past that he would not shy away from any responsibility, also gave the event a miss. Their representatives were, however, present.

The mahagathbandhan has not yet been formalised and is bereft of any structure and is not expected to project any prime ministerial candidate. At a time when elections in India are approximating the presidential style more and more, not having a prime ministerial candidate and clear leadership could prove to be costly for this loose aggregation of parties.

In 2014, 28% of the electorate gave importance to the prime ministerial candidate while voting for the Lok Sabha according to CSDS National Election Studies. Having confusion over leadership will exclude this set of voters from the target voter group of this alliance.

The internal differences and contradictions in this so-called mahagathbandhan are also coming to the forefront. Many parties and leaders have fought the Congress, Samajwadi Party, BSP, TDP and so on their entire lives. For them to now share the stage with these parties causes uneasiness.

Sharad Yadav scored an own goal by talking about the “dacoity” in the Bofors deal, while what he wanted to criticise was the Rafale deal. While the DMK has been rooting for Rahul as the Prime Minister, its leader MK Stalin didn’t mention it during his speech. A day after the event, RJD’s Tejaswi Yadav rooted for Rahul as the Prime Minister.

While Shourie was rooting for a one-to-one contest, there were leaders sitting on the dais, who have excluded the Congress from an alliance in their backyard, like Uttar Pradesh. Parties like the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have now and again denied any sort of pact with the Congress in Punjab and Delhi.

The table below shows the status of one-on-one contests in states for which regional parties were present at the rally.

The event was more pomp, show and noise than substance. No seat-sharing details emerged. Nor any common manifesto. It was clearly an attempt to organise forces to remove Narendra Modi from power.

The mahagathbandhan includes leaders and parties well past their prime and don’t have much presence left in their respective states. The mahagathbandhan, if formalised, would be the real ‘sabka saath, sabka vinash’. And it may have just provided a powerful narrative to Modi for the general election: all corrupt leaders have ganged up to throw an honest person like me out of power!

This article was first published on mynation.com on Jan. 21st 2019.

#Elections2019: Pumping up party organisation

The last two months have not brought good news for the BJP. The party lost elections in the three Hindi heartland states. The CBI and Justice Sikri episodes have created unnecessary controversy.

It is facing a spirited Congress attack on social media. To top it all, the SP and the BSP have announced a formidable alliance for the forthcoming polls in Uttar Pradesh, which accounted for one-fourth of BJP’s tally in 2014.Suddenly, what looked like an easy sail through for the party in 2019, has turned into a tight, wide open contest.

BJP recognizes it has an uphill task at hand and the stupendous verdict 2014 could be termed as an outlier. The party has affected big organisational changes recently. The most important among them is the appointment of the three ex-chief ministers – Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Vasundhara Raje and Raman Singh as national vice-presidents.

The party strategy is to use the experience and charisma of these leaders, especially in the Hindi heartland and reduce the load of Narendra Modi to some extent, who can then focus on greenfield areas like East and South of India.

This step also helps soothe the taut nerves of upper caste and OBCs who form the core vote bank of the party.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, these sections accounting for 60 per cent of the population, voted overwhelmingly for the BJP and its allies.

After the losses, notes of dissent have come out in the open with party veterans questioning the approach of the Modi-Shah duo.

These appointments may have been done to quell such noises. With Sushma Swaraj announcing that she will not contest 2019 polls, BJP now lacks a pan-India woman leader with mass appeal. Raje fills this gap. With many flagship schemes of the government — Ujjwala, Awas, Swachch Bharat, Saubhagya — to name only a few aimed at women beneficiaries, this strategy may pay rich dividends.

The Modi-Shah duo now wants to win at any cost and the Prime Minister has not been shy of campaigning extensively even in state polls.

Another appointment, which has caught everyone’s attention is of Gordhan Zadafia, once a bitter critic of Modi belonging to the rival Sanjay Joshi camp, who has been made in-charge of the most important state of Uttar Pradesh.The party faced a lot of flak, especially from the upper castes, for nullifying the Supreme Court order on SC-ST Atrocities Act.

The SC-STs overwhelmingly voted against the party recently in the three states where it was in power. BJP won 128 SC-ST reserved seats in these states in 2013, which fell by more than half to 59 in 2018.

A section of upper caste disillusioned with the party pressed NOTA, stayed at home, some even voting for Sapaks, a party championing upper caste rights.

The party had to face reversals in belts where upper caste formed a significant proportion of population like Gwalior-Chambal in Madhya Pradesh.

Even OBCs, staunch supporters of the BJP, switched sides in Chhattisgarh.

With this step, BJP hopes to keep its anchor voting segment in good humour especially when Congress is trying to play the Brahman card and revive its traditional vote bank of upper caste, Dalits and Muslims.

In the national convention held over the weekend, Modi exhorted the BJP cadre not to be complacent and work hard on the ground. They shouldn’t just hope Modi will come, hold rallies and swing votes. They need to take the welfare schemes of the government door to door and highlight the achievements.

As per CSDS National Election Studies (NES) 2014, 27 per cent of BJP supporters would not have voted for party if Modi was not the prime ministerial candidate.

The dip in popularity ratings of Modi and a corresponding increase in Rahul’s has cautioned BJP against over-reliance on the Modi factor.

Though a lot of credit is given to Modi for the 2014 victory, it was also a result of effort and leadership of many state leaders like Chouhan, Raman, Raje, Parrikar, mini Modis in their own might.

The call is also to them and to new leaders like Yogi and Fadnavis to work hard to realize their common dream.

The party is seeking suggestions from the public on various issues like implementation of schemes, impact of proposed grand alliance and three most popular party leaders in their constituencies, among other things.

To negate anti-incumbency, BJP is likely to deny tickets to 30-40 per cent of existing MPs, around 100 in total.

This exercise will provide information on the popularity of MPs and suggest alternatives. Though elections in India are increasingly becoming presidential in style, one-fourth of the voters gave importance to the local candidate while voting in 2014, according to NES.

The unfavourable verdict in the three states brought to the forefront rural and agri distress. It also highlighted growing urban apathy among the middle class, staunch supporters of BJP. The party is likely to come up with schemes to ease the nerves of these crucial segments.

For farmers, the party could roll out a programme on the lines of Ryathu Bandhu Scheme of Telangana, where per hectare amount will be paid out to them. The middle class could see an increase in the income exemption limit from the current Rs 2.5 lakh per annum to Rs 5 lakh per annum.

For the rural population, the possibility of doling out a UBI scheme, where Rs 2-2,500 per month will be given to BPL category, is being mentioned. The party is now pulling out all stops.

This article was first published on dnaindia.com on 18 Jan, 2019.

#Elections2019: Congress strategy of cementing state-level alliances could dent Rahul Gandhi’s chances of becoming prime minister

At the extended Congress Working Committee meeting on 22 July, the All India Congress Committee authorised Rahul Gandhi to seal alliances with like-minded parties for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. While the Congress hopes to checkmate the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Narendra Modi government with this strategy, it could have far-reaching implications for the party’s presence as a pan-India entity as well as Rahul’s chances of fulfilling his dream to become prime minister of the country in 2019.

Before the coalition era from 1951 to 1996, the Congress contested nearly all Lok Sabha seats. During this period, it was only in 1971 that the party fielded candidates from only 85 percent of the constituencies. This was the result of a split in the Congress, when Morarji Desai and other members of the “Syndicate” left the party to form the Indian National Congress (Organisation), or INC(O). In this election, former prime minister Indira Gandhi had entered into strategic alliances in Tamil Nadu and Kerala and backed a few candidates in other states to defeat Desai’s Syndicate and establish her dominance over the party organisation and machinery.

The lowest number of seats the Congress contested was in 2004 (77 percent of the total) when it tied up with several regional parties to defeat the National Democratic Alliance. In 2014, the Congress contested from 464 constituencies.


2019 Alliance story

The Congress’ alliance strategy for the 2019 general elections is two-fold: One, it aims to tie up with regional parties in states where it is weak to defeat the BJP. This would be in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. The second is to form alliances with regional parties in states where there is a triangular, quadrangular, or multi-corner contest to strengthen its chances of victory. This would be in Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka and Jammu and Kashmir.The four states where the Congress is weak are Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, which account for 200 Lok Sabha seats. Here, the party is likely to get not more than 40 seats to contest.

In other states where the Congress will probably seal alliances, it could get another 70 to 80 seats to contest, according to the table below. On an average, the party is likely to contest from 115 constituencies in these 10 states.

State Alliance Partner Total No. of Seats No. of Seats Congress is likely to contest
Bihar RJD, HAM 40 8-10
Uttar Pradesh BSP, SP, RLD 80 8-10
West Bengal Trinamool Congress 42 8-10
Tamil Nadu DMK 39 7-9
Andhra Pradesh Telugu Desam Party 25  8-10
Telangana Telugu Desam Party 17  10-12
Maharashtra NCP 48 24-26
Jammu and Kashmir National Conference 6 3
Jharkhand JMM 14  10-12
Karnataka JD(S) 28 20-22
Total 339 106-124


Congress could contest considerably fewer seats in 2019

If the Congress can firm up these alliances, it is likely to field candidates from 319 constituencies — its lowest contesting tally ever at just 59 percent of the Lok Sabha seats.

While it all looks good, with the Congress making compromises for a united Opposition and the larger cause of defeating the BJP, it jeopardises the party’s hopes of leading the grand alliance. The number of seats it is likely to contest in 2019 in around 150 lower than the figure from 2014.

2014 2019
No. of Seats % of Seats  No. of Seats % of Seats
Congress 464 85% 319 59%
Allies 79 15% 224 41%
Total 543 100% 543 100%


Possibility of rebellions and end of Rahul’s prime ministerial hopes

This strategy is fraught with risks as it encourages rebels (150 odd in number) who could jump boat to contest on tickets from other parties, or as independents, and harm the party and its alliances. The figure is around one-third of total number of candidates the party fielded in 2014.

With its plan, the Congress also faces the potential risk of conceding that it is no longer a pan-India party and has lost significant base to regional outfits.Contesting from a significantly lower number of Lok Sabha seats also raises the risk of the party ending up with fewer seats than the regional parties it joins hands with. The Congress needs to win around 150 seats (+100 vs 2014) to seek the prime minister’s chair in case the grand alliance wins the polls. It requires a very high strike rate of 47 percent (150 of 319) to achieve this.

Since 1996, the average strike rate of the Congress has been 29 percent. Even after removing the 2014 Lok Sabha elections from the count — considering it an outlier — its average strike rate comes to only 33 percent. In 2009, the party did manage this figure, but the conditions were much different at the time. Back then, the Congress was in the driver’s seat, not the allies, contesting from 440 seats.

With Congress being the main Opposition party, what complicates matters are the regional outfits that may not join the grand alliance. This includes the Shiv Sena, Communist Party of India, Aam Aadmi Party, Communist Party of India (Marxist), Biju Janata Dal and Telangana Rashtra Samithi. If such a scenario does arise, many may not back the Congress because of the dynamics in their backyard.

To sum up, the strategy of sealing state-level alliances could put a significant dent in the Congress’ ability to push for Rahul as the prime ministerial candidate for the grand alliance.

This article was first published on firstpost.com on Aug. 6th 2018.

#Elections2019: Third Front talks are fine, but it’s Congress which must beat BJP in its den to oust Narendra Modi in 2019


Mamata Banerjee rounded up her three-day visit to New Delhi by meeting Arvind Kejriwal and Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday, in efforts to put up a ‘Grand Alliance’ against the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. She has given the formula of ‘one-to-one’, implying there should be one united Opposition candidate against the BJP in each seat to put up a tough fight.


Mamata has been leading the talks with regional parties – including NCP, SP, BSP, TRS, RJD etc – to try and repeat a 1977-like experiment, where a majority Opposition contested under one common banner of the Janata Party to oust Indira Gandhi from power.

But the ‘Federal Front’ may not be able to unseat Narendra Modi from the throne in 2019, as some parties may keep out of it, like the Biju Janata Dal. Also because both YSRCP and TDP cannot join the front at the same time and some parties may still stick with the NDA, like the Akali Dal, Lok Janshakti Party and even Shiv Sena. It is the, thus, the Congress which needs to beat the BJP in its own backyard to achieve this ambitious goal.

Historically, BJP plus Congress have received 51 percent and regional parties 49 percent vote share in the Lok Sabha elections from 1951-2014, as shown in the graph below. Regional parties recorded their best performance in 2004, with a 52.6 percent vote share.


Regional parties came into prominence in the 1989 elections, which gave rise to the coalition era from 1989-2014. The tally of BJP plus Congress has been in the range of 280-320 and the tally of the regional parties in the range of 220-260.

Party-wise seat tally.

BJP and Congress have been eating into each other’s vote share and seat tally and the performance of regional parties has remained largely consistent. For example, Congress (206) and BJP (116) together won 322 seats in 2009. In 2014, they together won 326 but switched roles, with BJP on 282 and Congress on 44.

The majority of seats (147/282) which BJP won were in a direct contest with the Congress – in states like Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Assam, Karnataka, Goa, Arunachal Pradesh and the Union Territories. These accounted for 52 percent of BJP’s total tally.

State-wise seat tally.

Additionally, in Maharashtra, where it was predominantly a BJP+ versus Congress+ contest, BJP won another 23 seats, taking its tally to 60 percent in direct contests. Congress finished runner-up in 224 seats in 2014, approximately two-thirds of these losses were against BJP candidates.

While there is a lot of talk about how BJP has reached its peak in many states, regional parties, not part of the BJP-led NDA, also have already maxed out in their respective states, namely, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Kerala etc, as shown in table below.


Only in two states, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, can regional parties gain through this proposed unity efforts. Regional parties won 217 seats in 2014. They can gain at best 50-60 seats, in these two states, if all goes in their favour, taking their tally to 270-280 odd seats, close to their peak of 260 in 1989. Regional parties could also lose a few seats in Odisha, Bengal and Kerala.

This could reduce BJP’s tally to 230, with Congress at 50 and regional parties at 260 (historical best performance). Note of caution, the tally of regional parties will also include NDA partners and parties which may not join the Federal Front in the range of 40-60 seats.

This will not be enough, as BJP plus regional parties in the NDA fold could just fall short of the majority (a 20-30 seat shortfall) and gain first mover advantage. There is a risk of parties from the Federal Front jumping ship in that scenario.

Congress needs to ensure that BJP’s tally falls to around 150 seats to prevent it from having a shot at government formation and be on the safe side. The proposed Grand Alliance of Congress plus Federal Front cannot form a government at the Centre unless the Congress itself touches 130-150 seats.

In 2004, Congress won 145 seats and went on to lead a government with regional parties. So, essentially, Congress needs another 80-100 seats and all of them it needs to snatch from BJP in direct contest states like Chattisgarh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka etc, which have close to 180 seats. The proposed Federal Front partners have almost nil presence in these seats, except for BSP in a couple of states. The Congress needs to achieve this on a standalone basis.

BJP recorded big wins in 2014, its average margin being 1.83 lakh votes or 18 percent in terms of vote share. BJP enjoys a huge lead over Congress in each of these seats and such big swings are seldom witnessed, except in 1977 and in 1980. While it is difficult, it’s not impossible as we have witnessed in the recent bypolls in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Congress and Rahul Gandhi need to perform exceptionally well, beating BJP in its own den to oust Modi in 2019.

This article was first published on firstpost.com on March 29th 2018.

#Elections2019: Rahul Gandhi and Congress apart, triple anti-incumbency looms as major threat to Narendra Modi’s return in 2019

BJP is hopeful of bettering its 2014 Lok Sabha performance in 2019. It has formed governments in 13 states which have held elections after May 2014 and retained two states. Along with its allies, the party now rules 20 states which send 63 percent of total MPs to the Lower House. Narendra Modi’s approval ratings remain high and he enjoys a lead of over 30 percent versus Rahul Gandhi in India Today Mood of the Nation Survey.

However, all is not hunky dory for the party. BJP has lost four Lok Sabha by-polls held in 2018, all in the Hindi heartland. The Opposition has smelled blood and Congress is leading discussions to form a grand alliance. Whereas, regional parties like TMC and TRS have initiated a discussion to form a Federal Front. Amidst this background, a number of commentators have started questioning BJP’s ability to repeat its historic performance in 2019.

These alliances, formed purely on an anti-Modi plank, may not worry the prime minister at this stage too much.

While it is no mean feat to lead a majority government at the Centre, having chief ministers in two-third states and 274 MPs in Lok Sabha — the highest tally of any party since 1984 — could act as a double-edged sword. In addition to this, BJP now has 35 percent of all India MLAs and controls many municipalities across the country. This heightens the risk of BJP facing triple anti-incumbency in 2019. It is the biggest threat to Modi making a comeback in 2019 in my opinion.

People feel Modi factor was the only reason BJP won in 2014. However, his popularity alone doesn’t explain the full story of BJP’s historic mandate. Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) carried out a National Election Study 2014 and asked respondents the following question:

“While voting some people give importance to the local candidate, others to the state level leadership of the party and some others to the prime ministerial candidate. How would you describe yourself?”

In response to the question, 28 percent voters gave importance to the prime ministerial candidate, 26 percent to the local candidate and 18 percent to the state-level leadership. And therein lies the biggest headache for BJP. A good 44 percent of people gave due consideration to the local candidate and top leadership of parties in contention in the states while casting their vote.

One of the primary reasons for UPA’s loss in 2014 was that it suffered from similar triple anti-incumbency. UPA was in power for 10 years at the Centre, UPA had chief ministers in 16 states and Congress had 206 MPs. A section of people were fed up with the corruption scandals under Manmohan Singh’s government and the falling economy, some were unhappy with the performance of the state governments of UPA and others with the non-performance of its MPs. All this led to a significant built-up of anger among public resulting in a humiliating loss for Congress, down from 206 to a historic low of 44 MPs and less than 20 percent vote share.

Politicians are adept at shifting blame. In state elections wherein Opposition rules at the Centre, ruling party pins the blame on the central government for non-cooperation and non-release of funds. This strategy has been effectively utilised by Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Gujarat BJP governments over the decades. We are now witnessing similar strategy being employed by Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra Pradesh.

In state elections after 2014, BJP blamed Opposition governments for not utilising funds released by the Modi government and won many states. However, now the states where BJP is in power cannot shift the blame to the Centre for not fulfilling their manifesto promises. Similarly, during the campaign in 2019, Modi can’t shift the blame on state governments for not delivering on his pet projects. This puts BJP campaign strategists in a quandary.

BJP will likely deny tickets to many sitting MPs like in MCD polls where it replaced all corporators. As per my sources, this number could range from 50-80. This way BJP hopes to negate the local candidate level anti-incumbency. This way BJP will try to sell that it’s being proactive and will not tolerate non-performance.

BJP hopes that since many MPs are lightweights, replacing them will not give rise to any big rebellion. But as we have seen above, local candidates played almost similar role as Modi factor in 2014.

Additionally, national elections are not corporation elections. Federal Front / Third Front which may not have candidates in many seats can give tickets to some of these candidates.

BJP also may not be able to hold on to declaring the names of the candidate till the last moment, especially if a grand alliance and or a third front announces candidates early to exploit the three levels of anti-incumbency.

To conclude, BJP’s electoral success of the last four years that has seen it control almost two-thirds of India could become its own enemy, hobbling prospects of a slam dunk victory in 2019. Unlike in the past, it will not be able to assign blame for not fulfilling promises to others. Moreover, opponents’ barbs of the government failing on the jobs and agrarian front are finding their targets and Rahul Gandhi is surely albeit slowly climbing in the leadership league tables. If all these weren’t enough, there’s anti-incumbency against state governments and BJP MPs, all of which could complicate matters.

this article was first published on firstpost.com on 26th March 2018.

#Elections2019: Congress Will Be the Biggest Loser in Mamata’s ‘Formula’ for 2019

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is leading efforts to form a Third Front of regional parties. To that end, she recently met Sonia Gandhi in Delhi and invited Congress to join the proposed ‘grand alliance’.

Mamata has mooted the idea of ‘one-to-one’ contests, implying that parties which are strong in respective states should contest against BJP in those seats, and other parties of the Front should not put up a candidate and support them wholeheartedly.

She is hoping to create a 1977 like situation when big Opposition parties contested under the common banner of the Janata Party to defeat Indira Gandhi.

Theoretically it appears to be a fantastic strategy to beat Modi in 2019. BJP just received 31 percent vote share and non-BJP parties 69 percent in 2014. The sheer arithmetic puts odds hugely in favour of such an alliance. However, it is easier said than done. And for the Congress, it is a particularly difficult decision to take.

On a pan India basis, Congress is in contention in 70 percent of seats.

  • 46 percent of the seats have either a ‘direct Congress’ or ‘Congress allies vs BJP’ or ‘BJP allies contests’ (Maharashtra, Bihar, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh),
  • 19 percent of the seats have a triangular Congress vs BJP vs regional party contest (Delhi, Punjab, West Bengal etc.)
  • 16 percent of the seats have a BJP vs regional party contests (Uttar Pradesh, Odisha)
  • 12 percent of the seats have regional parties competing against themselves (Tamil Nadu, Andhra) and
  • 6 percent of the seats have Congress versus regional party contests (Kerala, Telangana)
Congress party won 44 seats in 2014, where one-third of its victories were against regional parties. It finished runner up in 224 seats and in 17% of such seats, regional parties emerged winners.
Congress party won 44 seats in 2014, where one-third of its victories were against regional parties. It finished runner up in 224 seats and in 17% of such seats, regional parties emerged winners.
Source: http://www.politicalbaba.com 

Issues With Congress Joining a ‘Third Front’

There are significant issues with the Congress entering any such alliance with the Federal or Third Front. Here are some of these issues:

1. Risk of ceding space to regional parties as well as BJP: How will Congress leave out its claim for seats in predominantly regional, Congress vs regional and triangular contests? If Congress agrees, then it risks ceding its space to regional parties in Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal. Also there is a risk of BJP latching on to this opportunity and becoming the main opposition in these states. This will create issues for the Congress when Assembly elections are held in these states in due course. In states like Kerala, if Congress agrees to a one-to-one in alliance with CPI (M), then BJP can get entry in the state.

2. Regional parties do not bring anything to the table for the Congress:The regional parties do not bring any votes to the Congress party where it is locked in direct contest with BJP in states like Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, etc. Neither Trinamool nor TDP nor other parties have any votes there. On the other hand, Congress, in all probability would be able to transfer a section of its votes to Mamata, CBN, KCR, Naveen etc.

Most of the regional parties didn’t even contest outside of their states like AIADMK, DMK, TDP, YSRCP, TRS, BJD to name a few. Only a few parties, namely TMC, SP, BSP, JDU and AAP contested outside the states in which they are in power/have influence. However, they received more than 95 percent of the votes from their stronghold states. Only AAP and BSP have some presence outside their home state as seen in table below.

3. Congress will have to lead this alliance, regional parties may not agree: The question of who will lead the alliance is a tricky one. Congress, which is a national party, would not like to be seen playing second fiddle to regional parties. It would do its perception a lot of damage, especially when Rahul Gandhi is witnessing an increase in popularity. It will be seen as the Congress party under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi not having the confidence to beat Narendra Modi. This is why Adhir Ranjan Chaudhary of Congress has asked Mamata to join a Congress-led alliance and not vice-a-versa. On the other hand, the regional satraps see Rahul as a novice and may not agree to his leadership.

4. Some regional parties can desert alliance after results in case of a hung Parliament: There is no guarantee these parties won’t flock to BJP after results if it emerges as the single largest party. TDP, TMC, TRS have all been part of NDA previously. But in order to maintain a better state and Centre relations, they might budge.

5. Congress should prefer state level strategic alliances: The Congress party should instead opt to have state-level strategic alliances where it is weak and try to replicate the model it has in Bihar with Lalu’s RJD. A similar template can be adopted in states like Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

To conclude, Congress has more to lose than to gain in agreeing to the one-to-one formula proposed by Mamata. Apart from bringing like-minded anti-Modi, anti-BJP parties on a common platform, it isn’t of much use to Congress as it has to fight a lone battle with the BJP in most seats where regional parties can’t contribute much. State level alliances will help to maintain its national party character and will serve the party better in the long run.

This article was first published on thequint.com on 6th April 2018.

UP-Bihar Bypolls Point to Potential ‘Grand Alliance’ Against BJP

In a huge blow to the BJP just a year before the next Lok Sabha elections, the party has lost Gorakhpur and Phulpur bypolls to the SP-BSP duo in Uttar Pradesh. BJP also failed to wrest the Araria Lok Sabha seat in spite of all their big claims and a weakened RJD after Lalu’s jail term.

What is more humiliating is the fact that both the seats in UP were represented by their top two men, the Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, and the Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya, and were both won by huge margins (3 lakh+).

After the big losses in Ajmer and Alwar Lok Sabha seats in Rajasthan in February, this comes as a rude jolt to BJP and throws the contest for 2019 wide open.

Mahagathbandhan Poses Stiff Challenge

In UP, bua (Mayawati) and bhatija (Akhilesh) joined hands to take on the BJP, with BSP extending support to SP candidates. Both the parties ran a pilot project which could take the shape of a mahagathbandhan in UP for 2019. BJP, which was leading in Gorakhpur by 1.36 lakh votes in 2014, after aggregating BSP and SP votes, lost the seat by 21,881 votes. In the Phulpur seat, BJP, which was leading by 1.44 lakh votes in 2014, still lost the seat by 59,613 votes.

(Source: http://www.politicalbaba.com)
(Source: http://www.politicalbaba.com)

BSP has again proved its ability to transfer its votes to its alliance partners. The grand alliance has made a dent in the BJP’s vote share: -5 percent in Gorakhpur and -13 percent in Phulpur, indicating the loss of a section of its anchor – the OBC support base.

Some Dalits who voted for BJP in 2014 appear to have gone back into the BSP fold. It has a dedicated set of voters in each constituency, which is its biggest strength.

This victory may finally give shape to a SP-BSP grand alliance in which the Congress may also join. BJP won one-fourth (71) of its overall tally (282) from UP in 2014. Any loss of seats in UP will directly affect BJP’s ability to cross the halfway mark in Lok Sabha in 2019 and also Modi’s chances to return as Prime Minister even if BJP emerges as the single largest party.

The fact that the alliance partners BSP and SP were able to transfer their votes seamlessly will pose greater difficulties for the BJP.

SP and BSP on a combined basis got just 1.5 percent less votes than BJP and allies in 2014. If one adds Congress, the grand alliance could lead BJP by 6 percent vote share. While the alliance is not all about arithmetic but also about chemistry, BJP’s experience in Bihar and now UP suggest otherwise.

The social coalition of Dalits, Adivasis, Yadavs and Muslims, (51 percent of the population) which this grand alliance hopes to create, would pose a significant challenge to the upper caste, Jat and OBC vote block of BJP (49 percent of the population).

Vote share in 2014 Lok Sabha elections
Vote share in 2014 Lok Sabha elections
(Source: http://www.politicalbaba.com)

‘Grand Alliance’ Still in the Reckoning in Bihar

In Bihar, the RJD and Congress alliance have held onto the Araria Lok Sabha seat (by 61,988 votes) and Jehanabad (by 35,036 votes) assembly seat despite the RJD party patriarch Lalu being in jail. While Jehanabad is a minority-dominated seat, BJP was hopeful of winning the Araria Lok Sabha seat (15 percent Muslim voters) which it had won in alliance with JDU in 2004 and 2009.

BJP and JDU were leading by 75,265 votes in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.The results suggest Nitish has lost significant support among the minority community because of his re-entry into NDA. JDU lost 1/3rd of its votes to RJD.

(Source: http://www.politicalbaba.com)

While the RJD candidate benefited from the ‘sympathy factor’ owing to his father’s death, Lalu has been able to consolidate his vote base among the minorities, Yadavs and OBCs, alleging a ‘witch hunt’ by the BJP as is evident from a 5 percent increase in vote share in Jehanabad.

NDA won 31 out of 40 seats from this state and is the key to the party’s fortunes in 2019.

Jehanabad Vote Share
Jehanabad Vote Share
(Source: http://www.politicalbaba.com)

Anti-BJP United Opposition Could Repeat 1977

BJP’s loss in these bypolls gives a fillip to the efforts of the Opposition to form a broad anti-BJP alliance. Sonia Gandhi hosted a dinner for leaders of 20 regional parties yesterday at her residence to kickstart the process. These parties (excluding Left) together recorded 36 percent vote share in 2014, higher than the NDA’s vote share of 34 percent (excluding TDP and Shiv Sena). BJP’s consecutive wins, state after state, and its recent performance in Northeast has made regional parties jittery.

A 1977-like situation, wherein the entire Opposition came together to take on Indira Gandhi, cannot be ruled out. This time though, BJP and Congress would reverse their roles. Congress could lead this front against Modi. The time is ripe for any such alliance. Mamata Banerjee as well as Naveen Patnaik are facing the challenge of a rising BJP in their states.

In Karnataka, Congress is sweating it out against BJP to save one of its last big turfs. In Kerala, BJP’s strategy is to up the ante against the communists, like in Tripura. Two of the top allies of the BJP – Shiv Sena (18 seats) and TDP (15 seats) – may contest independently. The entry of the JD(U) in NDA will complicate the seat-sharing arrangement in Bihar which could force smaller allies like LJP and RLSP to leave. Jitan Ram Manjhi has already left.

Takeaways for BJP in 2019

The BJP cannot ignore these warning signals. It struggled in Gujarat. It has marketed its Northeast victory as historic, but the fact of the matter is that these three states have only five Lok Sabha seats. Big sections of society – traders, farmers and youth – are increasingly losing patience with the BJP.

Its claims of ‘achche din’ have not translated into reality, with these groups protesting all across India. The majority of the population doesn’t understand and care about GDP growth, FDI, fiscal deficit etc, which PM Modi boasted about in the two interviews he gave. The BJP has got its messaging wrong and risks falling into a fiasco similar to ‘India Shining’.

The fact that it rules 22 out of 31 states is a double-edged sword. It risks facing double anti-incumbency in these states. State leaders can’t push blame to the Centre for non-performance, and similarly, Modi can’t push blame on party’s/ally’s state leadership for not delivering.

To conclude, one year is a long enough time in politics. Everything was hunky-dory for the BJP till about a month ago. Two consecutive losses in its den have turned things upside down and thrown open the contest for 2019. Nothing is certain in politics. If the Opposition is able to overcome its differences and form a mahagathbandhan at the national level, it could pose a serious challenge to Modi.

This article was first published on thequint.com on 21st March 2018.

#Elections2019: BJP, Hold Onto Allies – Regional Parties Will Call Shots in 2019

The regional parties can smell blood after a tight contest in Gujarat and bypoll results in Rajasthan. They see the prospect of a hung Parliament and the return of true coalition governments which would enhance their bargaining power.

Even some right-wing columnists like Minhaz Merhant, Swapan Dasgupta, and recently, Rajesh Jain have voiced their apprehensions about a Narendra Modi sweep of the scale of 2014 being repeated in 2019.

I have been saying this for long that since BJP has peaked in many states, it is difficult for the party to maintain its previous tally, and there isn’t enough scope to compensate for the loss of seats. This means we are staring at a depleted BJP in Lok Sabha in 2019, though it may continue to be the single largest party.

The Telugu Desam Party (TDP), which has 15 Members of Parliaments (MP), is on the verge of leaving the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Its MPs have been at odds with the government on the granting of special status to Andhra Pradesh. Even though truce has been achieved for now, the alliance stands on shaky grounds.

The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), BJP’s oldest allies, have also voiced concerns advising PM Narendra Modi to practice Atal coalition dharma.

BJP has also dumped Naga People’s Front for the newly floated Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party just few days before the state polls. Some of the allies are apprehensive of BJP’s ambition to grow in their backyard, and are even fed up with their arm-twisting tactics.

Why Regional Parties Are A Threat To BJP-Congress Dominance?

The performance of the regional parties has been stable over the years. Since 1952 to 2014, in the Lok Sabha elections, the aggregate vote share of the two parties, Congress and BJP, has averaged 51 percent, while that of regional parties and independents has averaged 49 percent.

While Congress maintained its centrist position in Indian polity in earlier years after Independence, parties like SAD, Bangla Congress, and DMK demanding regional autonomy sprang up to challenge Congress’ dominance.

In 1967, out of 21 states, non-Congress governments were installed in nine states (43 percent). This assault was massive, and hit at the core of Congress’ one party dominance since its formation in 1885.

The seeds of a first non-Congress government at the Centre were sown in many ways in 1967, and in a decade’s time, the nation saw its first non-Congress PM when a united opposition, consisting of many regional parties, contested under Janata Party banner.

The entire east coast from West Bengal to Orissa to Andhra Pradesh to Tamil Nadu has been a den of regional parties.

Vote Share of Congress, BJP and Regional Parties in Lok Sabha Elections
Vote Share of Congress, BJP and Regional Parties in Lok Sabha Elections
(Source: indiavotes.compoliticalbaba.com)

From 1989 to 2009, regional parties played a key role in each government formation at the Centre, as any single party failed to get a majority. Regional parties have recorded 220 odd seats in all elections except for 1991, when Congress got a boost post Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination.

The combined seat tally of BJP and Congress has been in the range of 280-320, except for 1991.

(Photo: indiavotes.com)

The Resurgence of NDA and Where They Are Failing Now

Regional parties usually want to be in the good books of the powers at the Centre, and that’s why we have seen many parties jumping ship from NDA to UPA, and are now back in NDA.

The NDA was formed just before the 1998 Lok Sabha Elections, and comprised 14 parties, which increased to 17 parties in 1999. However, in 2004, allies such as Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party, Omar Abdullah’s National Conference and the DMK, started to desert NDA.

Many parties changed sides after Vajpayee’s loss, prominent ones being Trinamool Congress, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and Rashtriya Lok Dal.

After the loss of 2004, the NDA was reduced to just three parties – BJP, Shiv Sena and SAD until mid 2013, when Modi was announced as PM candidate. With conditions building in favour of Modi and BJP in the run up to the elections, the number of parties in NDA swelled back to more than 20.

In 2014, after 30 years, a single party, the BJP, got an absolute majority which ended 2.5 decades of influence of regional parties on governance.

Although ministries have been allocated to NDA allies, the BJP is running the show without consulting them on key issues. This has been brought to the fore by the two oldest allies, Shiv Sena and SAD, who have stood rock solid behind BJP for all these years.

Power at the Centre has moved from Congress to the BJP, but the increase in BJP’s vote share has largely been at the expense of the latter. The two parties together bagged 50.8 percent vote share in 2014, which is similar to their combined long term average of 51 percent.

Regional parties and independents won 49.2 percent near to their long term average of 49 percent, with independents having a small share of 3.2 percent. While the BJP and Congress bagged approximately 27.8 crore votes in 2014, serious regional players bagged 23.6 crore votes, with independents at 1.7 crores and hopeless contestants recorded the balance of 1.7 crore votes.

The sheer size and die-hard vote block of regional parties shows that they may play a key role in government formation at the Centre in 2019.

Congress performance is bound to improve in 2019, which will likely be at the expense of BJP, going by the past trends. A hung Parliament cannot be ruled out, though it is difficult to ascertain the degree of shortfall.

It’s because of this arithmetic that regional parties see themselves as kingmakers again. BJP should be nervous, start treating allies with respect, and keep them in good humour. As SAD MP Naresh Gujral recently quipped, “It is in BJP’s interest to not ride roughshod over the interests of its allies.”

Allies are not lifelong partners and are itching to hit back.

This article was first pblished on thequint.com on 15 Feb 2018

#Elections2019: Non-Yadav OBCs, non-Jatav Dalits hold key to success in UP Lok Sabha elections 2019

Mayawati and Akhilesh have announced an alliance for the key state of Uttar Pradesh. The BJP won 71 out of 80 seats from the state in 2014 which propelled it to cross the halfway mark in the same year. Data shows that the split of votes between the SP and BSP helped the party. Though two plus two is not always four in politics, and there are several challenges ahead for mahagathbandhan in UP, which has made the contest interesting.

Caste is cast in stone in UP

Caste plays a key role in politics in India, more so in the Hindi heartland states. A survey by The Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) and Azim Premji Institute shows that 55% of Indians are likely to prefer the candidate of their caste in elections. The ‘agadey versus pichadey’ contest has been intensified in UP since the Mandal issue.

The Ram mandir issue did unify the Hindu voters in 1990s but it reversed back to caste based politics in the 20th century. In 2014, Modi’s development agenda trumped caste politics and the BJP swept the state. Upper caste account for 18%, Yadavs 10%, Non-Yadav OBCs 29%, SCs 21% (Jatavs 14%, Non Jatavs 7%) and Muslims 20% of population of the state. The upper caste has been traditional supporters of the BJP, Dalits of BSP and Yadavs and Muslims of SP.

Dalits consist of Jatavs (Chamars) and non-Jatavs. The Jatavs account for 12% of the population. Mayawati belongs to this caste group. The balance 9%, include Dom, Dhobi, Pasi, Kori, Valmiki etc are collectively called the non-Jatavs. Both these groups have historically supported the BSP. But the level of BSP support has been lower among non-Jatavs (half) than Jatavs (three-fourth).

The non-Yadav OBCs consist of 200 plus sub-caste groups like Kurmi, Koeri, Lodh, Gujjar, Rajbhar, Nishad etc and account for 29% of the population. These groups have different dynamics and do not vote en-block like Yadavs. These other sub-groups have not exhibited rigid caste loyalties.

BJP successfully created 2 niche caste blocks in 2014

The BJP effectively exploited the disillusionment among the NYOBC and non-Jatavs. These voters previously used to back the SP and BSP respectively. Non-Yadavs were unhappy with reservation benefits and party positions in the SP hijacked by Yadavs. Similarly, non-Jatavs were unhappy with Jatavs getting government jobs out of quota and plum positions in the BSP.

The SP is effectively controlled by Jatavs while the BSP by Mayawati, who hails from the Jatav community. Sixty percent of NYOBC and 45% of non-Jatavs supported the BJP in 2014 and accounted for 20.6% vote share almost half of NDA support of 42.3%. This effectively reduced the SP to just five seats and the BSP couldn’t even open its account.

Support of all other caste blocks almost fixed 

The support of all other caste blocks in UP is fixed. These voters have already made up their mind as they are traditional supporters. The upper caste is likely to go with the BJP. The damage by ordinance on SC-ST Atrocities Act has been controlled by the recent 10% reservation for the economically weaker sections in government jobs and educational institutions. The party suffered badly in Madhya Pradesh, where a section of upper caste and in Chhattisgarh, where a section of OBCs deserted the party in recent elections.

The minority vote is likely to go with the mahagathbandhan. Now there is no confusion among these voters as to who is in the best position to defeat the BJP. The Yadavs are likely to stick with the SP. The Jatavs are likely to vote for Mayawati as they want to see her as the Prime Minister. The Jats are likely to back Ajit Singh’s RLD. They can’t go with mahagathbandhan as they share an acrimonious relationship with minorities.

NYOBCs and non-Jatavs to play role of kingmaker in 2019 

Over the years, Uttar Pradesh has witnessed many small parties springing up, catering to the demands of such sub-groups like Apna Dal (Kurmis), SBSP (Rajbhar), Nishad Party (Nishads), Mahan Dal (Shakyas / Mauryas). Apna Dal was part of the NDA and has influence in east UP. The SBSP allied with the BJP for the state elections in 2017. Mahan Dal was part of the UPA in 2014. The Nishad Party, whose candidate defeated the BJP in Gorakhpur by-poll contesting on SP ticket, is likely to be with mahagathbandhan and get two seats.

The BJP is facing pressure from allies in seat distribution and has lost some influence over Nishads (4% of the population). Non-Jatavs may not wholeheartedly support the decision of Mayawati to seal alliance with Akhilesh. How come they will vote for perpetrators of decades of violence on them? These blocks account for about 40% of population and will play the role of kingmaker again.

BJP needs to increase support among NYOBCs, non-Jatavs

Mere maintenance of the previous support will not be enough for the BJP in the wake of the mahagathbandhan. It needs to increase its penetration among these communities to guarantee a good performance in Uttar Pradesh.

In my opinion, it could take the following steps:

  • Continue working on the smaller groups of most backward and extremely backward OBCs.
  • Identify key influencers/community leaders and initiate dialogue with them.
  • Give 40% tickets to NYOBCs like in Assembly polls.
  • Give max tickets to non-Jatavs in SC reserved seats.
  • Keep allies happy, either give more tickets than 2014 or accommodate in the state ministry.
  • Exploit inherent contradictions between SP-BSP in mahagathbandhan.
  • Keep highlighting fact that the PM belongs to the backward community (Asmita factor).

To sum up, the BJP needs to increase its support among NYOBCs and non-Jatavs to thwart competition from the mahagathbandhan, as they could well again play the role of kingmakers.

This article was first published on http://www.mynation.com on 16 Jan, 2019.

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