#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.

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#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: 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: 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.

#Elections2019: BSP-SP Alliance Is A Challenge But UP’s History Gives BJP Hope


Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party and Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party today held a joint press conference to announce the much-awaited grand alliance (mahagathbandhan) for Uttar Pradesh. The BSP and the SP will contest 38 seats each, leaving 4 for others, mostly 2 family seats of the Congress and 2 for others (Nishad Party, in all likelihood). Mayawati thundered that this alliance will give sleepless nights to the BJP. Akhilesh commented that the BJP was trying to promote hatred in the land of Lord Ram and dividing people along communal lines. In theory, the MGB poses a stiff challenge to the BJP in 2019 after defeating BJP candidates in three by-polls last year, including the seats previously held by the CM and Deputy CM.

UP Helped BJP Gain Majority in 2014

The BJP swept the state bagging 71 out of 80 seats, even higher than at the peak of the Ram Mandir temple movement. One-fourth of the BJP’s overall tally (71 out of 282) came from Uttar Pradesh, which propelled it become the only party after Congress in 30 years to attain majority on its own. Modi decided to contest from Varanasi which had a ripple effect in the entire state. Amit Shah attained the status of Chanakya after this historic victory. Is Uttar Pradesh That Important?

Uttar Pradesh is India’s largest state in terms of population. It accounts for 80 seats, the highest in the country, in the parliament thus making up for 15% of its total strength. Majority of the Indian prime ministers (9 out of 15) have come from Uttar Pradesh, or were MPs from the state including Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi, Charan Singh, Rajiv Gandhi, V.P. Singh, Chandrasekhar, Atal Bihari Vajapyee and Narendra Modi.

It seems, therefore, important for a party to do well in Uttar Pradesh if it wants to form government at the centre. Mayawati is also hoping to become the prime minister of the country by winning maximum seats from Uttar Pradesh in 2019.

Data Shows UP is Not Necessarily the Gateway to Power

Elections data from 1989, the advent of coalition era, shows otherwise. Most parties that have done well in Uttar Pradesh have not been able to form government at the centre or have had no role in government formation. Out of the last eight governments, parties which scored the maximum seats in the state could form government only half of the times in 1989, 1998, 1999 and 2014.

As a matter of fact, the party which scored the least in UP in 1991 and 2004 went on to form the government.

Here is what the electoral history of UP tells us:

❖ In 1989, Janata Dal scored more than 50 seats and formed the government.

❖ In 1991, the BJP scored more than 50 but couldn’t form the government.

❖ In 1996, the BJP, again, scored a 50 but failed to form the government.

❖ In 1998, the BJP formed the government after sweeping the state.

❖ In 1999, the BJP’s tally reduced to half (29), with just 3 more seats than the SP, but it managed to form the government.

❖ In 2004, the SP got the maximum seats, but the Congress, which got less than 10 seats, formed the government. SP didn’t get any cabinet berths.

❖ In 2009, the SP again got the maximum seats, but the Congress formed the government. The SP and the BSP, despite doing well like in 2004, didn’t get any cabinet berths.

❖ In 2014, the BJP swept UP and Modi became the prime minister.

All Eyes on MGB to Defeat BJP

Opposition parties are placing a lot of hope on the SP and the BSP to dent the BJP and reduce its chances of coming back in power. If the BSP and the SP would have contested together in 2014, BJP’s / NDA’s tally would have reduced by 32 seats, down from 73 to 41, assuming seamless transfer of votes. They do present a potent combination of Dalit, Muslim, Tribal and Yadav voters, representing almost half of the population of the state and could give a tough fight to the BJP.

MGB Could Be Left High and Dry

The SP and the BSP bagged more than half of the seats of UP contesting independently during 1999-2009. However, they were not able to extract ministerial positions in the centre. The harsh stand which Mayawati has taken against the Congress in the press conference today, leaves little scope for MGB to partner in a non-BJP government led by the Congress in 2019.

History May Offer Solace To Modi

Even if MGB is able to damage the BJP by 30 odd seats in UP, as some opinion polls predict, there is hope still for the party. It is already seen devising strategies to make gains in East, North East and South. The party which doesn’t do well in UP has also gone on to form governments in the centre in the past, and this data gives hope to BJP.

To sum up, MGB good show in UP doesn’t guarantee them the hot seat in 2019, neither it means Modi can’t come back to power. As data shows, UP doesn’t necessarily hold the keys to power in the centre.

This article was first published on thequint.com on 13 Jan, 2019.

#Elections2019: Mahagathbandhan: From lack of trust to vote blocks, 5 challenges before grand alliance in Uttar Pradesh


As per press reports, a deal has been sealed between SP, BSP and RLD for a grand alliance (mahagathbandhan) in Uttar Pradesh to take on the BJP. As per the deal, the SP and BSP will get 37 seats each to contest, while Ajit Singh’s RLD will get three seats and Nishad Party one seat. The mahagathbandhan has left out Congress from the seat-sharing arrangement, however, it will not field any candidate in the Gandhi family-stronghold seats of Amethi and Rae Bareli.

The BJP had swept the state in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, bagging 71 out of 80 seats, representing one-fourth of its overall tally of 282. An informal mahagathbandhan defeated the BJP in three by-polls of Gorakhpur, Phulpur and Kairana held last year which ultimately crystallised in this form. This has given hope to the anti-Modi / anti-BJP parties that by restricting the party tally in UP, they can stop Modi from coming to power again in 2019. However, in politics two plus two is not always four. Additionally, we have often heard that in alliances, chemistry is more important than arithmetic.

Even though the mahagathbandhan has successfully sealed the alliance, there are significant challenges ahead.

Seamless transferability of votes

Any alliance is built on the assumption of seamless transferability of votes, but that seldom happens as we have seen in the past. There are leakages and the quantum of leakage ultimately decides whether an alliance is successful or not. Even after adding the vote shares of SP, BSP, and RLD, they are still a notch below NDA on the basis of 2014 numbers.

The key question is whether all the supporters and cadre of one party would vote for the candidate of the other parties in their respective seats with the same zeal and enthusiasm as if it’s their own candidate. The question becomes trickier because of the acrimonious relationship shared by the SP-BSP in the past with Mayawati accusing SP leaders of attempt to murder. The case is still on.

Trust deficit between members

Mayawati is a pale shadow of her past. The BSP has received a serious drubbing in UP, both in Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections. Today, it has no MP in Lok Sabha, just four MPs in Rajya Sabha and less than 5% of the house strength as MLAs in Vidhan Sabha. The SC voter has moved away from the BSP in large numbers. New outfits like Bhim Army and new leaders like Jignesh Mewani are attracting the Dalit youth. The BSP was facing an existential threat, and to revive her political fortunes she has for the time decided to work with bete noire Mulayam’s son Akhilesh. But this alliance will always be marred by trust deficit.

Babua may be pitching for Bua for PM, but Bua is missing the point that there is a threat to her vote bank which can shift to SP in the Assembly elections in 2022. Both are using each other. Bua to get maximum seats, prevent a 2014-like performance and then bargain with whichever party/group emerges as a contender to form the government; while Babua, not interested in national politics as of now, is working on a long-term strategy of finishing the BSP. And on top of it, you have Ajit Singh, who has been a minister in PVNR as well as the Vajpayee government.

Antagonistic vote blocks

The mahagathbandhan is banking on DJMY (Dalits, Jats, Muslims and Yadavs) combination, accounting for 44% of the state’s population. But herein lies a big problem. Yadavs don’t vote for BSP (only 3%), Jatavs and Other Scheduled Caste don’t vote for SP (only 4% and 11% respectively). The caste combination consists of antagonistic vote blocks who don’t see eye to eye. Dalits accuse Yadavs of exploiting them and many SC-ST Atrocities Act cases are registered against powerful OBC groups like Yadavs. To assume they will vote for candidates from the community is wishful thinking.

 

Congress could play spoilsport

The Congress, which on an average has 6%-8% vote share in the state, has been kept out of the alliance. While it is true that the party doesn’t have much support left in the Hindi heartland state having lost its anchor vote segment of Brahmins to BJP, Dalits to Mayawati and Muslims to SP.
In a close contest where both the NDA and mahagatbandhan are even stevens in terms of vote share, this extra 6%-8% even after accounting for leakages could have been handy. Data shows that if the SP and BSP had contested together in 2014, the NDA could have been reduced to 37 seats. If the Congress would have joined the alliance, the tally of NDA would have dropped by another 13 seats.

Reverse polarisation

In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, according to many analysts, the BJP benefitted due to the split of the minority vote between BSP (18%), SP (58%) and INC (11%). So much so, that the BJP won some of the minority-dominated seats as well. Minorities account for 18%-20% of the state’s population and not a single MP was selected from the community in 2014. Proponents of the alliance claim that this time the vote wouldn’t split and get consolidated behind the mahagatbandhan as they are in the best position to defeat the BJP. Even the Congress may not be able to retain previous support.

This is however fraught with big risk of counter polarisation, more so in the overhang of Ram Mandir construction demand at its peak in the state. Any polarisation or perceived polarisation could consolidate Hindus behind the BJP cutting across caste lines upsetting mahagathbandhan’scalculations.

To sum up, the mahagatbandhan poses a stiff challenge to the BJP in Uttar Pradesh which is considered as a gateway to power at the center. However, that said, it is not going to be so easy for the mahagathbandhan because elections are not all about arithmetic alone!

This article was first published on mynation.com on 09 Jan, 2019.

#Elections2019: 10 Per Cent Reservation For General Category: Four Reasons Why This May Be A Political Game-Changer


The demand for reservations based on economic status has been long standing, and the BJP has attempted to fulfil it through this move.

There are four reasons why this move is a masterstroke, and will help the BJP in the upcoming elections:

1. It caught the opposition unawares, making it difficult for them to oppose it

The opposition and the media did not have a clue about this mega move. There was some speculation that the BJP could announce some sops for farmers, but the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo managed to surprise everyone with this move. Though the Congress is calling it a jumla, it will be very difficult for them to oppose it in Parliament. It’s a catch-22 situation for the opposition.

If they vote against the amendment, they could face the wrath of upper caste groups. Congress received 2.5 per cent of its total 19.5 per cent vote share in the 2014 elections from the upper caste. If they vote for the amendment, the ultimate credit will be taken by the BJP.

2. It soothes the nerves of the upper caste anchor voting segment of the BJP

The upper castes account for approximately 20 per cent-25 per cent of the country’s population. In the Hindi heartland states, where the BJP won maximum seats in 2014, their proportion is even higher.

In 2014 Lok Sabha elections, 47 per cent of the upper caste voted for the BJP as per CSDS. The BJP received 8.9 per cent of its total 31.3 per cent vote share in the 2014 elections from the upper caste.

According to a Dainik Bhaskar report, the upper castes account for 31 per cent of the Hindu population and enjoy influence in 125 Lok Sabha seats. Over the past few years, a section of the upper caste was unhappy with the excessive appeasement of the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) community by the party.

The amendment to the SC-ST Act nullifying the Supreme Court order served as the last nail in the coffin. There were upper caste protests in the three Hindi heartland states, especially Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. In fact, one of the upper caste groups deserted the party in both the states, leading to the loss in the recent state elections.

In MP, specifically, a section of the upper castes was angry about the following issues:

  • SC-ST amendment
  • Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s controversial ‘mai ka lal’ statement. (Shivraj Singh Chauhan during the campaigning phase had said that no one can end reservations for the backward communities in the country)
  • Both key positions of CM and state BJP president post occupied by OBC members

The dissent even led to the formation of the Samanya Pichhda evam Alpsankhyak Samaj (SAPAKS), which was an anti-reservation front. Posters were put up in many villages warning BJP leaders from entering and seeking votes by declaring that ‘yahan forward caste rehte hain’ (forward castes stay here).

Though the party bagged only 0.4 per cent vote share, it scored more votes than the margin of victory in two seats leading to the BJP’s defeat. These seats played a crucial role in a hung assembly, where the difference between Congress and the BJP in the end was as narrow as only five seats.

In the Gwalior Chambal region, which has huge population of upper castes (roughly 30 per cent), BJP suffered a massive hit. Realising their folly and making amends, the party appointed prominent Brahmin face Gopal Bhargav as leader of opposition in the assembly. This coincided with the declaration of the reservation, making the message adequately clear.

3. It will be difficult for courts to interfere in a constitutional amendment

Many commentators as well as the opposition have been claiming that this move will not stand judicial scrutiny and will be challenged as the Supreme Court has in many judgements capped the quota at 50 per cent. What they fail to realise is that BJP is talking about a constitutional amendment.

If the amendment passes through both houses of Parliament, then though it can be challenged, it will not be easy for courts to strike it down unless they feel it is against the spirit of the Constitution.

Further, these issues are fought in the people’s court. Even if it is struck down, the BJP can go to the voters and say it had good intentions but courts are not allowing, and it will try through other means.

4. It does not touch the quota of existing beneficiaries, so there remains nothing to be opposed

The quota proposed is over and above the 50 per cent for SC-ST and OBCs provided in the Constitution. Since this doesn’t disturb their existing benefits in admissions and jobs, they are not likely to oppose the move by the BJP government.

In Bihar, Mohan Bhagwat’s economics-based reservation statement was tweaked by the opposition to portray that the BJP wants to remove reservations, and the party had to pay a heavy price in elections. It has to guard itself against such rumour-mongering this time as well.

Politics Is The Art Of Managing Contradictions

The SC-ST Amendment Act proved to be a double whammy for the BJP. It failed to elicit support from the Dalit community in the three state elections but it also alienated the core supporter of BJP, the forward caste. Congress and other opposition parties have succeeded in painting the BJP as anti-Dalit.

This strategy of bringing in reservations for the upper caste communities will help the BJP consolidate its anchor vote segments of upper caste and OBCs, which account for 60 per cent of the population.

The elections could well turn out to be upper caste (UC) + non-Yadav-OBCs + ST as one voting block versus Yadavs + Dalits + Muslims as the other. The BJP did manage to get the highest support of Dalits in 2014 (24 per cent) but this is likely to move back to Bahujan Samaj Party and Congress in 2019.

To sum up, the BJP has taken a bold step of moving towards eliminating caste-based reservations. It helps politically as well after suffering setbacks in three states as it assuages its core vote bank.

This article was first published on swarajyamag.com on 8th Jan. 2019.

#Elections2019: Modi’s Approval Ratings, Swing Voters to Shape Result


With the Lok Sabha elections due in April-May this year, the invincibility of the ruling party at the Centre, that is, the BJP’s herculean election machinery and the durability of the ‘Modi factor’, is being openly questioned.

This notwithstanding, it doesn’t look like the Congress party alone can beat the BJP in the 2019 general elections. Thus, the idea of a mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) has been afloat for a while, but it is yet to see fruition.

100 days is a long time in politics, and the narrative for the general elections in 2019 is yet to be set. Here, we analyse the math for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Voter Bases & the Task of Government Formation

BJP’s lowest vote share during this period (as above) (excluding the 1989 number when party was still young) is 18.8 percent in 2009. This is its core vote bank, comprising core voters drawn by the Hindutva narrative, politics of Ram temple, and the fervent nationalism of the party. The Congress’s lowest performance is 19.5 percent in 2014; its core vote bank is drawn by secularism, their centrist ideology, and the Gandhi family legacy.

So, the combined anchor voter base of both parties is 37-38 percent, which will vote for these parties regardless of what happens.

With regional parties’ core vote banks at 43.5 percent (lowest in 1991), this leaves a floating voter base of 18 percent, which has been alternating between the Congress, BJP and regional parties over the years, and holds the key to government formation.

Source: www.politicalbaba.com
  1. Highest tally of regional parties was in 1989 (in the aftermath of Bofors) when they got 261 seats, and the lowest was in 1991 when they got 179 seats (the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi which boosted INC seats due to sympathy)
  2. Average tally of regional parties is 231 over last 8 elections
  3. BJP-INC combine’s average tally is 312, with 272 being the majority mark; neither has gotten a majority on its own since 1989
  4. Except in 2014 when Congress was routed, scoring below 50, could BJP cross the half-way mark
  5. Half-way mark for BJP or INC on their own has been difficult historically, since the beginning of the coalition era in 1989. Especially when both parties do not have a wider pan-India presence, the Congress in the north and east, the BJP in south and east
BJP & INC Tally Since 1989
BJP & INC Tally Since 1989
Source: www.indiavotes.com
BJP+INC Combine vs Regional Parties’ Tally Since 1989  
BJP+INC Combine vs Regional Parties’ Tally Since 1989  
Source: www.indiavotes.com

Neither BJP Nor Congress Can Get Majority on Its Own

The Lok Sabha elections since 1989 has exhibited tendencies of the ‘see-saw game. The pivot of the see-saw in this case is the block of regional parties who, on an average, have bagged 230 odd seats, leaving 310 odd seats for the BJP and the Congress, each sitting on one end of the see-saw.

  • BJP’s tally decreased from 182 in 1999 to 138 in 2004, while Congress’s increased from 114 to 145 during the same period
  • BJP’s tally increased from 116 in 2009 to 282 in 2014, while Congress’s fell from 206 to 44

With a strong pivot, the BJP and Congress are likely to gain or lose seats at the expense of each other. With an average combined tally of 312 in last 8 elections, it is very difficult for either of them to get a majority on their own, as the majority of 272 accounts for 88 percent of their combined tally over the past 3 decades. On an average, BJP-Congress combine has bagged 57 percent of seats, while regional parties have bagged 43 percent of seats. 2014 clearly stands out as an outlier.

Source: www.politicalbaba.com

Modi Remains Popular Despite Lowered Ratings

In 2014, 60 percent of the votes polled by BJP comprised its core voter base; 13 percent votes were brought in by the individual candidates / strong state leadership, while a whopping 27 percent was pulled by the ‘Modi mania’.

BJP successfully managed to pull more than 2/3rd of the floating voters towards itself, and won a historic mandate. The BJP defeated Congress by 6.5 crore votes; 4.6 crore was on account of the ‘Modi wave’. While there is a dip in his popularity ratings and Rahul is catching up, Modi still enjoys a handsome lead.

Source: www.politicalbaba.comwww.indiavotes.com

An Open Contest

To sum up, the contest is wide open for 2019. The mood of the floating voters, see-saw dynamics of the polls (given a strong pivot), and the durability of the ‘Modi factor’ may well decide the course of 2019 elections.

Jogi Wanted to Play Kingmaker But Dented BJP & Helped Congress Win


If there’s one state that has truly surprised pollsters, it is Chhattisgarh. The Congress has swept the state, leading in 67 seats, at the time of authoring the piece.

The exit polls were in fact, divided on Chhattisgarh. Three different opinion polls showed a BJP victory, a Congress victory, as well as a tight contest. Chhattisgarh has witnessed bi-polar contests since its inception.

But it is for the first time in its history that Chhattisgarh has witnessed a three-cornered fight, with Ajit Jogi’s Janata Chhattisgarh Congress and the Mayawati-alliance showing their might to both national parties. Jogi contested on 55 and Mayawati on 35 seats.

Jogi’s Inroads Into BJP and Congress

The Jogi element made the contest interesting, after all he is the tallest tribal leader of the Congress, and the first and only CM from Congress in the state. He left the Congress in June 2016 and formed the Janata Congress Chhattisgarh.

Since Jogi had been with the party for many years, many felt that he would damage the Congress and it would be a cakewalk for the BJP this time. However, it was a very simplistic assumption to have made.

Jogi and Mayawati enjoy the support of much of the SC/ST community which account for 44 percent of the population. Jogi also enjoyed good support among the Satnami community in the state. While BJP had won 9 of the 10 SC seats in 2013, INC had won 18 out of 29 ST seats in 2013. So, from the start it was clear that he would damage both.

In an interview to Bloomberg Quint, Jogi claimed he’s making inroads into both BJP and Congress vote banks. When Jogi formed his own party, Congress alleged that he was the B-team of BJP.

Jogi Hands a Shocker to BJP

At the time of publishing, the tally was: Congress: 67, BJP 17, Jogi-Mayawati alliance 7 seats. The BJP tally is down by two-thirds. A massive blow. Leads for 5 seats are not available. With this, the Congress has taken a significant lead in Chhattisgarh. A lead so comfortable that it seems almost certain that they will form the next government in the state.

(Source: Election Commission of India)

The vote shares of parties explain the severe blow which Jogi has dealt to BJP, the opposite of what was expected. BJP’s vote share has declined by 9 percent. At the same time, Jogi’s party (which was not in the fray the last time) along with Mayawati, has gained a 6 percent vote share, mostly at the expense of the BJP. On the other hand, the Congress has gained 1.4 percent vote share. Jogi’s dream of playing the kingmaker has been shattered.

(Source: Election Commission)

A look at the SC-ST reserved seats, 39 in total, also makes the picture clearer. While the SC seats have remained with the BJP over the years, ST seats have changed hands many times.

  • BJP, which won the majority of SC seats in 2008 and 2013, lost in a big way in these elections
  • Due to the Jogi impact, ST seats which were expected to come to BJP (as per the trend of the last 2 elections), actually stayed with the Congress. They in fact improved their tally by 4 seats
(Source: Election Commission)
(Source: Election Commission)

What Didn’t Work for Jogi?

Jogi’s party failed to make its symbol reach every village and taluka of the state. Due to Jogi’s association with the Congress over many years, much of the rural populace still felt he was with the Congress. So, while they wanted to vote for Jogi-Congress, they ended up voting for the Congress’s ‘hand’ symbol. Also, the fact that the Congress managed to create a perception of him being hand-in-glove with the BJP, helped the Congress.

To sum up, Ajit Jogi did play the role of a game-changer, but helped his parent party in turn, albeit inadvertently. He seems to have dented BJP and helped Congress win. Congress is all smiles, while Jogi must be ruing his decision. Jogi is like a Diwali rocket; nobody knows where it will go and whom it will hit.

This article was first published on ‘thequint.com‘ on 11 Dec. 2018.

#Elections2019: Federal clout at power centre


Regional parties have played a key role in government formation at the Centre since the advent of the coalition era in 1989. BJP’s loss in three Hindi heartland states have given them hope of a hung Parliament in 2019 where they could again play the role of a kingmaker. Many such parties are discussing with Congress to form the mahagathbandhan (MGB) to take on the BJP. Alliances in key states of UP, Bihar, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, which account for 207 seats, out of which NDA won 150 in 2014, will decide the course of 2019.

Uttar Pradesh: The entire premise that BJP will have a tough time in 2019 is built on the alliance between Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in UP. It was tested in bypolls to three seats earlier this year where BJP recorded big losses. BSP and SP have a solid vote base of Dalits, Muslims and Yadavs accounting for 44 per cent of the population. The alliance has proved it can seamlessly transfer votes in bypolls. Both parties are known for their anti-BJP stance. They are toying with the idea of joining MGB. Though, Congress is well past its prime in the Hindi heartland and is confined to two family-stronghold seats, it can be a game-changer in 13 seats.

Strategists in both parties feel while they will be able to transfer votes to Congress, the reciprocity is unlikely to happen like in 1996 (BSP-INC alliance) and 2017 (SP-INC alliance). There’s not much value which Congress brings to the table in UP. Both these parties may not want to tie their fate to MGB, and  instead join the Third Front and wait for results.

Bihar: The fight is veering towards a bipolar contest in Bihar. BJP-led NDA consisting of JDU and LJP vs RJD-led UPA consisting of Congress, Jitan Ram Manjhi, Upendra Kushwaha and Sharad Yadav. BJP inducted Kushwaha before 2014, to make a dent in Nitish Kumar’s Kurmi/Koeri vote bank which accounts for 12 per cent of population. After JDU’s ghar wapsi, BJP faced the problem of plenty. It eased out Kushwaha and retained Paswan who has considerable clout among Dalits (6 per cent of population). He will also act as NDA’s counter to Manjhi who is a leader of Mahadalits (10 per cent of population). Both alliances have almost equal support, NDA of upper caste, Kurmi / Koeri and Dalits while UPA of Muslims and Yadavs. Mahadalits and Most Backward Classes (24 per cent) hold the keys to success in Bihar. RJD hopes to encash on the double   anti-incumbency, against Modi’s 5-year and Nitish’s 13-year rule. Paswan who is a political bellwether has decided to stay with NDA. The problem of plenty has now shifted to UPA, so one can expect a big tussle on ticket distribution there.

Maharashtra: BJP almost won the state elections contesting independently held six months after Lok Sabha polls. It did partner with Shiv Sena to form the government, but their relationship strained forever. Shiv Sena which was the bigger brother in the state found itself to be the junior partner. It is playing the role of opposition within the NDA, sharply critical of Modi and has announced plans to contest 2019 elections alone. On the other hand, NCP and Congress have sealed a 24-24 formula for elections. Congress has adopted an accommodative approach for bigger goal of defeating BJP. Shiv Sena is adopting ‘hum to doobenge sanamtumko bhi le doobenge’ strategy.

As per my analysis, Shiv Sena could be routed and get 2-3 seats (current 18) while BJP may not suffer much with loss of 4-5 seats (current 23), based on 2014 numbers. UPA could gain 20-odd seats. Uddhav is making noise to extract his pound of flesh from BJP. Both parties need each other and will come to the table soon.

Tamil Nadu: All allies of BJP in state (PMK, DMDK, MDMK, PT) have left NDA. The political landscape has changed with Jaya’s death, split in AIADMK and entry of superstars Rajinikanth, Kamal Haasan in politics. DMK stays with UPA and could play a crucial role in 2019 as state exhibits a strong trend of AIADMK and DMK alternately sweeping the state in central elections. BJP initially hoped to ally with AIADMK however, split of TTK, has forced a rethink. It needs to bag few seats here to negate losses in North and West where it has maxed out. It has also sent feelers to Rajini. Rajini could join NDA and Kamal UPA in my opinion.

Apart from these, other key players are AITC, BJD, TRS and CPM: AITC is facing the heat from BJP in West Bengal. It needs support of Congress to thwart attempts of BJP. However, Congress doesn’t gain much from the alliance as Mamata Banerjee doesn’t have any votes outside Bengal. Mamata is averse to joining any Third Front as the leadership issue has become complicated.

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Naveen Patnaik has maintained an equidistance approach from BJP and Congress. He is not keen on joining UPA as Congress is the principal opposition party in Odisha. BJP is also gaining strength there and his joining NDA will help BJP piggyback on BJD’s vote bank.

TRS can’t join UPA as Congress is the principal opposition party in Telangana. War of words between Modi and KCR during state polls have ensured he can’t join NDA immediately. He is floating the idea of Third Front to make a rainbow coalition of regional parties. Akhilesh has shown interest while Mamata and Naveen have been non-committal.

CPM can’t join MGB, as it is left with sizeable presence only in Kerala and Bengal. If it joins MGB it risks losing space to Congress in Kerala. It can under no circumstances join hands with Mamata in Bengal.

All regional parties have a common wish: a hung Parliament. The elections circus has just begun.

This article was first published on dnaindia.com on 29 Dec. 2018.

Madhya Pradesh verdict 2018: BJP looks strong despite loss in state Assembly elections


The Congress managed to romp home in Madhya Pradesh the key poll promise of farm loan waiver of up to Rs 2 lakh. The BJP’s tally reduced significantly among rural as well as urban seats in MP. Despite the amendment to SC-ST Atrocities Act nullifying the Supreme Court order, Dalits and tribals supported the Congress. The BJP received a drubbing across regions ranging from 3% to 9% decline in vote share. If not for an improved performance by the BJP in the Vindhya region, the Congress would have gained a majority on its own. In strongholds like Malwa and Mahakoshal, the BJP’s tally reduced to half, while in Gwalior-Chambal to one-third.

The focus now moves to the Lok Sabha elections to be held in April-May next year. The BJP swept the state, bagging 27 out of 29 seats in 2014, riding on Modi wave and popularity of Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Ten percent of the BJP’s current strength in Lok Sabha comes from MP. That’s why it is very important for the party to maintain its performance in 2019. There are rumours that the party may want Shivraj to contest from Vidisha, the seat of Sushma Swaraj, who has declined to contest in 2019 due to health reasons. However, Shivraj has announced that he would not contest the Lok Sabha elections and focus on the state instead. There are also rumours that he could be made the agriculture minister in the wake of agri distress in the country, along with the demand of the Congress to waive off farm loans. He is responsible for turning around the agriculture sector in MP and the party may want to use his experience at the Centre.

While the Congress is ahead of the BJP in the Assembly elections in terms of seats, a simple extrapolation of Assembly elections mapped to Lok Sabha seats by the author shows that the BJP would still be ahead with 17 seats, with Congress lagging at 12. While there are 51 districts, there are only 29 Lok Sabha constituencies in MP. Many times, different seats of same districts, which may exhibit a similar voting pattern, are allocated to different Lok Sabha constituencies. Hence, the results could be different.

1.  Congress couldn’t sweep the state despite 15 years of natural anti-incumbency. In fact, the party’s vote share is less than the BJP’s by 0.1%. The party even failed to get a simple majority on its own, highlighting the fact that Shivraj and Modi factors can’t be written off yet.

2. The Lok Sabha elections are contested on different issues than state elections. While 15 years of rule developed a fatigue factor in state elections, Modi’s tenure is only five years old. He will pitch and showcase his five years’ of performance versus the Congress’s 55 years of rule and ask voters for a second chance to fulfill his promises.

3. Modi is fairly popular in the state. Overall, as per India Spend report, the BJP lost 70% of seats where he campaigned. In MP, he won 50% of seats where he held rallies. Schemes like PMAYG and Ujjwala are very popular in the state.

4. MP is the best-performing state as far as PMAY(G) and Ujjwala scheme of Modi government is concerned. More than 10 and 50 lakh beneficiaries respectively are present here. The schemes represent the aspirations of the poor man to own a house. The Ujjwala scheme has transformed the lives of women in villages and protecting them from health hazards and improving their lifestyle. This will add to the popularity of Modi among the poor and Shivraj among women.

5. The Congress has made tall promises and it has less than 3 months to deliver. It has announced a farm loan waiver as soon as they come to power, but it is caught in details and modalities. There is no clarity on the amount and number of farmers, who will be benefitted in MP, while elsewhere it is clear. It has applied a cut-off date as March 31, 2018, while other two states have announced farm loan availed till November 2018 for a waiver. This has upset a section of farmers. The whole issue is so tricky as seen from what transpired in Punjab and Karnataka that it is unlikely to be resolved before the Model Code of Conduct kicks in for Lok Sabha polls.

6. The Scindia camp has been unhappy with Maharaj not getting the CM chair. As per reports, Digvijay Singh and Kamalnath camps have taken control of the state and could corner majority of the plum portfolios in ministry. If Scindia is not accommodated with a national role or state PCC post, he and his supporters could be de-motivated and may not work with the same zeal in Lok Sabha elections.

7‘Tiger abhi zinda hai’ – Shivraj Singh Chouhan has taken Twitter by storm. Tweets are pouring in from across the country on the way he handled the loss with grace. A section of people as per reports are ruing their decision. In the process of voting out their unpopular local representative, they didn’t realise results could be so tight at the state level and Mama could lose. This is expected to get sympathy for Mama and the BJP. He has already started touring the state like a common man by using the railways. He has said that he would not let Kamalnath sleep easily if he doesn’t deliver on promises.

At the end of it all, the BJP still holds an advantage in MP and the result in the state would end up bolstering its 2019 bid for power.

This article was first published on mynation.com on 25th Dec . 2018.

#Elections2019: BJP, 2019, And The Durability Of The ‘Modi Factor’


The Indian National Congress has made significant inroads in the three Hindi heartland states defeating the Bharatiya Janata Party in its den. These states account for 65 Lok Sabha seats out of which BJP won 62 in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The historical trend shows that whichever party wins these state elections goes on to win the maximum seats in the Lok Sabha election that is held within three-four months of the assembly mandate. BJP’s tally is expected to reduce by half, on the basis of a simple extrapolation of the state results. The results have made the 2019 contest wide open with no clear favourites.

Did The Modi Factor Work, Or Fail In 2018?

The boost the BJP gets from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s personal political capital—which took the party past the finish line in elections over the last few years—has often been referred to as the ‘Modi factor’. There’s been plenty of debate after the results about the impact Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s campaigning had in these elections. Did the Modi factor work or fail? Opinion is divided.

  • People who are saying that Modi’s push failed, point to the party losing power in all three major states. They argue that rural or agricultural distress—resulting from radical measures like the Goods and Services Tax and demonetisation—is one of the main reasons for this defeat. They see the impact of this being so large that even popular Chief Ministers like Raman Singh and Shivraj Singh Chouhan had to bear the brunt.
  • People who believe the Modi factor is intact argue that the party put up a tough fight in two out of three states and the resultant marginally hung assembly. But for Modi, both MP and Rajasthan could have met the same fate as Chhattisgarh, they argue.
  • Even critics of Modi acknowledge that he turned the party’s fortunes around in Gujarat, without which Congress could have sneaked in. In Karnataka nobody gave BJP any chance, but it was Modi’s rallies which created a swing of 2-3 percent in the party’s favour propelling it to single largest party status.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with then-Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and BJP President Amit Shah, in Bhopal, on Sep. 25, 2018. (Photograph: PTI)

Defining The ‘Modi Factor’

The way to put a number to this is to measure his ability to attract voters outside the party’s core vote bank and influence them to vote for BJP. In 2014 Lok Sabha elections, 27 percent of those who supported BJP said in a CSDS survey that they would not have voted for BJP if Modi was not the prime ministerial candidate.

This was highest in Rajasthan and the lowest in Chhattisgarh.

The Modi factor fetched the BJP 4.6 crore votes out of the 17 crore-odd votes it received in 2014.

The Modi Factor’s 2018 Scorecard

Elections are not won or lost basis a single factor. These are a host of issues which decide the outcome including the complex interplay among them. We attempt to analyse whether Modi’s influence worked or not in the state elections 2018 using three metrics.

  1. Rallies Conducted Versus Seats Won

Modi covered 197 seats through his rallies in these 3 states, roughly 40 percent of total seats. BJP had won 134 of these seats in 2013 (around 70 percent), which got reduced to 65 in 2018 (33 percent).

The party lost more than half of these seats in 2018.

In terms of the strike rate—seats won divided by seats where he held rallies—Modi seems to have performed poorer than other leaders.

  1. BJP Vote Share: 2013 Versus 2014 Versus 2018

BJP’s vote share in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in these three states received a big boost due to Narendra Modi’s candidacy. The party’s vote share increased by 8-10 percent in these states in that round.

In the 2018 state elections, BJP’s vote share has declined significantly – by 14-17 percent from the 2014 Lok Sabha levels.

The decline in vote shares is higher than the increase from 2013 to 2014 due to the Modi boost. This signifies not only a washout of the Modi factor in these states but also high anti-incumbency against the chief ministers.

  1. Performance In Urban Seats

The urban voter has been a big supporter of the BJP. In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the party’s vote share in urban seats was 42 percent, in semi-urban seats at 32 percent and in rural seats at 30 percent. BJP won 84 percent of the urban seats it contested, but its success rate in rural seats was lower, at 63 percent.

BJP’s lead over Congress was the widest in urban constituencies at 21.3 percent. The party made the biggest gains among middle and upper/upper-middle class voters.

In the urban assembly seats in three states, BJP’s tally has declined from 88 in the 2013 election to 45 this year – a near-50 percent drop.

On the other hand, Congress’ tally improved from 10 to 47. Price rise, demonetisation, GST, job crisis are the likely factors responsible for this rout. As early as June 2018, the author had pointed out in a previous BloombergQuint column that the BJP needs to worry about growing urban apathy.

  • In Chhattisgarh, BJP lost all but one of the four seats in Raipur, except one, as well as the Korba and Bhilai Nagar seats, all of which it had won in 2013.
  • In MP, BJP lost the three seats it held in Bhopal city, three out of four Jabalpur seats and one out of five Indore seats, all considered strongholds for the party.
  • In Rajasthan, it lost one of the two Bikaner city seats, the Jodhpur seat, and nine seats in Jaipur.

Risks For BJP In 2019

As the 2014 CSDS survey indicated, 27 percent of BJP’s voters had supported the party because of Modi. These are likely to be mostly urban/educated/liberal voters. This amounts to 4.6 crore votes. BJP was ahead of Congress by 6.5 crore votes in the Lok Sabha elections.

4.6 crore votes account for 70 percent of the BJP’s 2014 victory margin.

In these three states, BJP got 90 lakh extra votes due to the Modi factor in 2014. These do not belong to the anchor voting segments of BJP. They are less likely to be influenced by issues like the Ram temple, cow and caste politics, and more by development, jobs, and Sarva Dharma Sama Bhava. While the fall in Modi’s popularity ratings also indicate a dent, he still, however, enjoys a handsome lead over Rahul Gandhi. Does he have a new trick up his sleeve to repeat the victory of 2014 in 2019?

This article was first published in the bloombergquint.com on 19th Dec. 2018.

Was Rural Distress One Of The Key Reasons For BJP’s Loss In Three States? Data Says Otherwise


The Indian National Congress has formed government in the three Hindi heartland states which went to polls recently. The 3-0 verdict has led political commentators and analysts to believe that this is all attributable to rural distress brought about by demonetisation. After all:

Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) rural tally declined by 31 per cent in Madhya Pradesh, 57 per cent in Rajasthan and 68 per cent in Chhattisgarh

  • Overall, BJP tally in these three states reduced by half on rural seats in 2018 compared to 2013.

Tables like the one given below are being used to drive home the point.

Source: Times of India Data HubSource: Times of India Data Hub

Elections, however, are not won or lost on a single factor but a host of them and a complex interplay amongst them.

  • In MP, key factors were local anti-incumbency against sitting MLAs, voter fatigue with BJP, freebies, impact of Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of) Atrocities Act
  • In Rajasthan, key factors were similar, plus a strong trend of people believing change is better for development, favoured the Congress.
  • In Chhattisgarh, people yearning for badlav, corruption, tribal rights, the Ajit Jogi factor, Chhattisgarhi asmita, etc, all played a key role in elections.

To say rural distress as one of the key reasons for BJP’s loss is making too simplistic an assumption without looking at the data properly. If there was truly rural distress, Congress wouldn’t have fallen short of a majority in MP and Rajasthan, which are primarily rural states. MP has 183 rural seats out of 230, Rajasthan has 162 out of 200. After 15 years of anti-incumbency in MP and Chhattisgarh, and strong trend of overthrowing incumbent in Rajasthan, along with rural distress as is being claimed, Congress should have swept all the states and not only Chhattisgarh. If there was rural distress how is BJP retaining rural seats. Not only retaining but it is gaining seats from the Congress. How is it possible? Let’s look at the data below:

Madhya Pradesh

If one looks closely at Madhya Pradesh rural data:

  • 54 seats have been retained, 68 lost and 30 gained by BJP
  • 44 per cent of 2013 rural tally has been retained by BJP, this is impossible in rural stress scenario
  • 36 per cent of BJP’s 2018 tally represents seats wrested from Congress (is this rural distress?)
  • Congress lost half of its 2013 rural seats (28 out of 56), how come?
Source: Times of India Data Hub, www.politicalbaba.comSource: Times of India Data Hub, http://www.politicalbaba.com

Rajasthan

Similarly, if one looks closely at Rajasthan rural data:

  • 49 retains, 82 losses and seven gains for BJP
  • 37 per cent of rural tally of 2013 has been retained by BJP despite so-called rural distress
  • of the new rural seats 13 per cent are gains for BJP
  • Additionally, 2013 verdict was an aberration and percentage gains/losses (on a high base) don’t necessarily show the true picture
Source: Times of India Data Hub, www.politicalbaba.comSource: Times of India Data Hub, http://www.politicalbaba.com

Chhattisgarh

Similarly, if one looks closely at Chhattisgarh data:

  • Six retains, 35 losses and seven gains for BJP
  • of the new seats 50 per cent are gains, this is not possible in rural distress scenarios.
Source: Times of India Data Hub, www.politicalbaba.comSource: Times of India Data Hub, http://www.politicalbaba.com

Vote Shares Are Even Stevens

In terms of vote shares, there is not much to choose between the BJP and Congress in rural Madhya Pradesh. Both are almost tied with Congress at 40.5 per cent and BJP at 39.5 per cent. In Rajasthan, BJP recorded 38 per cent and Congress 39 per cent vote share in rural seats. In Chhattisgarh, the gap is higher because of the historic mandate, BJP 32 per cent and Congress 42 per cent.

SC-ST Atrocities Act Impact

Out of the total rural seats in the three states, 40 per cent are reserved for SC-ST category, MP 42 per cent, Rajasthan 34 per cent and Chhattisgarh 50 per cent. We have seen how the Dalits and Tribals have voted against BJP across these three states in these elections and it’s not only due to rural distress. In MP, Congress party’s alliance with JAYS helped the party in tribal seats. In Rajasthan, the Kirori Lal Meena factor didn’t work in the ST reserved seats. In Chhattisgarh, Ajit Jogi and Mayawati dented BJP more instead of Congress in ST and SC seats respectively. BJP lost 141 rural seats in these three states and more than half are accounted for by reserved seats.

  • in MP 77 out of 183 rural seats are SC-ST, BJP had won 53 in 2013 reduced to 24 in 2018
  • in Rajasthan, 55 out of 162 rural seats are SC-ST, BJP had won 46 in 2013 reduced to 16 in 2018
  • in CG, 39 out of 78 rural seats are SC-ST, BJP had won 20 in 2013, down to 5
Source: Times of India Data Hub, <a href="http://www.politicalbaba.com">www.politicalbaba.com</a>Source: Times of India Data Hub, www.politicalbaba.com

To sum up, rural distress alone is not responsible for BJP’s inability to form government in the three states. Host of state/national level and hyper local issues determined results on each seat, and these varied from seat to seat as well as data indications.

This article was first published on swarajyamag.com on 21 dec. 2018.

Assembly Elections: SC-ST Atrocities Act Amendment Definitely Hurt The BJP. Here Are The Numbers.


In March 2018, the Supreme Court introduced safeguards in the Scheduled Caste-Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities Act). The court introduced measures such as preliminary enquiry and anticipatory bail for the accused. This angered the Dalit groups, which called these measures as dilution of the act.

There were widespread protests in the country and seven people died in a Bharat bandh. At least 17 parties and many members of Parliament met President Ramnath Kovind and requested him and the government to nullify the Supreme Court ruling.

Congress leader Sonia Gandhi also wrote to the Prime Minister on this point. The government was under immense pressure from Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lawmakers and the community as well.

SC-ST community accounts for 25 per cent of population of the country. These voters had shifted allegiance from Bahujan Samaj Party and Congress respectively and supported BJP in large numbers. For most of the last decade the bahujans supported largely the Congress and BSP while adivasis mostly Congress.

  • SC support for BJP had doubled from 12 per cent in 2009 to 24 per cent in 2014 elections.
  • Both Congress (-8 per cent) and BSP (-6 per cent) suffered losses.
  • ST support for BJP increased by more than half to 38 per cent in 2014.
  • At the same time Congress suffered a loss of 10 per cent support.

SC Voting Preference

Source: CSDS Post Poll Report 2014Source: CSDS Post Poll Report 2014

ST Voting Preference

Source: CSDS Post Poll Report 2014Source: CSDS Post Poll Report 2014

Under pressure from various groups and to retain the SC-ST vote, the BJP government brought in an amendment to the SC-ST (Prevention of Atrocities Act) to nullify the Supreme Court order and mollify the Dalits in the hope that these voters who had flocked to BJP in large numbers in 2014, don’t drift away.

Its successful foray into the North East, which has significant high population of tribals, also put the onus on the Narendra Modi government to take some urgent action.

The fact that these communities accounted for more than 30 per cent of population in all the three states going to elections – Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan – also played a crucial role in this decision. The party hoped this could give it a boost in the elections considered as semifinals to the Lok Sabha elections in 2019.

The Results Show The Contrary

The BJP received a drubbing in the SC-ST reserved seats in the three states. Its tally fell by more than 50 per cent in both categories as shown below in the table. Its tally in SC reserved seats have declined from 71 in 2013 to 31 in 2018. In ST reserved seats from 57 in 2013 to 28 in 2018.

The best performance of the party was in MP, where Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s popularity and schemes for Dalits-Adivasis, prevented a rout like in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. Chhattisgarh was worst hit with the SC-ST flocking to Congress and Ajit Jogi who promised land rights for tribals.

BJP’s Tally in SC-ST Reserved Seats

Source: Election Commission of IndiaSource: Election Commission of India

As per CSDS post poll survey for Madhya Pradesh, for 40 per cent SC and 47 per cent ST community, the act was an important voting consideration. They were unhappy with dillydallying on part of the BJP government. Out of these, 49 per cent and 39 per cent respectively voted for the Congress party.

This acted as a double whammy for the party as it also instigated a swarn andolanin Madhya Pradesh and angered other castes in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.

For 42 per cent Upper Caste and 38 per cent Other Backward Class, the act was an important voting consideration in MP. Out of these, 30 per cent upper caste and 41 per cent OBCs voted for the Congress, making a big dent in the traditional vote bank of the BJP.

Sapaks Party, born out of swarn andolan, scored more votes than margin of victory in two seats in Gwalior Chambal region, leading to the defeat of BJP candidates by less than 1,000 votes.

In one seat, Karera, it bagged 5 per cent votes, denting the party’s chances.

In Chhattisgarh, the Ajit Jogi party and Maya alliance dented the Dalit and Satnami vote bank of the BJP, handing it its worst defeat in the SC reserved seats since formation of the state in 2003.

In Rajasthan, even the return of Kirori Lal Meena didn’t help the BJP. Its tally among the ST reserved seats declined by half from 18 to 9.

Regional distribution in MP shows that not only the SC-STs but a handful of upper caste/OBCs deserted the party as well.

In Malwa, which has the highest SC-ST population in MP of 38 per cent, the party’s tally declined from 55 in 2013 to 28 in 2018. In Mahakoshal, where tribals (31 per cent) are a dominant community, party’s tally reduced by half from 18 to 9.

In Gwalior-Chambal which has the highest upper caste population in the state (28 per cent), party faced a rout.

The Dalit-ire following the anti-Dalit violence across the country may have forced the Dalits to vote against the BJP. Dalit activists allege hundreds of FIRs were filed against them after the Bharat bandh which were never withdrawn.

The Congress party successfully managed to create a perception that BJP is an anti-Dalit party by building a narrative on social media.

Now, it’s a tough challenge for BJP, which has so far successfully managed the contradictions in its umbrella of social alliance, to take both the upper caste as well as Dalits-Tribals together as their support is important to repeat its 2014 victory.

Clearly, the amendment to SC-ST Atrocities Act, didn’t guarantee their support to the party, also it seems to have alienated its core support group of forward caste and OBCs.

This article was first published in swarajyamag.com on 20 Dec. 2018.

It’s Now BJP Versus Congress In #Elections2019, With Third Front Challenge Ruled Out


The results of the five state assembly elections have been declared and the Congress has upstaged the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Hindi heartland. The BJP’s longest-serving chief ministers, Raman Singh and Shivraj Singh Chouhan, had to face defeats. A variety of factors, including voter fatigue, local anti-incumbency, agriculture or rural distress, and growing urban apathy have been attributed to this defeat.

This article was first published in ‘Swarajya’ on 15th Dec. 2018

Congress vs BJP Battle in #Elections2019 Will Play Out on Social Media


Social media today is the most popular medium of communication, due to its immediacy. According to Statista, the number of social media users in India is 226 million (2018) and this is expected to go up to 336 million by 2021.

Social Media – A New Political Battle Ground

The 2014 Lok Sabha elections witnessed a significant usage of social media by political parties and leaders, especially the BJP and their then PM designate Narendra Modi to disseminate their ideology, policies and programmes and highlight the shortcomings / corruption-related scandals of the previous regime. The Congress had a weak social media presence back then.

Rahul Gandhi joined Twitter only in April 2015 while Modi had 16 million followers on social media (Facebook and Twitter) at the time of 2014 elections.

All this helped in creating what is called the ‘Modi wave’, and led to BJP sweeping the 2014 polls. After 2014, most political parties realised the importance of social media and registered their presence on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.

The 2014 general election is touted as India’s first “social media election”. Social media impacted results of 30 to 40 percent of the total seats, according to BJP IT Cell Head Arvind Gupta. This is expected to go up to 60 percent by the 2019 general elections.

Social media has emerged as a new battleground for political parties. The Congress, which was lagging behind BJP, has pulled up its socks. This turnaround has happened since Gujarat elections 2017. Today, the Congress and Rahul Gandhi are very active, even aggressively so, on Twitter and Facebook.

Tracking BJP, INC’s Twitter Activity

Narendra Modi has five times the followers Rahul Gandhi has. Despite this, Rahul Gandhi’s average retweets and likes are much higher than Modi’s.

BJP has 10.2 million followers while Congress has 4.62 million. Here, as well as in terms of retweets, and ‘likes per tweet’, Congress is ahead of BJP.

This shows that the Congress is a strong match to BJP’s might on social media, and has created its own army of volunteers, influencers and verified handles, which play an important role in getting to trend on Twitter.

Data Source: politicalbaaba.com; Graphed by The Quint

Twitter wars between Congress and BJP is a regular affair. Who would have thought, even a year ago, that one day the hashtag #MeraPMChorHai would trend on Twitter nationally. BJP, not one to lose, made a comeback with #RahulKaPuraKhandanChor.

The hashtags used by the Congress of late are fast gaining popularity. An analysis of top Twitter trends of September 2018 shows Congress as being marginally ahead of BJP.

Data Source: politicalbaaba.com; Graphed by The Quint

BJP & Modi Continue to Rule Facebook

However, on Facebook, Modi and the BJP’s dominance is intact. Modi is way ahead of Rahul Gandhi and BJP is also much ahead of Congress on Facebook. Facebook’s user base is almost 7 times the number of Twitter users in India. Thus, Facebook’s outreach is greater.

Data Source: politicalbaaba.com; Graphed by The Quint

Social Media to Play a Bigger Role in 2019 Polls

According to Statista, in 2019, internet users in India are expected to reach 407 million. About 65 percent of India’s population is within the age group 18-35. This group spends almost 4 hours on the internet. Political parties are therefore targeting this group of voters for mobilisation, as most of them use Twitter / Facebook to consume news. Mobile internet rates plunged by 93 percent while data usage per user surged by over 25 times in three years to 2017 as per the Department of Telecom’s data. This is driving internet growth.

To sum up, social media is undoubtedly going to play a key role in the 2019 general elections.

Congress has beefed up its presence, and so have many regional parties on social media platforms. This is likely to prevent the free run BJP enjoyed in 2014 elections as ‘early adopters’, and make the battle interesting.

This article was first published in ‘thequint.com’ on 18th Oct. 2018

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