State-level contests could disrupt the party’s grand narrative.
By the end of January, two things had become clear about the coming parliamentary elections. One, that the Congress party, after 10 years of rule at the Centre, was on its way out. The only question now is how humiliating that exit will be. Two, the BJP was surging ahead in the electoral race. So much so that the dream of a Narendra Modi-led BJP government, almost free of coalition crutches, would seem very real to its supporters. But politics has begun to show indications that the story of elections 2014 is not fully written yet. For the BJP, the best scenario is a near-majority with Modi at the helm. But as we move closer to the elections, it seems the BJP might have to be content with more modest results.
How “closed” is the electoral contest likely to be? Let us first rule out what these elections cannot produce. Even a partisan assessment is unlikely to give the Congress an edge in the coming parliamentary elections. Opinion polls are projecting a dismal show by the party. In the last 25 years, the party’s highest vote share, recorded in 1989, was near 40 per cent. But its average vote share since it started entering into pre-election alliances has been under 28 per cent. Even the most generous projection for the party would be that it will clock in this average and achieve its average conversion rate (technically known as the seat-vote multiplier) of 1.05 for the same period.
That would give the Congress 158 seats at the most — and this assuming that it actually manages its average vote share, which no serious analyst is likely to vouch for. It is not just that electoral history and arithmetic are pitched against a Congress comeback. It has allowed politics to go against it. A recently conducted Lokniti-CSDS survey (for CNN-IBN) indicated that voters were worried about price rise and dissatisfied with the performance of the UPA.
They do not want the UPA to be re-elected and rate the prime minister negatively. Not more than 27 per cent of respondents said they intended to vote for the Congress. So, crossing 150 seems tough for the Congress; dipping to its lowest ever tally of 114, as seen in 1999, appears quite likely. Should that happen, elections 2014 would not produce a close contest either. It would be much more one-sided than the Congress would like.
This gives the elections a sense of being a “closed” contest. And yet, one needs to balance the Modi-mania with some very real possibilities. Early trends can often be deceptive because they do not capture the stratagems and silent currents among voters. Three scripts might interrupt the BJP’s grand continued…