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Stories of a wave
BJP’s vote to seat conversion rate is stunning. Regional parties haven’t collapsed.
The saffron wave that has crashed across the electoral map of western, central and northern India creates the impression that the BJP has swept all before it. The BJP’s performance is certainly unprecedented. With just under one in three of all voters choosing the party, the BJP has managed to win over half of all seats in the Lok Sabha. With its alliance partners in the NDA, the party controls just over 60 per cent of the seats. It is the first time since 1984 that a single party has won a straight-out majority in Parliament.
Part of the explanation for this performance is a stunning rate of conversion of votes into seats by the BJP. This rate of conversion is more impressive than what the Congress party has ever managed in its history, even in its heyday. In the present elections, the BJP has won 1.67 seats for every 1 per cent vote share, compared to just 0.42 seats for every 1 per cent vote share for the Congress. Expressed differently, the BJP needed six lakh votes to gain one MP, while the Congress required 24 lakh.
The highest vote to seat share ratio achieved by the Congress historically was in 1952, when it won 1.65 seats for every 1 per cent vote share — similar to what the BJP has achieved this time round in a considerably more competitive environment. Even in 1984, when the Congress won its largest ever number of seats — 414 or 78.6 per cent of all seats — its vote share was considerably higher (49.10 per cent), meaning that its vote to seat share ratio was just 1.60.
How has the BJP managed to achieve such an outcome? In this article, I will focus on the electoral arithmetic that lies behind the outcome, and what this means for the opposition to the BJP in the months and years to come.
One myth that should be countered is that the BJP’s success has come at the expense of regional parties. What these elections do not herald is a significant change in the overall proportion of seats held by national parties vis-à-vis regional parties in the Lok Sabha. The total vote share of all the national parties (the BJP, Congress, CPI, and CPM) is 54.3 per cent, and their total seat share 62 per cent. This compares to a combined vote share of 54.1 per cent and seat share of 63 per cent for national parties in 2009. Thus, if anything, the national party seat share, on aggregate, has fallen marginally in these elections. Overall, it is the massive continued…