Will states matter on May 16?
India’s gargantuan diversity of its myriad languages, castes and cultures finds political expression through a bewildering array of 1,616 registered political parties, of which six are national parties and 47 state parties. Since the 1996 election, these regional and smaller parties have held sway over government formation in New Delhi, and its continuity. This is often a prime suspect for decision-making paralysis, chaotic policies and a seemingly perpetual state of political instability.
A feeling of helplessness over this volatile political and policy climate has even elicited bizarre suggestions from business leaders and political analysts, such as banning regional parties from contesting national elections and so on.
The 2014 general election is the most crowded in India’s history, with an audacious attempt by the Narendra Modi-led BJP at nationalising its campaign, and one in which the two major national parties are contesting the most number of seats since 1996. As we await the results, the outcome will decisively answer if India’s political future will be “nationalised”, or will Delhi continue to be run on the veto power by regional parties. This has significant implications for India’s future.
Of the 12 largest states that account for 440 of the 543 Lok Sabha seats, the Congress and BJP together contested in 82 per cent of the seats in this election, the highest since 1996. This can be viewed as an indicator of the national parties’ confidence in contesting elections across the country on their own vis-à-vis a pre-poll alliance with a regional party. Historically, there has been a negative correlation between the number of seats contested by the national parties and their winning percentages, that is, the more seats they contest, the lower their overall vote share, thus emphasising the significant influence of regional parties and the need for alliances.
In a piece titled ‘Why waves don’t matter’ (IE, April 2), I argued, using electoral data, how India’s national elections in the past have really been a series of state elections held simultaneously where voters voted on more local, state-specific issues or trends and not as per any national narrative. Even during the supposedly national anger-wave sweeping the country against Indira Gandhi’s Emergency in the 1977 election, the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala accounted for nearly 25 per cent of all Lok Sabha seats that voted for the Congress. Subsequent elections have only continued…