Behind Opposition unity: Shrinking vote if you are not in the game

As the Modi government enters the fifth year of its term, a scrutiny of votes polled during 22 assembly elections since 2014 reveals a broad pattern of consolidation of votes among major contenders, and the squeezing out of marginal players and Independents.

Written by Ravish Tiwari | New Delhi | Updated: May 25, 2018 10:02:58 am
Karnataka, kumaraswamy swearing in ceremony Opposition leaders, including Congress’ Sonia Gandhi & Rahul Gandhi, SP’s Akhilesh Yadav, AP CM Chandrababu Naidu, WB CM Mamata Banerjee, RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav, CPI(M)’s Sitaram Yechury, NCP’s Sharad Pawar, & newly sworn in Karnataka CM HD Kumaraswamy at Vidhana Soudha. (Express Photo)

Casting aside differences, leaders of Opposition parties put up a united show Wednesday at the swearing-in ceremony of the JD(S)-Congress government in Bengaluru. And there’s a reason for this show of unity. As the Modi government enters the fifth — and election — year of its term, a scrutiny of votes polled during 22 assembly elections since the 2014 Lok Sabha elections reveals a broad pattern of consolidation of votes among major contenders, and the squeezing out of marginal players and Independents.

In short, if a party is not in the game to form a government, voters are increasingly lukewarm to it. Underpinning this pattern is a substantive consolidation in favour of the BJP. Election Commission (EC) statistics suggest a gain of over 11.5 per cent for the BJP across 22 state assemblies that went to polls after the last Lok Sabha elections. The BJP, EC statistics show, had a little under 15 per cent of the votes in these 22 states in assembly elections prior to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. But it polled over 26.5 per cent votes in the same 22 states after the Modi government swept to power at the Centre. In terms of assembly seats, the BJP’s tally jumped from under 500 to over 1,000 assembly seats in these states.

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This is a voteshare gain of over 11.5 per cent for the BJP in 22 state assembly elections — at the national level, the party gained about 12.5 per cent votes between the 2009 Lok Sabha elections (18.8 per cent) and the 2014 Lok Sabha elections (31.34 per cent). In absolute terms, the BJP votes during assembly elections more than doubled from about 5.74 crore to 11.99 crore in the 22 states. This calculation does not include the six states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Telangana and Chhattisgarh that have not gone to polls after the last Lok Sabha elections. The BJP had polled a little over 4 crore votes in these states in the previous assembly elections. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had polled about 17.2 crore votes across the country.

Another broad trend is the accretion in votes of major political parties. A careful scrutiny of voting patterns in 15 states that went to assembly polls after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections reveals consolidation of votes in favour of major contenders. The EC statistics of votes polled by major political parties reveal enhanced voter accretion towards major players as against the previous assembly elections. In fact, a close scrutiny suggests that this is happening because marginal players and Independents are increasingly being squeezed out.

This trend was visible in the Karnataka assembly elections where both the BJP and Congress gained in terms of voteshare with the BJP edging past Congress. Votes shared by the BJP (and its splinters KJP and BSRCP in 2008 assembly elections), Congress and JD(S) (which allied with the BSP in 2018) jumped by over 4.5 per cent. Their combined voteshare jumped from a little over 88 per cent to almost 93 per cent.

This became possible due to the slide in the voteshare commanded by Independents and other registered unrecognised parties. In fact, the number of elected Independents too slipped from nine to one — much to the disadvantage of the BJP which, while being the single largest party, could not find another seven MLAs to prove its majority in the House.

A similar trend was noticed in the 2017 Gujarat assembly elections where the votes of the Congress and BJP went up — the Congress gained in terms of seats while the BJP tally fell. Together, their voteshare (including the BTP that had an alliance with the Congress) consolidated by almost 4.5 per cent — from the 86.78 per cent (2012 assembly elections) to 91.23 per cent (2017). Again, at the expense of Independents and marginal players like the BSP and other parties in the state.

Barring Kerala and Assam, both of which had voter consolidation upward of 85 per cent among major parties/alliances in the previous elections, 13 of 15 major states witnessed vote consolidation among major contesting parties/alliances. This has been made possible either at the expense of the third party/alliance or Independents (see chart).

Delhi and Jharkhand have been classic examples of the third major party or alliance being squeezed out. In Delhi, the Congress plummeted from about 24.5 per cent (2013 assembly election) to under 10 per cent (2015). In Jharkhand, the Congress-RJD alliance voteshare slipped from over 21 per cent to about 13.5 per cent with votes consolidating around the two main contenders, the JMM and the BJP-AJSUP alliance.

In Maharashtra, all four major political parties — BJP, Congress, Shiv Sena and NCP — contested the last assembly elections separately but it was the Independents who got squeezed out — from almost 15.5 per cent to under five per cent.

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