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Many a slip

Electoral victories in four states may not add up to a BJP wave in 2014.

Written by Suhas Palshikar | Published: December 13, 2013 12:15:02 am

Electoral victories in four states may not add up to a BJP wave in 2014.

One unavoidable dimension to the analysis of the recently held assembly elections has been their relevance to the Lok Sabha election in 2014. For this reason,if for nothing else,the BJP could read into these outcomes the possibility of a better electoral harvest in 2014. Four of the states that went to polls (leaving out Mizoram) account for 72 Lok Sabha seats — of which 40 are currently held by the Congress and 30 by the BJP. The recent assembly outcomes are likely to add a large number to the BJP’s account from Rajasthan (where it won only four seats last time),and would reduce the Congress’s strength in Delhi,where it had won all seven seats (it may now lose all of them). So it is reasonable that there is a spring in the BJP’s step. While interpreting these assembly elections as having a strong bearing on the parliamentary outcome is indeed legitimate,would the BJP be right to sense a wave in its favour?

In this moment of expectation and excitement,the BJP will have to remember some plain facts. To begin with,it must remember that it has had a generous opponent in the form of the Congress,which contributed to the BJP’s advance in no small measure. Through its prevarication on the state leadership issue,through its suicidal internal bickering and through its lack of vision,the Congress allowed itself to lose an already difficult round of elections. So one wonders how much of the outcome is the making of the Congress and how much of it is the BJP’s achievement.

But more than the routine contributions that the Congress makes to its opponents,what distinguishes this round of elections is perhaps the fact that the tarnished image of the Central government was a key factor. Survey data emerging from the pre-election survey conducted by the CSDS and Lokniti clearly show that voters were disappointed with the UPA government and its leadership. Net satisfaction (that is,the proportion of those satisfied minus those dissatisfied) with the performance of the UPA government ranged from minus 6 per cent in Delhi to 13 and 14 per cent in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh respectively,to 24 per cent in Madhya Pradesh. Worse,in the post-election survey,price rise was uniformly perceived as the single most pressing problem for voters in these states. Twenty per cent in Chhattisgarh,24 in MP,27 in Rajasthan and 37 per cent in Delhi saw price rise as the issue that dominated their voting decision. So,this electoral outcome had the imprint of negative voter assessment of the Central government.

Once this fact is realised,it becomes clear that this outcome has posed problems rather than opened opportunities for the BJP. First,it has won Chhattisgarh by a whisker and,most probably,internal sabotage by Congressmen saved the day for it. In any case,even for a state notorious for its close contests,a less than 1 per cent difference between the two competitors leaves the electoral contest wide open and gives the BJP enough cause for worry. In the last parliamentary election,it posted a spectacular performance in this state,winning 10 of the 11 seats. Already there is pressure on it to perform at a comparable,if not similar,level.

Victories in MP and Rajasthan pose a very different challenge. These states throw up two strong leaders within the party. Shivraj Singh Chouhan becomes one of the more successful BJP chief ministers — and a less controversial one. Vasundhara Raje emerges as a leader with a popular image and a steam-roller majority. Her dutiful pronouncements about Narendra Modi’s contribution to her success notwithstanding,the BJP’s internal leadership balance becomes much more complex and delicate now. Of course,neither Singh nor Raje would dispute Modi’s present position as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate,but their own stature would become a balancing force within the party.

The third set of problems is presented by the Delhi outcome. With the Congress out of its way,the BJP could return to power after 14 long years. The Aam Aadmi Party upset those easy calculations. But forming the government in Delhi is just one small part of the story. The Delhi results once again pointed out that if the bipolarity is ruptured,the BJP would not find it easy to post impressive electoral victories. Its major victories have often come from two-party states,Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand being other instances. Only twice has the party managed a decent performance in the absence of a two-party competition — in Uttar Pradesh in 1991 and in Karnataka in 2008. In states where there is a bipolar coalition competition,the BJP does only as well as the junior partner of the coalition (in Bihar,Odisha,Punjab,etc). The Delhi outcome has underlined this limitation once again. So,irrespective of whether the AAP ate into the BJP’s middle class vote,the fact that a particular structure of competition does not suit the BJP is in itself noteworthy.

It is this fact that makes sense of Modi’s repeated and aggressive attack on the “Congress virus” that he wants the country to be cured of. Only by positioning his party as the backbone of the anti-Congress campaign can Modi and the BJP hope to turn the competition into a bipolar one. And yet,the scope for that is limited. Except in the states listed above,very few states would witness a direct face-off between the Congress and the BJP. In some states,both are non-players. In others,one of them is a non-player. Now,excluding Delhi,there are barely 102 Lok Sabha seats in strictly two-party states that can be described as part of the Congress-BJP condominium. Of these,last time around,the Congress had won 51 of its total 206 seats while the BJP had won 49 of its total 116 seats. This suggests that the BJP faces severe limitations in fighting the Congress and winning seats in three-corner situations. But by forcing a non/ anti-Congress platform,it can hope to win more seats and also defeat the Congress in more seats — as in the case of Punjab,Haryana (or as in Bihar last time). In Delhi,the Congress as a ruling party has indeed been wiped out,but this has not exactly helped the BJP. A third entrant did not allow the BJP to reach even its vote tally from the last assembly elections.

The hard earned victories in MP,Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh may enthuse the party worker. But they can still prove ephemeral in the BJP’s mission 2014.

The writer teaches political science at University of Pune

express@expressindia.com

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