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Read the fine print

It is a given that the Congress has won this election comprehensively. The scale of the Congress’s success has astounded everyone, including party bigwigs. The ‘wave’ in favour of the Congress, however, was invisible — because there wasn’t any, writes GVL Narasimha Rao.

india Updated: Jun 22, 2009 22:51 IST

Media analysis of the 15th Lok Sabha election results has largely been aimed at forcing certain perceptions that have no empirical evidence. There have been analyses on how the surge in the Congress’s tally heralds a nationwide revival of the party. The Congress’s national vote share has gone up only marginally from 26.5 per cent in 2004 to 28.6 per cent in 2009. Curiously, the vote share of 28.6 per cent secured by the Congress in 2009 is almost the same as what it got in 1999 (28.3 per cent) when it got its lowest-ever tally of 114 seats in the general elections.

How could one say that the Congress has revived nationally when its national vote share has only increased marginally? Further, even as the party has gained in terms of votes in seven states — Punjab, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar and Uttarakhand — it has lost votes by more than 3 percentage points in a number of them (such as Orissa. Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh). UP is the only state where the Congress has shown real signs of revival with the party’s vote share going up by an impressive 6 per cent.

The other myth doing the rounds is that the Congress has an enhanced appeal among metropolitan voters due to its forward-looking policies, as well as the appeal of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh among the educated middle classes, and the ‘youth appeal’ of Rahul Gandhi among the young voters. This has no electoral proof. The Congress’s vote share in metropolitan constituencies has virtually remained the same, 30.7 per cent in 2004 and 30.4 per cent in 2009. Therefore, the premise that the new generation of urban voters with increased prosperity and greater opportunities finds the Congress more attractive and in sync with their aspirations has no basis.

This notion is coloured by the electoral performance of the party in the cities of Delhi and Mumbai. While the Congress did creditably well in Delhi, its victory in Mumbai has less to do with the imaginary enhanced appeal of the party and more to do with the emergence of Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) as a spoiler for the BJP-Shiv Sena combine.

If the Congress’s revival is not the reason for its stupendous success in the polls, what factors have contributed to its victory? The party benefited primarily from the decline and division in the vote share of its opponents. The fall in the vote of the BJP in a number of states; huge negative swings against regional parties like the Telugu Desam Party (8 per cent), the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (7 per cent) and the Samajwadi Party (4 per cent); the emergence of new parties like the Prajarajyam Party in Andhra Pradesh; the rise of the MNS in Maharashtra and the break-up of the BJP-Biju Janata Dal alliance in Orissa have all contributed to the Congress’s gains even as it suffered vote losses. In UP, it secured 21 of the 80 seats, even though it polled only 18 per cent of the popular vote. What helped the Congress in UP was the favourable distribution of votes — concentrated in a few pockets — that helped the party to translate its fewer votes into seats.

It is a given that the Congress has won this election comprehensively. The scale of the Congress’s success has astounded everyone, including party bigwigs. The ‘wave’ in favour of the Congress, however, was invisible — because there wasn’t any.

It is the failure of the BJP and other parties to hold their own that caused the BJP’s defeat; not because of a serious challenge from the Congress. This should be the message for parties like the BJP.

G.V.L. Narasimha Rao is a BJP political analyst