Haryana verdict likely to boost regional satraps
State elections are not national elections. After the Bharatiya Janata Party’s triumph in the 2019 national elections, it is easy to forget that the BJP came into the Lok Sabha polls after losing the key states of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan just six months previously. Thursday’s results show that whatever ails the BJP at the state level has not been cured.
Perhaps the most shocking result is the BJP’s lackluster performance in Haryana. The BJP plastered the state with billboards proclaiming that this time the party would win 75 out of 90 seats in the state. The opposition Congress, riven by defections and listlessness, and upstart Jannayak Janta Party (JJP) seemed no match for the BJP election machine. In the 2019 national election, the BJP won 79 out 90 assembly constituencies (ACs) on an average constituency-wise vote share of 57.5%, a huge jump from the 47 seats the party won in the 2014 state elections.
But data as of 7.19pm from the Election Commission of India (ECI) suggests that the BJP has won or was leading in just 40 seats on an average constituency-wise vote share of 36.5%, a drop of over 20 percentage points from the national elections. The BJP lost more than 40 percentage points in six constituencies and lost vote share in 87 of the 90 constituencies. The Congress has increased its tally from 10 ACs in the national election to 31 ACs in this election. Most importantly, the JJP has signaled that it will be a force to reckon with in the future, jumping from winning a single AC on an average constituency-wise vote share of 5.1% in the national election to winning 10 ACs with an average constituency-wise vote share of 14.9%.
(See Chart 1)
What is hidden in these numbers is that voter coordination among the BJP’s opposition has greatly improved. In the 2014 state election, the BJP won many more seats on an average constituency-wise 32.9% vote share (nearly 4 percentage points less than it has won in this state election). In 2014, a besieged Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), representing the Jat community, and the Congress with significant support among the Jat community generated split votes at the constituency level. The scale of that vote splitting is evident in the combined vote share of the INLD and Congress at the constituency level. This INLD-Congress combination would have beaten the BJP in 18 of the seats that it won in 2014 (dropping the BJP’s tally to 29 seats).
This time, while there is still considerable vote splitting between the Congress and the JJP, a combined JJP-Congress would only beat the BJP in nine more seats — suggesting that JJP and Congress are not cutting into each other’s vote shares in the 2019 state election to the same extent that INLD and Congress did in 2014.
(See Chart 2)
Taking these numbers together, one should see this as a mixed verdict for the BJP. On the one hand, the BJP has increased its state-wise vote share compared to the last state election, but it has underperformed goals that it set for itself after its triumphant national election performance. More importantly, the JJP seems to be on an ascendant in Haryana politics and its geographic configuration of support, which complements the Congress, means the BJP requires higher vote shares to win seats in Haryana.
To many analysts who have posited the death of state-level politics in the wake of the national elections, this result will come as a surprise. The results in the national elections were partially driven by the lack of popularity of Rahul Gandhi or any of the regional leaders when it came to the post of Prime Minister. Indeed, it was a common refrain in the national election that there was no other choice for Prime Minister.
Things are different in state politics because parties are branded differently at the state level. The Congress of Haryana is very much a Bhupinder Singh Hooda party, and the JJP is very much a Dushyant Chautala party. These are leaders who are well-liked in Haryana’s state politics and are at least as likable as current chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar from the BJP. The personality-driven nature of Indian politics which worked so well for Narendra Modi in the national election cuts both ways.
These results will reverberate through Indian politics. Regional leaders will see that just because the BJP has Modi and money (resources) doesn’t mean that it’s unbeatable. State politics are different. State elections are not national elections.
(Neelanjan Sircar is an assistant professor, Ashoka University, and visiting senior fellow, Centre for Policy Research)