BJP strike rate drops in both rural, urban areas
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lost three the key Hindi belt states of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh (MP), and Rajasthan in these elections. But what do these results say about the upcoming 2019 national election?
During the Modi wave in 2014, the BJP achieved a highly geographically concentrated victory, sweeping much of the Hindi belt, to win 282 seats (out of a total of 543) on just 31% vote share. In order for the BJP to come back to power, it will likely need a commanding performance in the Hindi belt again. Indeed, in Chhattisgarh, MP, and Rajasthan, the BJP won 62 out of 65 parliamentary constituencies (PCs) in 2014 — 22% of the 282 seats it won in the election.
The BJP also won these three states handily in the previous state elections in 2013, whose results corresponded highly with those in the national elections. In 2013, the BJP won 49 seats (out of 90) in Chhattisgarh, 165 (out of 230) seats in MP, and 163 (out of 200) in Rajasthan. At the assembly constituency level in the 2014 general election, the BJP won 72, 192, and 180 in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan, respectively. While the BJP performed better in 2014, the sweeps in 2013 (particularly in MP and Rajasthan) foretold what was coming in 2014.
So, will 2019 mirror 2018? It depends. To the extent that disenchantment with the BJP is driven by local factors, it should do little to diminish the aura of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But if these losses are connected to a larger national narrative, then the BJP has reason to worry. As a first cut one can look at the relative performance of the BJP in 2013 and 2018 in urban and rural areas in these three states to see if disenchantment with the BJP is restricted to rural areas where it is typically weaker.
Using the data from the most recent Indian Census (2011) broken down to the assembly constituency (AC) level in these three states, and characterizing an AC as “urban” if it has less than 30,000 rural citizens and as “rural” if it has more than 200,000 rural citizens (a typical constituency has approximately 400,000 citizens), about 9% of ACs are urban constituencies and about 77%, rural (the rest are semi-rural). The BJP’s strike rate (the percentage of seats it wins among those it is contesting) across both urban and rural constituencies in these three states has fallen between 2013 and 2018. Clearly, the BJP’s losses point to a much larger narrative than rural disenchantment.
At the same time, it is important to note that rural areas are not synonymous with farmers. Much of rural India commutes to cities or works in some other form of labour. Recently, farmer distress has been in the news, with significant drops in agricultural procurement prices, increases in the price of diesel, and lingering effects of demonetisation. Characterising a rural constituency as “agricultural” if more than 20% of the population is engaged in agricultural labour or cultivation, it emerges that about 90% of the rural constituencies in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh are agricultural, while about 70% in Rajasthan are. Figure 2 displays the strike rates for the BJP in 2013 and 2018 across the three states in agricultural and non-agricultural constituencies. The erosion of support for the BJP in agricultural constituencies is very noticeable.
The results spell trouble for the BJP. In Gujarat, too, there was a significant erosion of support among farmers, but the BJP largely held its urban vote banks and won the state. But Gujarat is a highly urbanized state, while much of the Hindi belt is still engaged in agriculture and a party cannot hope to win these states without significant support from the farming community. More worryingly for the BJP, its erosion of support seems to have spread to urban areas as well. This shows that disenchantment with the BJP cuts across demographic groups. If the BJP is to return to power in 2019, it will have to find a way to win back the Hindi belt -- quickly.