2018 Assembly elections are a loose template for 2019
Between December and April-May, the BJP will try to find and highlight national issues, even as the Congress and other opposition parties focus on state-specific ones. It promises to be interesting.columns Updated: Dec 08, 2018 19:25 IST
Exit polls for five states that came out on Friday paint an interesting, if muddled, picture. The big picture from the polls — it is impossible to do a poll of polls, although some TV channels claim to have done so, simply because the methodologies of the individual polls are not clear — is that the Indian National Congress will win Rajasthan; the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) will most likely win Telangana; and the other states are too close to call. At a national level, in the three important cowbelt states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, it could be 3-0, 2-1, or 1-2 for the Congress; and 1-2 or 2-1 for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Whatever be the results, these possibilities, and the underlying probabilities, haven’t been seen in such scale since the turn of the decade. And that is the big story of these elections — at least till December 11 when the results are out, and perhaps even after (but more on that anon). The universe of possible outcomes is rendered even more complex by the likely outcomes in the two other states, Telangana and Mizoram.
Exit polls have been wrong in the past — in some instances, spectacularly so. The sampling could go wrong at multiple levels. Voters may not indicate their true preferences in such polls. And the formula used to convert vote share into seats may be inadequate, even wrong. In Gujarat 2017, for instance, the BJP increased its vote share but saw a dip in the number of seats it won (the concentration effect was responsible). One clear conclusion from the exit polls is that the vote shares of contesting parties in some states are close.
The big question is what, if anything at all, the results that will come out on Tuesday mean for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The losing sides will no doubt put out the narrative that they do not mean anything at all, just as the winners will put out the narrative that they mean everything. The truth, as is usually the case, lies somewhere in between the two.
There are three ways in which the results in the three northern states will influence what happens ahead of the parliamentary elections.
One, they will operate at the level of perception and morale. For instance, a 3-0, 2-1, even a close 1-2 result for the Congress will send out the message that the party has turned around its fortunes, if only partially. It will also boost the morale of party workers. Similarly, the BJP would be very pleased with a 2-1 result because it will believe that it has cut its losses, and that it can manage both external perception and internal morale.
Two, it will operate at the level of alliances. The nature and composition of alliances which will be formed for the 2019 elections, and indeed, whether they are formed or not, will depend on the outcome of elections in the three states. A strong showing by the Congress will encourage potential partners to accept it as the de facto leader of the alliance, just as it improves the probability of such a grouping’s ability to do well in 2019 — the Congress goes head to head against the BJP in around 150 seats in parliamentary elections (no other party comes close). A strong showing by the BJP could convince some parties to throw in their lot with it. It could even encourage significant defections within some parties.
Three, it will operate at the level of maths (or numbers). Between them, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh send 65 representatives to the Lok Sabha. In 2014, the Congress managed to win only three of these (two in Madhya Pradesh and one in Chhattisgarh). The BJP won the rest. The Congress will be hoping that it can do better in 2019, and that, even if it ends up on the losing side in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the contest will be close enough to put it in a position where it can win at least half the 65 seats, maybe even more. That will make the BJP’s task that much more difficult — at least arithmetically.
The Telangana election is interesting because it is a test of the Congress-Telugu Desam Party alliance’s ability to do well in the state in the Lok Sabha elections (and, by an extension, a measure of how seriously TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu will be taken by other parties).
Irrespective of how the Congress does, if the contest is close, it, as well as other opposition parties hoping to take on the BJP in 2019, will be hoping that those elections end up being a battle for the states. And again, irrespective of how the BJP does in these elections, it will be hoping that the parliamentary elections is a national one, fought on broader national issues. Between December and April-May, the BJP will therefore try to find and highlight national issues, even as the Congress and the opposition focus on state-specific ones. It promises to be interesting.
First Published: Dec 08, 2018 19:21 IST