Going solo in elections helps neither BJP nor Congress
A simple analysis of Lok Sabha elections since 1989 shows that an increase in the number of seats contested by both the Congress and the BJP led to a decline in their strike rates.Updated: Mar 06, 2019 09:03 IST
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) sacrificed five of its sitting Lok Sabha MPs to finalise its alliance with the Janata Dal (United) in Bihar for the 2019 general elections. On Tuesday, the Congress declined to form an alliance with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi despite the fact that it neither won nor came second in any of the Capital’s seven Lok Sabha seats in 2014.
The hazards of predicting electoral outcomes in India cannot be overemphasised. Using headline vote shares to predict the impact of alliances or lack of them might also lead to erroneous results. These caveats, however, should not lead to the conclusion that alliances do not matter in Indian politics, especially for the two biggest parties.
A simple analysis of Lok Sabha elections since 1989 shows that an increase in the number of seats contested by both the Congress and the BJP led to a decline in their strike rates. Strike rate is defined as the percentage of seats won out of the total seats contested by a party. The only exception to this trend is the 2009 performance of the Congress, which is an aberration in its recent political history. Even in 2014, when the Narendra Modi wave was palpable, the BJP actually contested fewer seats than it did in 2009.
An analysis of percentage change in the number of candidates and strike rate of the BJP and the Congress between successive Lok Sabha elections proves this point. The analysis includes all general elections since 1989, which is the first time the BJP made its mark as a national political force. Except for the Congress in 2009, an increase in number of candidates fielded has always led to a decline in the strike rate for the respective party. To be sure, a decline in the number of candidates does not always guarantee an increase in strike rates.
The trends also show that being in power makes both the parties less amenable to forging alliances. The Congress fielded more candidates in 1996, 2009 and 2014 than it did in previous elections. These are elections the party contested after spending a full term in government. Similarly, the BJP fielded more candidates in 2004 than it did in 1999. The BJP also increased the number of candidates it fielded between the 2004 and 2009 elections, which probably helped the Congress in improving its strike rate despite having fewer alliances.
It’ll be interesting to see whether the Congress and the BJP field a higher or lower number of candidates in 2019 than they did in 2014 and whether this relationship between candidates and strike rates holds in 2019.