Lok Sabha elections 2019: Can BJP retain dominance in Hindi heartland?
The next two phases will be crucial for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as parts of two important Hindi belt states – Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan – are in the fray. The BJP lost these two states, and Chhattisgarh (which has already voted) to the Congress in the last round of state elections in 2018. How much the BJP can regain some of the losses it has recently suffered will have a decisive impact on its national fate as well as on post-election coalition scenarios.
This writer argued in a previous piece that it does not necessarily follow that the spillover effect that one sees between two close elections will necessarily work in favour of Congress in the three states it won last December. Is there another way to assess the current strength of the BJP, without falling into the trap of predictions?
One way to do this is to look at the BJP’s performance in the last round of state elections and compute the data into parliamentary segments, see how these assembly results translate into general election terms. This makes a better point of comparison than 2014 elections, which are already far away, and which were an unusual event.
In 2014, the BJP won 190 of the 225 of the seats in the 10 states the Hindi belt is composed of: Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan. That is an 85% strike rate. The BJP’s strike rate was above 90% in six of these states. In contrast with the 31% vote share that the BJP obtained nationally (39% if one only considers the seats it contested), the BJP scored an average of 46.4% vote share across the Hindi belt.
In subsequent state elections, the BJP scored a number of major victories –in Jharkhand, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand – but also faced a few setbacks and defeats – in Delhi, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. Barring the two elections (Haryana and Jharkhand) that immediately followed the 2014 general elections, the BJP’s vote share fell by an average of 9.4%. There is a marked difference between 2017 and 2018, the BJP losing only 5% of vote share on average in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Himachal Pradesh. In the last three elections, the average loss of vote share was 15%. Barring the particular case of the 2015 Delhi election, the farther away from 2014, the greater the losses.
How do these performance variations translate into general elections terms? By aggregating assembly segment results into parliamentary segments, the projection is a loss of 43 seats across the 10 states. A December 2018 performance in Chhattisgarh would translate into the loss of nine seats for the BJP. Delhi would be entirely lost and the BJP would have lost nearly half the seats in Rajasthan (12) and Madhya Pradesh (10).
This, of course, is a projection and not a prediction. It is based on a more recent assessment – therefore more accurate – of the BJP’s strength in the region. It means that if the BJP and the Congress repeat exactly the same performance, this could be the outcome landscape on May 23. Considering that this projection does not take into account the impact of the Mahagathbandan (grand alliance) in Uttar Pradesh, the potential losses of the BJP could be greater than anticipated.
There are many factors that complicate this projection: a lower turnout, the campaign effect, the national dimension of the 2019 elections, the Modi effect, and the organisational capacities of major parties. Voters also do make a distinction between state and national elections, and may change their vote between these two types of elections. All these factors will shape the outcome.
But this data is useful as it reminds us that the myth of the BJP’s invincibility in the Hindi belt was largely built on their performance in Uttar Pradesh, while the party got mixed results in the rest of the region, particularly in the larger states. Barring the 2014 state elections, the BJP has lost ground everywhere, to the point of losing three states in 2018. The greater the time lapse, the greater their losses.
This does not mean that the BJP is not currently contesting from a position of strength; it certainly is. In Delhi, the absence of an alliance between the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party will pave the way for the BJP to perform well. In Uttar Pradesh, the Mahagathbandan is yet to develop a well-oiled mobilisation machine. But this projection means that the Hindi belt races are more open than what one would have expected until quite recently and that the Congress could upset the BJP plans if it can get its act together.
(This article is based on Lok Dhaba – TCPD data, computed by Mohit Kumar and Saloni Bhogale. Gilles Verniers is Assistant Professor of Political Science and Co-Director, Trivedi Centre for Political Data, Ashoka University.Views are personal)