The four states that gave a verdict on Sunday could not have been clearer, but we can continue to obfuscate and try to mold the verdicts as per our own whims and fancies. For the media in Delhi and the intellectual elite it is the arrival of AAP that defines the victory which only goes on to show how shallow Delhi is, for it cannot see an India beyond the national capital. For the BJP supporters it is the ultimate wave in their favor, but they tend to forget that these states were essentially their strongholds and bipolar in nature. For the Congress, well, it continues to live in denial, at least publicly.
The result of this round of assembly polls may mean different things to different people, but what actual impact will it have on 2014? That is the question we will try and answer from a neutral perspective. To answer that question we will dissect these assembly elections with cold neutrality and try to capture the signals.
It is quite obvious that BJP was the big winner on Sunday, for the party got something to the magnitude of 72 lakh additional votes over and above its nearest rival, the Congress party. This is a significant set of elections for the party because it seems to be finally on the path that it had originally chalked out for itself when the party was born in 1980. Uniting the Hindu vote under one umbrella has been the BJP’s raison d’être despite whatever politically correct statements its many leaders make from time to time. It might yet be impossible to unite the whole spectrum of Hindu vote, but BJP under its new leadership is now positioning itself towards acquiring large sections of Hindu vote.
The BJP experiment of a united Hindu vote, if ever there was one, is best elucidated in Rajasthan. It is here in this western state that BJP has won 81% of the assembly seats with a whopping 37 lakh more votes or roughly a 13% gap margin over Congress! This is a socially unprecedented election result for the BJP, a party that starts every election with a handicap of minus 10 to 20% vote-share due to adverse minority voting. How did this happen? This happened because of the united Hindu vote, for BJP was able to add to its core votes of Rajputs, Brahmins and trading communities with OBC vote like that of Jats, Gujjars, Ahirs etc.
This broad social coalition of upper-castes, middle-castes and OBCs is almost insurmountable in a first past the post system of India. In Rajasthan, for instance, all the 15 Muslim Congress candidates lost because non-minority voters refused to vote for the party. In Madhya Pradesh too all Muslim legislators of the Congress party lost barring one. This is the ultimate polarization of votes, wherein the entire Hindu vote rallies behind one party and gives it a solid block of 35 to 40% of votes. It is a combination of governance model of Gujarat and the OBC status of BJP’s prime-ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, which is delivering this impossible Hindu vote to a party that has been historically limited to a Brahmin-Bania demographic. What is significant is that this is a scalable electoral model, especially in North and central India. For instance, the Jat vote that BJP has accrued is not limited to Rajasthan alone, but has happened even in Delhi for almost the first time and is developing into a wave in western UP.
Under the leadership of Indira Gandhi, Congress party had an umbrella social coalition of sorts through what was then famously known as KHAM (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi & Muslim) which did not consider the OBCs as a vote-bank. The first generation of OBC mobilization happened in the post-JP, pre-Mandal era and completely swept out the Congress party from the core heartland states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar – an area which has never returned back to the party fold since then. The second generation of OBC mobilization was attempted by BJP by building a broader coalition of a section of OBCs and upper castes through regional satraps like Kalyan Singh, Uma Bharati etc. It is the third generation of OBC mobilization that is now being attempted by Narendra Modi by marrying governance to a complete coalition of the Hindu vote in which OBCs are an important part.
This third generation mobilization of Hindu vote is the deadliest of them all and has the maximum disruption potential, especially in the whole of heartland. We could see the impact of this coalition in Chhattisgarh, where the ruling BJP was facing an impossible task of a loss of large number of seats in the northern and southern tribal belts. The entire game-plan of BJP rested on its performance in Central Chhattisgarh, wherein the party needed to make-good all the losses from north and south. The problem for the party was compounded by the presence of CSM – Chhattisgarh Swabhiman Manch, which was formed exclusively to tap the OBC votes and had many strong Sahu community leaders in its ranks (the largest OBC group of Chhattisgarh), such as Dehru Prasad and Urwashi Sahu et al.
Narendra Modi addressed 5 well attended public rallies in Central Chhattisgarh, especially in the Durg-Raipur belt where CSM was putting up a strong fight and changed the entire political scenario by preventing large-scale leakage of OBC votes. For instance, Dehru Prasad who was widely expected to win his Navgarh seat, ended up being number two behind BJP, despite garnering 42 thousand odd votes. Similarly, Urwashi Sahu (daughter of Tarachand Sahu, a 4 time MP from Durg and the tallest Sahu leader), lost her Durg rural seat to BJP. It is indeed a minor electoral miracle that BJP managed to win a whopping 32 of 49 seats from central Chhattisgarh (BJP had won only 23 in 2008) despite 3% vote-share of the CSM, while BSP’s performance (which always hurts Congress) was much debilitated this time.
Similarly in Madhya Pradesh, BJP not only added 4% of the vote-share that it had lost in the last election of 2008 due to Uma Bharati leaving the party, but also added an additional 4% of vote-share because of the Modi-OBC-vote-mobilization factor. Even in Delhi, the OBCs have voted overwhelmingly in favor of the BJP, which is why its performance is much better in the outer parts of the national capital region than in the central parts dominated by AAP.
There are 218 parliamentary constituencies in what is termed as North India or the Hindi-Heartland – UP, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarkhand. BJP’s new found total Hindu vote has the ability to win a lion’s share of LS seats in the heartland and even a tally of 150+ cannot be ruled out if the present set of election results are any indication. BJP will face major electoral resistance only in UP and Bihar due to the presence of regional caste-based parties, but if the experiment of Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh holds true then expect major socio-political churning in UP and Bihar too. The problems in smaller states of Haryana and Jharkhand are related to forming proper alliances. In conclusion, this set of assembly elections have provided a perfect Launchpad for a Narendra Modi led BJP into the battleground of 2014.
First let us state the obvious problem, Congress has been decimated in the latest round of elections and has an almost insurmountable 10% gap to cover in order to put up a fight against BJP. There are three ways of going about this business, one is what the party is doing in the TV studios, living in denial and just giving up on 2014. The second way is what Rahul Gandhi prescribed on Sunday – the AAP way. The problem with the second path is that you are becoming a victim of your own propaganda. Congress must realize that the Delhi media is a propaganda machine that simply churns out eulogies to the newest challenger to Modi-BJP without any substance (Nitish Kumar, L.K. Advani, Shivraj Singh Chouhan have all had their seasons). So if you believe that AAP is really the big story of 2013 then good luck to you and Nandan Nilekani or whichever technocrat you would want to choose for your 2014 sojourn. Rest assured, a tally of double digits awaits you at the end of the dark tunnel.
If, on the other hand, you are willing to accept your shortcomings and the existence of a NaMo-wave, then there is a third path, the old-fashioned political pathway to take on the bull by its horns in the electoral arena. You may not win 2014, but at least you would have put up a fight and would have ensured that you would live to fight another day. If Congress continues to live in denial, then the defeat in 2014 may actually be a deathblow to the party than just a minor setback.
To some extent, Sonia Gandhi does seem to still have her legendary political instincts intact, for she did address the basic problem of Congress not having a face to oppose Modi and that is a good starting point. There are hundreds of problems with the Congress party, but the two biggest ones are big ticket corruption scandals and economic mismanagement. You can’t do much about the former because it is already too late, but there is a lot that can be done about economy and the biggest problem that has the simplest of solutions is inflation. How on earth did Congress go into elections with prices of onion, tomato and potato sky rocketing? It was such a simple basic mistake. In the next 6 months, the biggest priority for Congress should be to control inflation at any cost (and it is not that difficult, mind you).
There are also two specific signals that have emanated from this round of assembly elections – maybe feeble signals, but signals nonetheless – and the Congress party needs to work on this. First of all let us be very clear, Congress cannot hope to win an election purely on minority vote-mobilization as we have clearly seen in Rajasthan and MP etc., so unnecessary minority appeasement of the Shadi Bhagya variety will only backfire and play into the hands of BJP. Minority vote gets converted into seats only when combined with sections of Hindu vote and Congress is in the danger of being pushed out of the Hindu vote spectrum in North India.
The first signal is an obvious one from Chhattisgarh where the tribals and Dalits seem to have reposed faith in the Congress party once again after many years. This should give the party hope, but is this model scalable beyond Chhattisgarh is the big question. The Dalit vote of North India for instance, gets splintered in multiple directions; the largest chunk goes to the BSP, and other part gets divided between Congress, BJP and others. By and large, we can surmise that the Dalit vote has the least incentive to be a part of the BJP-Modi-Hindu-vote-spectrum. It is this aspect that the Congress needs to tap aggressively in the next few months, either by trying to form an alliance with BSP or by entrusting Congress leadership to Dalits.
The second signal has come from Baghelkhand in Madhya Pradesh, but Congress needs enormous political capital to latch on to this. In an otherwise overall sweep of MP, Baghelkhand is one of those rare sub-regions where BJP has lost seats to the Congress party as compared to last time (which was accurately predicted only by 5Forty3). Just 10 seats out of 30 may not be a great advertisement of Congress revival, but it does give us something to work on. Especially because not only the vote-share gap between BJP and Congress has been reduced to just 3%, but also BJP’s vote-share has decreased drastically.
Baghelkhand has been a BJP stronghold for long now due to the fact that it is dominated by upper castes – Thakurs Brahmins and Vaishyas. In this election a section of the upper castes and Vaishyas rebelled against the BJP and voted for other parties (mainly Congress and BSP). The ostensible reason for the minor rebellion has been attested as wrong ticket distribution, but the real reasons are a little more than that. There has been a simmering discontent, especially among the Brahmins and Thakurs, about the growing importance of OBCs in BJP and therefore a section of them actually started to look favorably at Ajay Singh (the son of Arjun Singh and the leader of the opposition in MP), but the singularly non-talented Mr. Singh just couldn’t build on the discontent. This is just a toe-hold for the Congress party, but it provides a template for the rest of North India, wherein Congress should try and break the big Hindu coalition that Modi is attempting to build and Brahmins can turn out to be Congress’s best friends in this venture.
Of the 218 LS seats in North India, Congress is in realistic contention only in about 50 seats as of today. The party must try and at least double that tally if not more by building social coalitions and political alliances. It is absolutely vital for the Congress party to put up a fight against BJP in the heartland and mobilizing Dalit-Brahmin vote as an addendum to the core minority votes is the only way forward as it cannot hope to get any traction in middle castes and OBCs. Bottomline is that the Congress party is in grave danger of being reduced to the level of erstwhile Muslim league in Northern India if it doesn’t take corrective measures soon.
Contrary to what the TV studio debates are propagating, the fact is that the third front space has actually shrunk in these assembly elections, in fact, the third political pole has never had it this bad in assembly elections. For instance, BSP’s vote-share has gone down from 8% to as low as 3.5% in Rajasthan, from 9% to 6% in Madhya Pradesh and from 6% to 4% in Chhattisgarh. The overall vote share of “others” has been drastically reduced by anywhere between 40 to 70% in all the three states as we can see in the chart. Delhi is not the rule but the exception where AAP has altered the vote-shares.
The one big message that has come from this set of assembly elections is that even in the state assembly elections there is a latent national vote. India is heading for bipolarity and that actually is a good news for the tottering Congress party. The shrunken third space as evidenced in these assembly polls will invariably shrink further in the national elections as we have seen in the past. With Narendra Modi and BJP targeting the whole spectrum of Hindu vote, the position of small regional parties in the LS polls would be extremely vulnerable in North India.
A note on AAP
The problem with frivolous intellectualism is it always hyper-reacts. Before the Delhi election everybody was busy under-estimating AAP and now everybody is busy over-estimating and over analyzing the AAP phenomenon. We get to hear such humungous theories from TV studios as to how AAP would now be a national party and how Arvind Kejriwal would be the PM candidate of the third front! Nobody bothers to tell us how AAP will replicate its limited success of a rootless city like Delhi in other metros; for instance, how will AAP gather votes in Mumbai where fault-lines are between Maharashtrians and outsiders, or say in Hyderabad where there are agitations for and against Telangana or even in say, Lucknow, where the politics of identity is foremost.
Even the success of AAP in Delhi is a one-off phenomenon that has come about through a string of coincidences – a very unpopular government, agitations of the past year on a range of issues from corruption to women’s safety, passionate participation of youth (who have long-term attention deficiency as always) and a moribund opposition which woke up much later in the day and yet managed to be the single largest party. Arvind Kejriwal is making a classic mistake once again. He is taking this one-off support of the people of Delhi for granted and wants to go for polls once again based on some ludicrous suggestions that AAP has the momentum and will gain a 2/3rd majority in a re-poll.
What is more likely to happen is quite the opposite;
- Voters passion would have come down a couple of notches in about 3-4 months and AAP would never be able to get the same kind of volunteer participation as they got this time, no matter what kind of funds they manage (this is exactly what happened with the Anna movement which eventually fizzled out despite huge initial success)
- With the passage of time, basic every day governance delivery issues will become important and the greenhorn MLAs of AAP would be answerless to voters queries especially in a situation where there is no government
- The Voter anger against Sheila Dixit would also be much reduced in a few months’ time and all Congress needs to do is regain some 3-5% of the vote share to overtake AAP
- If Delhi elections are held along with LS polls, which is the only practical possibility as far as the EC policy on repolling is concerned, then AAP would come a cropper as it is a well-established fact that almost 65% of AAP voters want to vote for Modi in the LS polls
- Even if Delhi elections are held separately, all that BJP/Congress have to do is manage better ticket distribution by giving more tickets to young professionals rather than tired old faces and AAP would lose its only USP
- At least half a dozen seats are such where AAP has won by a very narrow margin and as such it won’t be sustainable in another election
At the end of the day, far from going national, AAP stands vulnerable in the only state that it has performed, as we move closer towards 2014 elections.