Five Forty Three

Revolutionizing Indian Election Analysis


Sonia Gandhi: The Aakhri Mughal of Congress

It was in October 2010 when a dozen MLAs belonging to the ruling BJP in Karnataka had rebelled against the leadership and were camping in a Goa resort that the local Congress leadership, whiffing the scent of power for the first time in many years, decided to explore the possibility of forming an alternative government with the support of the JDS. Siddramaiah had then emerged as the consensus candidate to head the Congress party delegation to New Delhi for seeking formal approval of the high command.

A bunch of very excited Congress leaders along with Siddramaiah flew to Delhi and sought an audience with Madam Sonia Gandhi. Two Karnataka Congress veterans with very good command over the English language were assigned the task of explaining all the details of government formation and the arrangement with JDS and the rebel BJP legislators. Sonia sat quietly and gave the Congressmen from Karnataka a patient hearing for close to 45 minutes. At the end of it, all she asked was this, “Why do you want to come to power from the backdoor?”

Siddramaiah and co were stunned by that question, for the least they were expecting was a pat on the back for dislodging the first BJP government in south India. They tried to then explain how the ‘communal’ BJP was growing every day in Karnataka and how the state might end up becoming another Gujarat if Congress doesn’t take drastic measures immediately. Again, Sonia had just one crisp sentence as a retort, “You win an election and come to power, not like this!”

This whole incident might come as a shock to many of the Internet Right-Wing Warriors who have a mental picture of a power hungry, corrupt Italian lady who heads the Congress party today. How could it be possible that the Congress president actually disapproves the party’s efforts to regain power from an arch enemy like the BJP? Wasn’t Sonia supposed to be the EVM manipulating power crazed dictator who had possibly come to power only because her husband and mother-in-law were assassinated under mysterious circumstances? Most conspiracy theorists conveniently forget that Sonia was a reluctant leader who remained outside power circles of the Congress party for 7 years after Rajiv’s death – for 5 of those years, Congress was actually in power and she could have easily had it all, if she so desired.

What explains the mystery of Sonia Gandhi then? Answer is simple, plain incompetence! For instance, let us see how the 2010 Karnataka crisis unfolded thereafter. The Congress delegation returned back to Bangalore and gathered all the party legislators in a resort on the outskirts of the town despite Sonia’s admonishment. With the nudging of the governor (former union law minister Hansraj Bharadwaj) and the help of some infamous moneybags, Congress continued its act of destabilizing the government till BJP won a chaotic vote of confidence on the floor of the house. So much for Sonia’s much vaunted power over the party and the Gandhi family’s hold over Congressmen.

This incompetence of leadership has been a Sonia Gandhi hallmark for a long time now. She essentially wields control over the party just by keeping all the factions happy through her central coterie. In the process, every Congress leader has become a law unto himself and has created a mini-corrupt empire of sorts. This arrangement is visible everywhere in the Congress party, be it central ministers or state chief ministers. For instance, the brazenness with which Y.S. Rajashekhar Reddy ran AP Congress or the shamelessness of a Vilasrao Deshmukh who managed to return as the CM of Maharashtra despite Sonia’s unwillingness or the way Hooda has managed to contemptuously show the proverbial middle finger to the central leadership time and again are all symptoms of the same malaise. Of course, they do pay their dues to the Dilli sultanate every now and then by say indulging a Vadra’s land deals or an Italian chopper deal etc.

This kind of a mutually beneficial ecosystem is reminiscent of the last century of Mughal Empire after the death of the dreaded Auranzeb in 1707 when the power of Mughals was essentially titular in nature. Just like the Mughals started disintegrating and other regional dynasties like the Nizams or Shahs started emerging as independent power centres, Congress too is disintegrating into regional powerhouses like the Pawars, Mamata Banerjees and Jagan Reddys.

This is the essential difference between an Indira Gandhi and a Sonia Gandhi; while the former had absolute control over the party and the electorate, the latter’s powers are merely symbolic in nature. Even such super powerful leaders as Nijalingappa, Kamraj and Atulya Ghosh had to go into political oblivion once they opposed Indira unlike today when a Mamata Banerjee is prospering in Bengal and a Jagan Reddy is on the verge of becoming the CM of Seema-Andhra, despite daring Sonia openly. But for a criminal error of judgment by Indira of imposing an Emergency, even stalwarts like Moorarji Bhai and Jagjivan Babu wouldn’t have found their brief interlude of sunny days outside the Indira political system.

Realizing the limitations of her political talent and electoral charisma early in her political innings (probably when Pawar rebelled in the late 90s), Sonia has been running the Congress show by simply letting other Congressmen rule and loot as per their own whims and fancies. What this had created is an artificial buoyancy of the Congress party which simply prospered electorally for 10 years just by the virtue of creating mutually beneficial regional and sub-regional ecosystems of individual Congressmen of various hues and shapes. This electoral model had its limitations, for it could succeed only as long as a weak and pliant opposition cohabited in the same Lutyen’s sphere of Dilli. The other factor that kept Congress viable was the secularism bogie which had so many adherents to its tenets that the entire political spectrum would eventually remain subservient to the Congress’s cause of continuing to rule Dilli.

In the midst of all these happy political coexistences, India was changing like never before – a process that nobody in Dilli noticed until it was too late. Tokenism, which had worked fine for long enough to help Sonia prosper as a powerful national leader, had gone long past its sell-by date and India wanted substantial development not just RTI, Secularism, NREGA et al. For instance, 24/7 Bijlee was one of those symbolisms in which every Congress and non-BJP government in India had failed because it simply was not possible to give uninterrupted power supply in a mutually beneficial ecosystem that Congressmen had built under the aegis of Sonia Gandhi. Thus today Congress is facing its third and possibly the last phase of decline in 2014 after being in power for 60 years. Sonia Gandhi is the last Moghul of the Congress party.

Cong DeclineThe first phase of Congress decline actually began in 1977, after emergency, but then the Indira assassination event completely altered the 1984 elections, so for all practical purposes, we take 1989 as the year that marked the first phase of Congress’s electoral decline. This was a decline brought about by three major factors – 1) Increase in the index of opposition unity, 2) Emergence of the hitherto neglected silent majority of the other backward castes and 3) The rise of Hindu nationalism. This first phase lasted only about half-a-decade even as Congress lost its primacy as the lone dominant political force in India, for the party consolidated itself at the sub-40% national vote-share levels.

The second phase of Congress’s decline began in the mid-90s when for the first time the party went below the 30% national vote-share levels. This phase was again characterized by three important factors – 1) Weak Congress leadership, 2) Maturing of Hindu nationalism and 3) Deeply entrenched Mandalization of Indian polity. The commonality between these two phases of Congress’s electoral decline were related to class struggle and vigorous reinforcement of identities.

The Sonia years were essentially an artificial plateau created by building symbiotic political ecosystems with not only other Congress leaders but also other political parties. Sonia never gave the Congress party a new direction, she only temporarily arrested the decline of the party at a huge long term cost to the party and the nation. This plateauing of Congress’s vote-share was misconstrued as a reclaiming of the central legacy by many informed political pundits in Dilli. Eventually that misconception will prove to be costly for the Congress ecosystem.

Today Congress is staring at the third phase of political decline which may prove to be decisive in the end analysis. At every decline Congress has breached a major resistance level in terms of vote-share – 40% level in the late 80s and the 30% levels in the mid-90s – so it is now poised to breach the most important resistance level of all, the 20% levels. Two reasons why a sub-20% vote-share would be a likely deathblow to Congress are;

  1. Seat Conversion CongressIts wide geographic spread which was once a great asset to the party would be converted into a huge liability at below 20% national vote-share levels, for the seat conversion rate would then fall dramatically. For instance, in states like Bihar, Seemandhra, Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand, Delhi etc. Congress may yet get a double digit vote-share but may win no seats at all – this is one of the prices that a political party pays in a first past the post system with a thinly spread out vote-share (for ex: BSP got a national vote-share of 6.2% in 2009 but was able to win only 21 seats, whereas a Samajwadi Party got only 3.4% national vote-share in the same election but won 23 seats due to concentrated presence).
  2. Rahul4PMDeclining demographic support systems – in two of our recent poll surveys of Karnataka and Jharkhand a unique finding that has huge implications is that almost 3 quarters of those who want Rahul Gandhi as the next PM belong to the minority community. This tells us a story of how Congress is losing the support of all other ethnic groups and is becoming an exclusively Muslim-minority centric party. As we have seen just a couple of months ago in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, a purely Muslim vote-bank will not be able to convert votes into seats.

There is an interesting historic parallel to Congress’s demographic disaster. Some 68 years ago in the last general elections of a British controlled India in 1946 a very unique electoral trend was witnessed when Congress got the united spectrum of the whole Hindu vote, whereas Muslim League was the sole beneficiary of an exclusive Muslim vote. Interestingly, just 6 years later (post-partition, of course), in the first general election of an independent India in 1952, the Muslim vote, in almost its entirety, returned back to the Congress while the Muslim League ceased to exist. Today, a Modi led BJP is targeting the united spectrum of the Hindu vote whereas the Congress is depending on an almost exclusive Muslim vote… 5 years later in 2019 history may well repeat itself in its full glory!

Cong ray of hope titledIn the upcoming elections starting from April the 7th, Congress may witness an unprecedented meltdown in the northern, western and eastern India and its only ray of hope is this small belt of southern peninsula where Congress has to win at least 50+ seats out of a possible 95 seats that the party may contest here from a total of 113. The problem for the Congress party is that the three important factors that are causing its third phase of decline are all neither emotive issues of identity nor are they about a class struggle, but in fact they are wholly about governance, or the lack of it – 1) Need for better governance models, 2) Humungous corruption scams of UPA and 3) A united national vote instead of a divided regional vote. On all three counts Congress is found wanting. With pseudo secularism, crony socialism and convenient capitalism as the three weapons, Sonia and Rahul have managed to rule India for a decade, but now all the three weapons have been irreparably blunted, so the end of Congressism is just around the corner.

Detailed Election schedule as announced by the Election Commission



Analysis of BJP’s 1st List

As the election juggernaut begins for possibly the most important election since 1977, BJP announced its first list of 54 names late yesterday evening. Indian elections will be essentially fought at the local level, so it is not just Modi that matters for BJP, but getting each ticket right in terms of local equations is of primary importance. Here is a quick and brief analysis of the first list by BJP.

North India (The Heartland)

Two states have been dealt with in the 1st list – J&K and Himachal Pradesh, in both the states 1 seat each has been left out for now (Srinagar in J&K and Mandi in Himachal Pradesh) – both not winnable for BJP as of now. There are almost no surprises in the remaining seats as the selection process has been along expected lines.

Himachal Pradesh:

Hamirpur will see BJYM national president Anurag Thakur defending his family pocket borough, which he should be able to do pretty easily. Congress doesn’t even have a strong candidate to put up against him and is depending on rebel BJP leader, a onetime protégé of former CM Prem Kumar Dhumal (Anurag Thakur’s father) who is also an independent MLA in the current assembly, Rajinder Singh Rana. BJP had won this seat by a big 72000+ votes in 2009 by taking a lead in 14 of the 17 assembly segments. This time too, Thakur is ahead in at least 11 assembly segments (as per ground reports), so it would be a herculean task to defeat him.

Kangra will see the veteran BJP leader, former CM, Shanta Kumar, once again trying his luck at the age of 79. Here, his onetime protégé and sitting (rebel) BJP MP, Dr. Rajan Sushant will be contesting on the AAP ticket, but fight will be mainly between BJP and Congress. This is a tough seat for the BJP, for it had just managed to scrape through with 3% margin in 2009, but if anybody can win this one, it has to be Shanta Kumar who still has tremendous grip over this constituency. Congress is a divided house in Kangra, as CM Virbhadra Singh wants OBC leader and former MP, Chander Kumar to contest as the party candidate, but high command wants to pit union minister Chandresh Kumari Katoch, a royal from Rajasthan, as a counter to the formidable Shanta Kumar. As of today, BJP enjoys a slight advantage here.

Shimla will again see sitting BJP MP, Virender Kashyap, trying to defend his seat and his likely opponent from Congress could be Mohan lal Bragta (Sitting MLA of Rohru). This is a very tough seat which can go any which way and the ruling Congress party has some advantage as this is Virbhadra territory. As per current ground reports, both BJP and Congress are ahead in 7 assembly segments each, while 3 are too close to call.

Jammu and Kashmir:

There isn’t much to write about Anantnag, Baramulla and Ladakh, so we’ll limit our analysis to Jammu and Udhampur. In Jammu, BJP state unit president, Jugal Kishore Sharma will be taking on sitting Congress MP, Madan lal Sharma. This is an almost even contest where anti-incumbency and Modi dynamics may play a crucial role. Aknoor, Rajouri and Surankote assembly segments will decide who wins this seat.

In Udhampur BJP has chosen state spokesperson, Dr. Jitender Singh, who definitely has an edge over Congress. Even in 2009, BJP had lost the seat narrowly despite taking pole position in more assembly segments than Congress. Unless something drastic occurs in the next 2 months, BJP is likely to win this seat easily.

Western India (Southern Hemisphere):

Apart from Goa, here BJP has only taken up the difficult state of Maharashtra in the first list, a state which has always been dominated by the Congress culture. This is also a state where sub-regional political fiefdoms largely control the electoral narrative and BJP has indeed made some smart choices. This is also a state where AAP is supposed to have some electoral relevance outside the national capital region, so BJP has to think out of the box, especially in urbanized pockets. Yet BJP hasn’t fallen into the “civil society trap” and has given importance to electoral realities rather than TV studio evangelism.


Mumbai North: Over the last decade or so, Congress has made Mumbai its bastion, so it would be a herculean task for BJP-SS to storm this fortress. If there is one weak link in this strong Congress fort, it is Mumbai North, where BJP can win if MNS doesn’t cut too many of the Sena-BJP votes. Sitting MLA, Gopal Shetti is a very good choice indeed. Now the plan has to be to consolidate Marathi votes and the votes of the business community (who are expected to back Modi). AAP may also play a spoiler for Congress’s Sanjay Nirupam, so this a seat where BJP has a theoretical edge in 2014.

Mumbai North East: Kirit Somaiya has been re-nominated here and he would take on NCP strongman Sanjay Dina Patil. There are two major X-Factors in this constituency – the role of MNS and Gujarati voters – both had gone against BJP in 2009 and yet Dr. Kirit Somaiya had lost by a margin of only 0.4% (less than 3000 votes). This time the Gujarati voters, who had voted for Congress due to Manmohan Singh being perceived as pro-business in 2009, are expected to back BJP to the hilt due to the Modi factor. Last time Sanjay Dina Patil of NCP had emerged victorious solely based on his huge lead in Shivaji Nagar assembly segment, whereas MNS had emerged in the pole position in 3 assembly segments. This time too Vikhroli, Bhandup west and Ghatkopar west will be crucial to BJP’s chances.

Dhule: This is as close as BJP has come to civil society, by denying ticket to sitting BJP MP and instead nominating Dr Subhash Bhamre, a noted surgeon of Dhule. Bhamre had narrowly lost the assembly election on a Shiv Sena ticket in 2004 and is not exactly new to politics, but definitely has a freshness to him. Dhule has about 7 lakh Maratha votes and 4 lakh minority votes, so a clear polarization is required for BJP to emerge victorious here. Last time in 2009, Molvi Nihal Ahmed had contested on the JDS ticket and had got 72k votes which had helped BJP win by about 20k margin.

In Beed, Gopinath Munde should easily sail through, while in Nagpur the sheer stature of Nitin Gadkari would help him win the seat. In both these parliamentary constituencies AAP is losing deposits as of now. Similarly, Sanjay Dhotre in Akola and Hansraj Ahir from Chandrapur are poised to defend their respective seats. Raosaheb Danve Patil from Jalna was also an easy choice for the BJP as there were hardly any other contenders. Dilipkumar Gandhi too is in a strong position in Ahmednagar.

Among the three ST seats of Dindori, Gadchiroli-Chimur and Palghar, BJP is ahead in Dindori, where sitting MP Harishchandra Chohan has been re-nominated. Gadchiroli-Chimur will see a tough fight and Palghar may not favour BJP even in 2014 as it is a Aghadi stronghold.

Sangli is a seat that Congress has never lost in post-independent India, it’s an area where Congressism is so deeply entrenched that even at the height of anti-Congress atmosphere in the mid-90s when BJP-SS had captured Maharashtra and Vajpayee was ruling India, Congress repeatedly won the seat in 96, 98 and 99. Realizing that here only Congressism can defeat Congress, BJP has nominated Sanjay Kaka Patil, a rebel NCP MLC. It remains to be seen if a Modi wave can achieve what JP couldn’t achieve after emergency, Rajiv didn’t lose in 1989 and Vajpayee-Thackeray couldn’t engineer in the 90s.

D.B. Patil had won Nanded in 2004 and he has been re-nominated to take on the Congress which rectifies a mistake committed in 2009 when he was denied ticket. There is some amount of religious polarization here and that will have a crucial electoral impact. It remains to be seen if Congress nominates Adarsh-tainted Ashok Chavan (or his wife) from here.


Sitting MP, Sripad Yesso Naik should sail through from North Goa, but south Goa is the real challenge for Manohar Parrikar. South Goa election will tell us how successful Parrikar has been in incorporating Christians into the BJP fold as has been widely reported.

The East India

BJP has token presence in most of these states, yet winning a few seats here and there could be crucial for the party in adding up numbers towards majority. In the first list, BJP hasn’t touched on the most important region of the state, Assam, where seat-sharing is apparently still being explored.

Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram:

Kiran Rijeju is obviously the best bet for BJP from the North-East apart from Assam. He had lost Arunachal West by a heartbreakingly narrow margin of 0.5% in 2009 despite winning 17 assembly segments (Congress had won 16) and is widely expected to emerge victorious this time. Not much is known about the electoral trends of Manipur, but BJP is apparently gaining some traction there, especially in the Inner Manipur seat, where Indira Oinam was denied ticket which had let to protests. Both the tickets have been given to academics in Manipur, Dr R.K. Ranjan and Prof Gangumei Kamei.

Odisha and West Bengal:

Of all the 6 names announced from Odisha, BJP has the strongest possibility of winning in Sundargarh where Jual Oram will possibly take on Hemanand Biswal of Congress. Oram had lost by a narrow 12k votes in 2009. In West Bengal, Rahul Sinha, the state unit president, may put up a strong fight in Kolkata North. Other than these two seats, cannot visualize anybody else having an electoral impact, from the 17 names of West Bengal and 6 names from Odisha that BJP has announced yesterday.


Jharkhand Story Part 2: The Poll Survey

(Read Part one Here)

Jharkhand elections are usually decided by three M’s – Money, Muscle and Maoists – now in 2014 a fourth M dimension has been added to that mix – Modi. Everywhere one travels, one finds the evidence of the fourth M which has transformed the LS elections in this rich tribal state. In the last few weeks a host of IAS officers and top cops have resigned their high profile jobs and are joining the BJP in hordes to contest the upcoming polls which gives us enough indication of the prevailing Modi wave – former DGP (Punjab cadre) Arun Oraon of Gumla, the legendary former IG Amitabh Chaudhary and Principal Secretary Vimal Kranti Singh, IAS, are some of the examples. Many of these officers are local heroes and have a very tough record on corruption, which makes it an even more formidable combo for the Lok Sabha elections.

BJP hasn’t attracted such large numbers of new political talent into the party for over 2 decades; for instance, the last time BJP made a big tactical move in Jharkhand was in 1996, when it fielded Nitish Bharadwaj who had played the role of Krishna in the hugely popular TV series of Doordarshan’s Mahabharat, against an almost undefeatable Shailendra Mohato of JMM in Jamshedpur. Since then, most of BJP’s tickets are revolved amongst tired old faces and have nothing new to offer. Possibly, 2014 is going to be an exception and Jharkhand is where the revolution is beginning in the heartland.

Jharkhand PM preferenceTo be sure, Modi has addressed only one political rally so far in this state and yet his presence can be felt everywhere. An interesting raw number probably best illuminates the NaMo popularity – 504 of the 1119 respondents polled have voted for Modi as PM, about 3 months before the actual election and with the real campaign yet to begin! This kind of support for an individual leader is unprecedented in the heartland, especially in a politically divided state like Jharkhand (For detailed methodology and raw data of OSOP-Jharkhand, click here – OSOP Jharkhand).

Modi popularityIt is now clear that this Modi phenomenon means different things to different people – for backward caste voters his OBC status and humble origins as a tea-seller are of primary importance, whereas for upper caste voters it is the zero corruption of his leadership that is very attractive, but what is the most important reason that attracts all classes of voters towards Modi is his singularity politics! Two of the most oft quoted reasons as to why Modi should be the next PM were – 1) “Unka koi nahi hai” and 2) He doesn’t believe in “Bhai-Bhatijawaad” politics.

There is another very curious finding about the NaMo phenomenon that gives us great insight into the voting psyche of the heartland. A significant portion of voters belonging to the “other reasons” class of thinking for ‘Modi as PM’ have chosen “Hindutva” as a reason to vote for him. Now this is a strange reasoning as Modi hasn’t used a Hindu plank or indulged in anything remotely sectarian throughout his campaign, yet a certain section of voters identify him as a Hindutva icon. When we dig deeper, we find that most of these voters reside in areas where there is large scale presence of Muslim populace!

On the other side of the spectrum is Rahul Gandhi whose support base is almost exclusively limited to minorities and sections of Dalits – 80% of all those who want Rahul as PM belong to Muslims, Dalits and other minorities (of these 50% belong to Muslims). Curiously enough, one of the most oft quoted reasons by Muslim voters for their support to the Gandhi scion is “secularism” and its variants. Thus in areas with significant Muslim populace, Modi gets the Hindutva vote whereas Rahul gets the token secularism vote, which tells us a story of a whole new phenomenon that I have termed as Micro-Polarization!

Micro PolarizationMicro-Polarization is a new dividing line that exists only in mixed religious populations – a euphemism for various sub-regions of the heartland with significant Muslim populace. What we are seeing in Jharkhand is a polarization that is only limited to these Hindu-Muslim fault-line areas and is not a pan-regional phenomenon like the 90s when the Ram Janam Bhoomi movement had divided our society almost vertically. While Modi gets vote for lack of nepotism, non-corrupt attitude and governance (24/7 Bijlee, cure for inflation, jobs etc.) in the non-conflict Hindu zone on the one hand, he gets the polarized Hindu vote from the Hindu-Muslim fault-line zones on the other hand. This is Micro-Polarization, a 2014 phenomenon that has the potential to almost completely decimate the secular-socialist political edifice of India which is the reason why Modi evokes so much of fear among his opponents.

The peak of anti-incumbency

Our OSOP survey covered 47 polling booths spread across 21 assembly segments of 9 parliamentary constituencies with a target sample size of 1420. We achieved an actual sample size of 1119 with adequate social representation to all sections of Jharkhand society (for a detailed report, read this).

Anti-incumbencyOne of the primary findings of our survey is the tremendous levels of anti-incumbency not only against the central UPA government but also against the local state government of JMM-Congress combine. What is significant to note here is that the ruling Jharkhand Mukti Morcha is almost getting wiped out of the electoral scene of the state in the 2014 election which is somewhat similar to the situation in the neighboring Bihar where the ruling JDU is also facing a similar meltdown. Although Congress (due to central anti-incumbency) is also facing a big setback, this almost total decimation of ruling state parties in the Bihar region in particular and the heartland in general is a significant electoral phenomenon.

Vote-ShareA new Modi led BJP of 2014 is not only staking its claim to the mantle of the national alternative to the Congress party, but more significantly it is emerging as the destroyer of regional ruling parties in the heartland – be it JMM in Jharkhand, JDU in Bihar, SP in UP or Congress in Uttarakhand. This is what makes the new BJP such a potent electoral force. For instance, with a 9% swing in its favor, BJP is sitting pretty in Jharkhand with a 36% vote-share, notwithstanding a substantial 18% voters still remaining undecided and a great many of them wanting Modi as the next PM of India. With the unique frontrunner advantage of the first-past-the-post electoral system and tremendous popularity of its prime-ministerial candidate, BJP can only grow further in the next few weeks leading up to elections unless it commits unpardonable blunders.

Congress on the other hand is severely limited by its exclusively minority vote-bank which will not convert into seats without weighty support from sections of Hindu voters as we have seen in the recently concluded assembly elections in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. The grand old party is in real danger of drawing a blank in Jharkhand and limiting itself to a combined total of less than 15 seats in the entire heartland region! The only way forward for the party is to build a broad coalition, but even with allies like Lalu and Soren in Jharkhand, it may be very difficult to plug an almost 20% vote-share gap of the BJP. What is more, a broad anti-BJP coalition can potentially polarize the voters further and BJP may end up benefitting with more of the fence-sitters rooting for it.

SwingAnti-incumbency against the state government in Jharkhand is so high that even the tribal consolidation in favor of Congress and allies is not happening here unlike say in Chhattisgarh (assembly elections) and Orissa as per reports emanating out of that state. While the OBCs and upper castes (roughly constituting 40% of Jharkhand voters) are solidly behind BJP, even sections of the tribal vote is going to the BJP – Oraons and Mundas have already moved to the BJP (7-9%), while other smaller groups are also now moving towards the party. Thus the entire BJP spectrum of vote is roughly in the 50%+ category which is almost undefeatable in the Indian electoral system.

In the midst of all this, Babulal Marandi is staring at glorious insignificance in a state in which he once had tremendous traction. Almost 70% of Marandi’s (JVM) voters seem to prefer Modi as the next PM, which can potentially turn into a BJP vote by the time elections are held. In fact, Koderma was one of the parliamentary seats in which our survey was conducted and the former CM is floating on thin ice here. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Marandi loses the 2014 MP election and faces political oblivion in the near future. Thus the Modi juggernaut moves into the heartland by significantly adding tribal votes to its already brimming kitty of OBC and upper caste votes. The united spectrum of Hindu vote is now falling short only in the Dalit category and the recently reported overtures of Ram Vilas Paswan could alter those dynamics too, for although Mr. Paswan no longer commands the same following as he once did but he still is the second tallest Dalit leader of the heartland beyond Mayawati.

Seat projectionsAs per our current projections based on the vote-share, BJP is ahead in 11 seats, while JMM, JVM and ‘others’ are ahead in in the remaining 3 seats each. Yet, BJP definitely has the potential to make a clean sweep of Jharkhand, provided it manages the ticket distribution process smoothly. Congress, although emerges as the number two party in terms of votes is unlikely to win any seat in Jharkhand as of today because of a sub 15% vote share – the party had won just one seat in 2009 with exactly 15% vote-share. A combination of RJD-Congress-JMM can at best make a difference in about 4 seats, so BJP is almost assured of a 9 seat haul in the state even in a worst case electoral scenario.

(Read our Detailed Jharkhand OSOP )

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Local battle v/s national war – the next stage of electoral strategy

Pawan Kumar Bansal, the corruption tainted former railway minister in UPA 2, is like a cat with nine lives, for he keeps getting a new lease of life every time he is on the verge of a collapse. Bansal’s political career should have ended long ago; in 1999 to be precise, when he had managed to get the Congress ticket from Chandigarh despite losing back-to-back elections in 1996 and 1998. Had he lost the 1999 election too, it would be a virtual death knell for him. The 1999 national elections were held in the backdrop of the Kargil war and a really high dose of chest-thumping patriotism which was equated with the then ruling NDA government headed by Vajpayee, thus Chandigarh, being a garrison town with a large portion of army men, should have logically voted for the BJP with relative ease. Additionally, BJP’s sitting MP of Chandigarh, Satyapal Jain was a formidable candidate – a self-made man who had grown up in poverty as a newspaper hawker and had gone on to study law – which made it almost an impossible battle for P.K. Bansal of the Congress party.

BJP did the unthinkable in 1999, it denied ticket to Mr. Jain and instead nominated the party vice president, K.L. Sharma (Pandit ji, for everybody in the Sangh circles), to the Chandigarh parliamentary seat because Mr. Sharma had become extremely unpopular in his own constituency of outer Delhi! The 1999 general election was necessitated due to BJP losing the vote of confidence by a solitary vote, which should have made the party extremely weary of each and every MP seat, but instead BJP leadership went ahead and disturbed a winning combination in Chandigarh to accommodate an apparatchik of the high command who was loaned out by the RSS. Needless to state that BJP shamelessly lost Chandigarh just a few months after Kargil war and Pawan Kumar Bansal got a new lease of life. Since 1999, Bansal has won two more electoral victories from the Chandigarh seat despite BJP re-nominating Satyapal Jain and what is more, he has even improved upon his victory margin each time.

This is a classic case of bad ticket distribution hurting the party not just in one election but in three elections on the trot. This has been BJP’s forte since a long time; in fact, it is a unique mindset defect of the Hindu psyche which forcefully grabs defeat from the jaws of victory. Look at what is happening in Chandigarh today, the party is running like a headless chicken and yet everybody wants to contest the LS polls hoping to ride on an apparent Modi wave and cash in on the corruption charges against Mr. Bansal. Whole new dynamics are being cooked up overnight and celebrity names like that of Kirron Kher, the actress wife of Anupam Kher, are being bandied about by the high command, despite her having zero connect with the political environs of Chandigarh. Pray, who is in-charge of Chandigarh in the BJP? Answer: Arti Mehra, need one say any more?! In the end, P.K. Bansal may yet survive the battle of 2014, but he will have only BJP and its leadership to thank for this all over again.

Contrast this with how clinically Congress handles ticket distribution. Let us take the case of another highly urban constituency, Mumbai North as a case in the point. In 2004, Ram Naik, the then O&G minister in the Vajpayee cabinet had already won Mumbai North 5 times on a trot since 1989, but was facing some anti-incumbency after 15 years. Congress was quick to pounce upon this small window of opportunity and pitted fimstar Govinda against the veteran Railway commuter’s activist of Mumbai North, Ram Naik. Govinda and Congress were able to convert the entire electoral battle into a fight for the north Indian migrant labors, who are present in abundant numbers and have had various issues of conflict with BJP’s alliance partner in Maharashtra, the ShivSena. Govinda turned out to be a giant killer in Mumbai North in 2004 as Mr. Naik was defeated by a greenhorn celebrity.

Conventional political wisdom of that time was that this was a one-off defeat for Ram Naik, who was expected to bounce back by the next election. As it turned out, Govinda, the filmstar was one of the worst performing MPs of the state as he hardly found time for his constituents in the midst of a busy movie career. Ideally, Mr. Naik deserved to return back to the parliament in the 2009 polls, but Congress had other plans. Govinda was dropped as the Congress candidate and Sanjay Nirupam, who had ostensibly deserted ShivSena on the issue of maltreatment of north Indian migrant laborers in Mumbai, was given the ticket and Congress once again managed to defeat Ram Naik with ample help from Raj Thackrey’s MNS. This is a classic case of converting anti-incumbency into an opportunity which all but finished the political career of a veteran BJP leader who had risen through sheer hard work. The study of contrasting impact on the political lives of P.K. Bansal and Ram Naik gives us a metaphor to distinguish Congress from BJP; it is this metaphor that tells a story.

2009 Urban votesIn the top 50 urban parliamentary constituencies, Congress got 30 lakh more votes than the BJP in the 2009 elections and also managed to win 26 of those 50 seats, while BJP won only 14 (10 were won by others). One of the primary reasons for such a good showing by the Congress was due to some very smart ticket distribution, an area where BJP failed miserably in the last elections barring the lone exception of Bangalore. Indeed, Bangalore was an oasis in an otherwise BJP’s urban drought of 2009, for some very smart choices had been made by the local leadership – for instance, putting up Prof. D.B. Chandregowda from Bangalore north was nothing short of a masterstroke.

The same BJP seems to be devoid of ideas this time around in Bangalore, as the names of P.C. Mohan (Bangalore central), C. Ashwathnarayana (Bangalore North), Muniraju (Bangalore rural) and Anantakumar (Bangalore South) are doing the rounds of informed circles. Do any of these inspire confidence? None! There is now a very distinct possibility of BJP drawing a blank from Bangalore this time around, for even old war horse Anantakumar is facing the toughest battle of his life in the form of Congress’s Nandan Nilekani, the former CEO of Infosys (the iconic brand of Bangalore). Why is BJP not thinking out of the box? For instance, since winnability should be the only criteria, why is Anil Kumble, the original icon of Bangalore not being persuaded to contest from Bangalore rather than Uttara Kannada as is being reported?

With Bangalore going into a spin, Delhi in the grips of an Aam Aadmi frenzy, Mumbai and cities of Maharashtra remaining largely divided and other tier 2 cities like Chandigarh showing absolutely no logic, BJP is well on its path to repeat its dismal performance of 2009 in urban India. Thus in the midst of an apparent Modi-wave, BJP is virtually writing itself off in large chunks of urban India! If it cannot get its act together in urban India, then what are the chances that the party will work any better in small town or rural India, where the elections are far more localized in nature? Probably Modi has answers.

voting pattern IndiaOur past studies of the last few elections have shown that voting patterns in India are essentially local in nature, although more localized in rural India than in urban India. Rarely, in star constituencies, like say, Amethi or Gandhinagar, voters may exercise their franchise overwhelmingly on a national issue of electing a future ruler, but otherwise most electoral contests are fought along local issues. This is what Modi is seeking to change, by converting each MP seat into a national election and a vote for Modi and BJP which partially explains his overtly national agenda in all his speeches, public rallies and pronouncements. By touring all over India and building almost an unprecedented clamor for a single political leader, Modi has possibly converted the 2014 contest to a virtually one horse race. This is reminiscent of the early 70s and 80s, when all that mattered in elections was Indira Gandhi, and local candidates could be virtually any non-entities. Here is a small story from the 1980s to elucidate Indira’s hold over remotest corners of India. C.M. Stephen, an orthodox Christian from Kerala and a permanent resident of Delhi had lost the New Delhi parliamentary seat to opposition stalwart, Atal Bihari Vajpayee narrowly, but since he was to be in the union cabinet owing to his unquestionable loyalty to Mrs. Gandhi, Mr. Stephen was asked to contest from the Godforsaken, utterly backward, Gulbarga constituency in a bye-election. A Maliyalee speaking Delhi resident contested from northern Karnataka and won a landslide victory with a margin of over 33%. The funniest part of this story was that the voters of Gulbarga and even local Congress leaders couldn’t even pronounce the name “Stephen” and he was referred to as “Tiffin” even in open speeches by Congress leaders during campaign! Thus Mr. “Tiffin” won a parliamentary election without as much as visiting the town of his conquest – that was the power of Indira.

Of course, 2014 is not 1980, and our voting populace is presumably more mature now. So there could be a danger of localized shenanigans hurting the overall performance of the BJP. For instance, in our recent survey of Karnataka we have seen that 3 out of every 10 voters who want Modi as the next PM of India are not even voting for the BJP. A somewhat similar pattern is emerging from our Jharkhand survey too, albeit a little less apparent. Usually, these anomalies get sorted out by the time of elections as things settle down, but poor candidate selection can have a very adverse impact on such a factorial index.

Converting an election into a virtual national referendum is a great tactic no doubt, but Modi must be weary of localized factors. There is somehow a strange reluctance on the part of the BJP and Narendra Modi to address local issues at this point of time; for instance, his unwillingness to take on either the DMK or ADMK and their shortcomings in the Chennai rally last weekend was almost mindboggling – Rahul Gandhi, the Congress party and even the “recounting minister”, P. Chidambaram are virtually absent in the TN political landscape, so attacking them cannot possibly win you any additional votes. It is quite possible that there is a “stage-2” in the Modi strategy when he will take the campaigning to a far more local level once candidates are announced and the real electioneering begins in earnest.

Close Margin seats BJPYet, the interregnum, between stage 1 and stage 2 is where many a battle is lost, for it is here that contestants are decided and party tickets are distributed – a process in which BJP has failed time and again. In fact, not only did BJP lose more close contests in 2009 as compared to 2004, but also the number of very close contests (less than 3%) that BJP lost in 2009 more than doubled when compared to 2004 – from 15 to 34. These are very significant numbers that are telling us a story of bad ticket distribution of a party that is yet to realize its full potential.

The real battle for Narendra Modi over the next month is not external, for no political party or opponent can defeat him in the present political scenario of India. The real battle is within. Can Modi ensure that winnability is the sole criteria on which party tickets are distributed? Or will he succumb to the same old malaise of the BJP giving tickets to the likes of Pandit ji as in 1999 Chandigarh and face low margin defeats? The answer to these questions are crucial for the 2014 India which has rediscovered hope in another four-lettered word – Modi!


Jharkhand Story Part One: The Preamble

In the summer of 2004, as I travelled all over northern India and happened to be in Hazaribagh at the peak of election campaign to be a witness to Lalu Prasad Yadav addressing an election rally, I was awestruck by the sheer anger against the central government and the amount of cheering from the crowd for an opposition leader. A consummate politician enthralling the voters with native wit woven in a fastidious political narrative is a sight to behold. Lalu is one of those rare politicians who can keep the crowd in rapt attention during his speeches and it is indeed an experience that shouldn’t be missed, for his connect with his audience is second to none. “All of you who will support RJD in the next Lok Sabha election stand on one leg and raise your right arm” proclaimed Lalu, suddenly, in the midst of his diatribe against the central NDA government led by BJP. Thousands in the crowd immediately followed his orders and stood on one leg even as a sea of hands went up in the air. Then Mr. Yadav, in his inimitable style, squealed in mock anger, “You Yadavs will always remain dumb, what was the necessity of standing on one leg? You could have simply raised your hand, I had no chance of noticing from the podium whether you are standing on one leg or two!”… And there was an uproarious laughter in the crowd even as half of them tried to re-stand on both their legs, while the other half was unsure whether they should!

This incident, although funny to an outside observer, gives us an idea of the amount of control Lalu Prasad has on the Yadav psyche in the Bihar region and the general Yadav affinity to hero worship a single political leader in the heartland. Incidentally, Lalu was able to defeat the then external affairs minister, Yashwant Sinha, in Hazaribagh by a huge 1 lakh vote margin in the 2004 election (CPI, an ally of RJD, won that seat). Jharkhand on the whole was a major disappointment for the BJP and NDA in 2004 as the Congress-JMM alliance swept the state by winning 10 MP seats while BJP was reduced to a solitary MP, despite getting the highest vote-share. That MP, Babulal Marandi, later left the BJP to form his own regional outfit and the party was in danger of being totally decimated in a state that Vajpayee had gifted to the long standing demand of a people who had seen scant progress even after decades of independent Indian rule.

 Jharkhand 2004 and 2009

In 2009, BJP lost a huge 6% vote-share as was feared after the exit of Marandi, but the party increased its MP seat haul by a whopping 800% to win 8 out of 14 seats. This difficult arithmetic was made possible by the Congress’s “go it alone” policy, which met with success only in UP and failed miserably elsewhere in the heartland; as a result both JMM and Congress lost 4% and 6% vote-shares respectively. What is clearly evident from the above chart is that BJP individually maintains a clear 12% lead over its nearest rival, but is not able to maintain a similar lead in terms of actual seats because of the index of opposition unity.

In the upcoming Lok Sabha election, the real threshold for any political party/alliance is to cross the 36% vote-share which would enable a literal sweep of Jharkhand. Since Congress-JMM have an alliance and going by the last two election cycles, it is theoretically possible that the 2004 result may be repeated (of BJP winning very few seats despite an individually higher vote-share). Practical electoral politics is a completely different ball game though, for there are two important factors that are going against the UPA;

  • A combination of massive anti-incumbency against both the corruption tainted central government and the non-performing state government
  • A reasonably powerful Modi-wave all across the heartland which is creating whole new social coalitions and enabling the united spectrum of Hindu vote

The second factor is clearly evident on the ground and is also proven in the recently concluded assembly elections in the neighboring states whereas the first factor is something that needs to be elucidated more clearly. Rahul Gandhi, the lone rival to Modi, is doing a roadshow today from the same Hazaribagh town where Lalu was able to create his magic just a decade ago. What is striking this time is the lack of enthusiasm among the people to even listen to the Gandhi scion. B.K. Harisprasad, the Congress general secretary in-charge of the state has been camping in Ranchi for the last two days marshalling all the resources at his command but is still unable to create a buzz. For instance, even the posters and banners weren’t posted on the roads as late as 24 hours before Rahul’s proposed arrival. Hundreds of youth Congress workers were fanning all over the colleges and schools to gather youth but were getting a less than enthusiastic response.

Consider this; Rahul Gandhi will be spending his morning at the Ashoka hotel conference room (Ranchi) interacting with tribal women who have been given special passes with seat numbers and at least 2 of them that I talked to were mighty uncomfortable about the whole exercise. Just goes on to show how distant Rahul and Congress are from the ground realities that they choose to “export tribal women” to a five-star hotel for a useless conference with the heir apparent (in the words of a local journalist). It is indeed a far cry from the Lalu Prasad Yadav of 2004 who was able to enthrall the crowd with his earthy wit to the hubris of a Rahul Gandhi of 2014 doing photo-ops with tribal women in five-star environs. In that difference between 2004 and 2014 is also the story of an India that I have witnessed firsthand, wherein a country no longer stands on a symbolic one leg at the command of a leader but wants to not only stand on both the legs but also wants to run like never before… towards an alternate destiny.

The chaiwala from Gujarat is the new euphemism for a hitherto backward India wanting to run, after getting tired of symbolisms of both the one-leg variety and the five-star kind. This tribal, mineral rich, eternally looted state of Jharkhand is possibly showing the way for India to rediscover herself even as anecdotal evidence from ground zero suggests a huge surge of support to Modi and his politics of change. To be sure, BJP hasn’t exactly shown itself to be any different in Jharkhand in terms of governance, but nothing can be as worse as the current government in the state.

A state in deep coma

To understand the apathy of the present Jharkhand government one must really visit the state, it is an experience that will bring tears to the eyes of the most stone-hearted bigot on earth! One wonders how Rahul Gandhi can even ask people to vote for his party in this state. Everything in the state has come to a virtual standstill, no government department is functioning, nothing is happening anywhere and all you see is the tired faces of people all around you. Let me try and elucidate the deep coma that the state has been pushed into with a very important example.

Just a couple of days ago the chief secretary took stock of all the departments and made a shocking announcement in a press conference that only 30% of the budgeted expenses for development works have been utilized in the last 10 months. Yes, a visibly upset R.S. Sharma, I.A.S, told the whole world that of the 16800 Cr annual budget allocated this year for various development works, only a paltry 5050 Cr were utilized till January 31st and there was now tremendous pressure to somehow utilize the remaining 70% of the funds in the next 2 months, before the fiscal comes to an end!

Budget allocation and utilizationAlthough most of the national media missed these shocking numbers (as usual), the people of the state are unlikely to forget this government for a long time to come. In fact, many people tell you that this is possibly the worst government the state has ever seen and not even the one headed by Madhu Koda showed such apathy for governance. As R.S. Sharma took different officers to task for their non-performance, he also knew that he is only addressing the symptoms of the disease, for the underlying pathology is a cancer of the political non-governance. Apparently no officer, right from the district collector to junior engineer, is safe in Jharkhand today, for he or she is not allowed to clear any files without paying a hefty fee to the political masters. The situation is so bad that many young junior level officials prefer to go on long leaves than to work for the government! No wonder that even allocated budget has remained unused to such huge proportions. What many local journalists are worried is that in the next two months most of the remaining budget would be swallowed by political corruption in a mad rush to meet the fiscal deadline.

Caste-Vote Matrix

Elections, especially in the heartland, aren’t as straight forward as the logical progression of electoral consequences for non-governance or corruption should be, for caste is a variable that cannot be ignored. In Jharkhand too, caste-vote matrix is of primary importance as a tool to analyze and understand elections. At the outset Jharkhand is a tribal state which is also the raison d’etre for the state’s formation, but scratch the surface and you will find all the colourful caste combinations that are part of the heartland politics – the Brahminical hauteur, the OBC mobilization, the Dalit imprudence, the Tribal dominance and the Muslim decadence.

Caste-Vote MatrixThe 39% of tribal voters are mainly composed of four main ethnic groups, of these Santhals constitute a 4th of all the tribals in the state with roughly 21 lakh votes which is why the Sorens enjoy so much of clout as they totally dominate the Santhal Paraganas. The other three important tribal groups are Oraon (11 lakh voters), Munda (9 lakh voters) and Ho (about 5 lakh voters). Apart from these dominant groups, there are scores of other tribes in Jharkhand with votes ranging from a few thousand (Bauri, Dom, Ghasi etc.) to a few lakhs (Bhuiya, Kol etc.). It is indeed a nightmare for a pollster to try and track all these communities so a broad spectrum of vote-weightage is used instead. Yadavs and Kurmis are the two dominant OBCs with roughly 16-18 lakh votes each, while the Telis constitute the third pole of the OBC vote with roughly 8-9 lakh votes. Among the upper castes, Brahmins have a lion’s share of vote-weightage with roughly 9-10 lakh votes. Unlike other parts of Hindi-heartland, the Muslim vote doesn’t matter much in the state which is also borne by the fact that Furkhan Ansari of the Congress party is the lone Muslim candidate to have won a parliamentary seat since the state was formed (he too lost narrowly in 2009).

One of the factors that has been responsible for BJP’s growth in central and north-central India has always been the Sangh-inspired outreach to the tribal populace which has given rich electoral dividends. Jharkhand is possibly the lone exception, for somehow BJP’s tribal strategy hasn’t taken off the way it has in the neighboring states of MP or Chhattisgarh. Congress’s ability to keep Santhal strongmen, the Sorens, politically relevant in the state for more than 2 decades has been tremendous. What has also helped the Sorens and the Congress is BJP’s mishap with Babulal Marandi – this is one of those unsavory aspects of Rajnath Singh’s leadership that will hurt the party for a long time to come, even if 2014 may push the issue below the carpet for the time being.

Our survey results should ideally tell us whether there is OBC consolidation in favor of Modi in Jharkhand too, especially, we should be able to examine the anecdotal evidence of Yadav’s moving towards BJP in a big way (for this we are trying to track specific polling booths in Chatra and Manika assembly segments of Chatra parliamentary seat using RSSI). The Kurmi vote also could be a crucial deciding factor in the 2014 election and the impact of Nitish Kumar’s split from BJP has to be analyzed. Similarly, our survey should also tell us if the Modi impact is limited only to OBCs and upper castes or whether the tribal voters are also looking towards the chaiwala from Gujarat with hope.

The geography

Chota-NagpurJharkhand is divided into Chota-Nagpur, Santhal Paraganas, Palamu and Singhbhum (Kolhan) divisions. The Chota-Nagpur division is by far the largest and also a traditional stronghold of the BJP – it consists of the entire Ranchi-Hazaribagh-Lohardaga-Dhanbad-Koderma belt and is home to more than 50% of the state’s MP seats numbering 8. The main contest in this region is between Congress and BJP while the other players queer the pitch. BJP had won 5 of these 8 seats in 2009, while Congress had won the lone seat of Ranchi (Subodhkant Sahay) and JMM had drawn a blank. BJP’s good showing was despite the division of votes due to the presence of Babulal Marandi’s JVM (Jharkhand Vikas Morcha) which had captured 5 lakh votes in the Chota-Nagpur region alone. In fact, Subodhkant Sahay won the Ranchi seat by a margin of just 13 thousand votes while JVM had accrued 31 thousand votes.

Santhal ParaganasIn the 3 seats of Santhal Paraganas, the contest is mainly between BJP and JMM, but Marnadi’s outfit and Congress usually play spoilsport here; for instance, JVM got close to 3 lakh votes in 2009 and yet couldn’t prevent BJP from winning two seats, even as Shibu Soren (JMM) managed to win his traditional stronghold of Dumka. All the seats here are multi-cornered fights, so the results can go any which way even with minor shifts in vote-shares. Congress may not contest any seat this time here, although Rahul Gandhi is supposed to be still keen on Godda. There is some talk of a silent seat-adjustment between BJP and JVM, but the situation is quite fluid yet.

The lone seat of Palamu and the two seats of Kolhan divsion – Jamshedpur and Singhbhum – make up the remaining 3 MPs. Of these, Singhbhum is currently held by former CM, Madhu Koda, as an independent, while Jamshedpur is interestingly poised as JVM had annexed the seat from the BJP in a bye-election due to another former CM, Arjun Munda, vacating the seat in 2011.

In Conclusion, the richest state of India which has seen near zero progress in the last 65 years has the potential of transforming India in the new century and is central to the vision of a Modi who wants to build a powerful economic platform from where India can take-off to new heights. The importance of winning Jharkhand could be more economic than political in nature, but the new messiah of heartland needs this state far more than most of the political pundits have understood.

[This is designed as a two part series, as Jharkhand is a state that many readers would be unaware of, in terms of the electoral and political landscape. Thus Part One is essentially introductory in nature, whilst part 2 would try and analyze the survey findings]


The 1996 warning to 2014 and the beginning of a new electoral cycle

On a bright sunny evening 18 years ago, on May 7th 1996, when the solitary state owned Doordarshan was the only operating TV channel for all news, a nationwide exit poll was aired for the first time with much panache. The Congress government at the centre was hugely unpopular due to humungous corruption scandals of the previous years and BJP was the rising star of the 90s when it had two straight elections of tremendous growth – from 2 to 85 to 120 in the span of less than a decade. It was widely expected that Congress would lose the 96 elections and that BJP was best placed to win. Confirming the nominal electoral wisdom, the exit poll of that evening projected a huge haul of 192 MP seats for the BJP.

The morning after the exit poll was aired on DD, there was a buzz in the Shakha grounds (of all the towns of India, presumably), as people talked in whispers and laughed out loudly every now and then. This was, after all, the culmination of a 70 year struggle when finally the Sangh would have its first PM. There was a strange sort of expectation in the air. Everybody was talking about two men, L.K. Advani and A.B. Vajpayee, the two saffron pillars of the BJP who had dared to take the party from a paltry 2 MPs to the door of Delhi sultanate in just a decade.

Counting of votes was a long laborious process in those ballot paper days when Doordarshan took long breaks to air movies in between counting sessions, for nothing happened for hours in the middle. Day 1 of counting was mostly limited to the southern and western parts of India along with Orissa in the east, since heartland (north India in general) would begin the counting process only on the second day. By the end of the first day’s counting, some of the enthusiasm among BJP circles had come down by a couple of notches as the party hadn’t made any breakthroughs and was only successful in Gujarat and to some extent in Maharashtra.

The biggest surprise of that day came from Karnataka, where the exit polls had predicted big gains for BJP at the expense of the Congress party, while the ruling party of the state had been given a royal miss by the pollsters who had projected just 1 MP seat for the JDS! Devegowda went on to win 16 seats in Karnataka and ended up being the surprise prime minister of India in the 11th Lok Sabha.

Ever since that ill-fated exit poll, there is an urban legend among Indian pollsters – that the BJP gets over-represented during poll surveys due to an urban bias and under-reporting of minorities and Dalits – a legend that was reinforced in 2004. BJP, eventually won 161 parliamentary seats in the 1996 elections and ended up as the number one party in a fractured Lok Sabha, but the secular politics of India is such that Janata Dal, a party with only 46 seats, was able to form the government after Vajpayee’s 13 day experiment ended in failure.

1996 Cong VoteCongress party was not only reduced to a historic low of just having 141 MPs (which was 10 less than even the post-emergency election of 1977), but also slipped to a vote-share of sub 30% levels from where it has never recovered. The important lesson of 1996 was that despite a historic low achieved by Congress, BJP, being the second pole of Indian politics, was not the automatic beneficiary of Congress’s secular decline. 1996 was also a momentous election in the sense that it was for the first time that elections went totally local and each state voted according to its own whims and fancies. Till the 1996 election, each Lok Sabha poll had an underlying theme on which the whole country came out to vote. For instance, if the 1971 election was about “garibi hatao”, then 1977 was about the JP movement and the anger against emergency. Similarly, 1984 was about Indira Gandhi’s assassination and the new hope of Rajiv, whereas 1989 was the anger of Bofors and virtually a punishment to Rajiv Gandhi. 1996 had no national narrative and each state voted in a mini general election of its own.

In the end analysis, BJP fell short by about 25-30 seats in 1996. In fact, it couldn’t manage to win just two states and thereby lost a historic opportunity to emerge as the alternate political flow of India. Yes, Vajpayee emerged victorious just two years later, but it was a victory built on a compromise known as NDA after realizing that BJP can grow no further and that the only path to rule Delhi was to become part of the fragmented polity of India by compromising with various regional players.

The two states that altered the course of history in 1996 were Karnataka and the then undivided Bihar. In Karnataka, Congress lost a whopping 12% vote-share, but BJP was not the gainer, instead BJP also lost 4% of the vote-share and it was Janata Dal that emerged the big gainer by unexpectedly winning 16 MP seats. BJP couldn’t make any gains in Mumbai-Karnataka region, which was one of the growth areas for the party following the Idgah-Maidan national flag hoisting andolan. The party just won a solitary seat in Mumbai-Karnataka and lost 5 others. Similarly in undivided Bihar, even the BJP’s partnership with the then fledgling Samata Party also couldn’t make any big dent in Lalu Prasad Yadav’s strongholds, for the BJP only managed to sweep the tribal belt of Chota-Nagpur and Santhal area where it won 13 of the 14 seats, but pretty much lost the rest of the state. In the entire Hindi-heartland BJP had won huge victories of 27 seats in an undivided Madhya Pradesh and 52 seats in an undivided Uttar Pradesh, but Bihar was the only sour note. In the end, those 25 seats of Bihar and the 16 seats of Karnataka powered the Janata Dal led United Front to create a disparate coalition of regional parties and prevented BJP from emerging as the national alternative.

Non-Cong non-BJP Vote-shareSince 1996, every election in India has always been a sum total of mini-state elections rather than have any overwhelming national narrative. National mandate is inversely proportional to the vote-share of “others” and it is clear that for a decisive national mandate, the vote-share of regional parties has to go below the 45% levels. In many ways, the 2009 election saw a break from the pattern of a regional mandate (but for BJP’s underperformance) when Congress emerged a surprise winner in states where it didn’t even exist, leading to wild editorials of how Rahul Gandhi had emerged as a youth icon and even wilder conspiracy theories of EVM manipulation.

NaMo = the united spectrum of Hindu Vote = 2014 national vote

1996 is a warning for BJP, when it lost a great opportunity. If the party doesn’t sort out its local issues and also doesn’t manage ticket distribution, then it may well be haunted by the ghosts of 1996. Another aspect that BJP and its prime-ministerial nominee should be wary of is taking certain caste groups for granted; for instance, there is some lateral movement in the Brahmin vote, as seen in Baghelkhand in the recently concluded assembly elections of MP and from the 5Forty3 survey in Karnataka. There are also some reports coming in from Uttar Pradesh suggestive of a Brahminical disenchantment with overt OBC political outreach of the BJP. Another tactical error was Modi’s lack of aggressive direct appeal to the Jats in his first outing in Western-UP at his rally in Meerut yesterday. This was a classic error of judgment on the part of Modi, for he seems to be variously limited by the Lutyens agenda of secular-communal hyperbole and is not grilling secular governments and their horrendous mishandling of one of the biggest communal riots of our time. Jats have decisively turned towards BJP, but this Meerut cold-shouldering has left a bitter after taste at least in West-UP. Today many of these groups have limited options before them, but a political party can take them for granted at its own peril.

If 1996 sounds an alarm bell, it also gives hope, for after 2 decades, finally the election pattern is likely to change. Today there is a definite shift away from the 1996 model of each state voting individually to a singularity of a national vote. Narendra Modi is the one leader who is at the forefront of this change, for he is the most popular leader all over India and his party seems to be gaining wildly in states where it hitherto had no base to talk of. In southern states like Tamil Nadu and Telangana, there is an unusual Modi wave and BJP is getting close to 20% vote-share numbers in a range of opinion poll surveys. In northern states, where BJP already had a base, the party is being buoyed by the Modi wave into a range of mid 30s vote share and above (UP & Haryana being prime examples). The one thumb-rule of Indian electoral system is this – at around 30% levels vote-shares get converted into big gains in terms of seats and at 40% levels, the parties start sweeping elections.

Once again Congress is in dire straits today with humungous corruption scams, a decrepit leadership and a general antipathy of its core constituencies. The third and fourth front alliances and their amorphous coalition with the Congress is the only real challenge for the BJP. 2014 elections present a historic opportunity for the BJP to alter the narrative from a regional parties framework to a national vote, for the BJP’s real battle now is not to win MP seats in the 180-220 bandwidth, but to cross the rubicon and hit the 250-270 range. Strangely, Karnataka and Bihar, the two states that stood between BJP and Dilli sultanate in 1996, are once again standing between an outright BJP victory and just another coalition government. Uttar Pradesh is a riddle that can go wrong only if the ticket distribution is completely messed up, which looks unlikely with Amit Shah at the helm.

One big difference between the BJP of 2014 and the BJP of 1996 is the larger selection frame of votes that Modi has at his disposal. The united spectrum of Hindu votes is the new national vote, for Modi has managed to stitch together disparate groups of Hindu voters starting from upper castes to middle castes to OBCs. The Sahus, Jats, Kurmis and even Yadavs of the heartland, the Lingayats, Reddys, Kapus and even Kurubas of south India are all finding common ground with the NaMo phenomenon along with the traditional upper-caste Brahmin-Bania-Thakur vote of the BJP in 2014. This unprecedented social coalition has the capacity to not only decimate regional/sub-regional caste-based political parties but also destroy the secularist edifice on which most political parties operate in India to cater to their fiefdoms.

Modi among SCOf all the parts of the Hindu vote, Dalits had the least incentive to join the NaMo wave, but now even the SC vote is possibly moving towards BJP in a big way. First came reports of some non-Jatavs in UP shifting to BJP, then there has been more evidence in the ground of even the Jatav vote experimenting with a Modi-led BJP. Unless Mayawati is seen as a clear PM contestant, the SC vote of UP can potentially put its weight behind the new messiah of backwards – Narendra Modi. In Karnataka too, a significant portion of the Dalit vote, especially of the left-wing and non-dominant sub castes is looking towards Modi with hope – for instance, our own survey of the state clearly showed that support for Modi was much higher at 48% among the numerically larger SC left-wing as compared to 30% among the right-wing SC voters.

Now once again taking the case of the 1996 election as an example, when 69% of the SCs voted against the Congress party, BJP got less than 15% of that vote. This is what Modi brings to the table in 2014 – his ability to bring in all the anti-Congress vote under one platform, barring the minorities. Of course all of this goodwill may yet evaporate if BJP doesn’t get its ticket distribution right. In Karnataka, for instance, why can’t the state unit be headed by a young left-SC leader, preferably from north Karnataka?

As the battle-lines for 2014 are drawn, it is increasingly becoming clear that this is the last fight of the forces of 1996 which captured India against the reemergence of a national vote. Will the Jayalalitas, the Nitish Kumars, the Mulayam Singh Yadavs, the Mayawatis and Lalu Prasads be able to stop the Modi juggernaut, with or without the support of the Congress? Will Modi redefine India’s national polity and give rise to a new electoral cycle? Fasten your seatbelts and get onboard 5Forty3 for an exciting journey to find answers to these questions and many more. On the road to May 2014, we will redefine the way elections are analyzed and understood in India – that is a promise.


Karnataka: The confusion of alter-narrative

“This is almost a government of Mysore state, we, the people of north Karnataka, have zero investment in this government” explains Madhav Rao, a retired school teacher and an eminent sociologist of Hubli, who is widely described as a ‘Kuruba by birth, a Kshatriya by vocation and a Brahmin by intellect’. “…Our vote for Congress was a reluctant one, because the previous governments (of BJP & JDS-BJP alliance) were too busy sorting their ego battles” Prof. Rao continues, “but this government has shown glorious inability to provide even basic decency of day-to-day governance in just 6 months”.

We are living in strange times, people’s expectations from their rulers are quite high and most political parties are yet to come to terms with these new realities. This governance gap has led to considerable shrinking of the “honeymoon period” that incumbent governments of a bygone era enjoyed for at least the first 2 years. The information overload created by deeper penetration of mobile phones and televisions has created a new “perennially angry class of voters with hyper-expectations” (as described brilliantly by an eminent Congress leader). Uttar Pradesh was probably one of the first states that scuttled the political honeymoon of the ruling government under one year after electing Akhilesh Yadav in early 2012. Karnataka is inching towards anti-incumbency at a much faster pace, but it is more pronounced in northern parts of the state than South because of Siddramaiah’s overt concentration on Old Mysore region.

Mallikarjun Kharge, the union railway minister and the tallest standing Dalit leader of Karnataka, was recently confronted by hundreds of Muslim youth in his home constituency of Gulbarga, asking him why development works of the state government (especially, road construction) had come to a standstill after the Congress government had come to power. He then famously made that statement of “oopar se Sherwani, undar se pareshani” to describe how the state Congress government is all gloss from outside but never listens to its leaders woes (from north Karnataka). This statement, more than anything else, describes the state of the Congress party and the government in the state.

A few months ago, opinion poll surveys conducted in the state, conventional political wisdom, anecdotal evidence, were all pointing towards a massive 20+ seat haul by the Congress party in Karnataka. Now things seem to be changing fast, and the return of B.S Yeddyurappa to the BJP fold has only added fuel to the fire of change. It is in this background that we set out to conduct our first major opinion poll survey spread across 26 districts and 25 parliamentary constituencies of Karnataka from the 11th of January to 22nd January. Our poll had a targeted sample size of 12000 respondents with adequate representation for all the different social groups/castes and we achieved an actual sample size of 9468.

This, possibly one of the largest sample surveys conducted in the state, was a mixed-mode survey wherein we not only conducted face-to-face interviews (55%) of the targeted respondents by visiting their homes but also conducted a telephone survey (45%). This was also a mixed-level survey, one of the first of its kind to be published in public domain, wherein survey was conducted not only to get an overall vote-share picture of the state but also to get the real picture of each individual MP seat as the target sample was not less than 400 in each individual parliamentary constituency. We also used two revolutionary new methodologies; RSSI and VWISM; to conduct this survey which we believe gives us near 100% accuracy in gauging voter preferences.

This is also the first time in India at least, if not the world over, that we are pioneering what we have termed as OSOP – Open Source Opinion Poll. Poll surveys in India are almost an occult craft as most of them employ black-box techniques which do not withstand any public scrutiny and are simply accepted on the basis of the “reputation” of the company. This ad-hoc approach to election analysis has created many armchair psephologists who give out seat projections at the drop of the hat, especially in the era of social media when even vote-shares are projected by Tweeple every day with terrifying confidence. In a market oversaturated with dubious pollsters, 5Forty3 has decided to restore the “Bharosa” in polling by creating an open source model wherein not only methodologies and techniques are put into the public domain, but also raw data is shared openly for the first time! (for a detailed OSOP Karnataka methodology and data, click here, OSOP )

Karnataka, a state of contradictions

The primary message that the Karnataka voter seems to be conveying is one of confusion, for her anger at the central government is palpably high, but her alternative in the state has also betrayed her. Karnataka has tremendous hope (like India on the whole) about Modi, but is not sure if she can trust his local guardians. The vote of last summer was of desperate frustration, make no mistake about it, and the unintended beneficiary of that vote was Congress, a party that the voter is still unsure of. The state government is already inching towards big anti-incumbency, due its non-governance.

Govt performanceOnly 51% of the voters give a positive rating for the state government, although Siddramaiah still is the number one choice to lead the state (a typical ruling CM bias). What is significant is that only 18% of the voters think of this government as “good”, while a major chunk of 33% voters think it is just about “ok”. Usually a pro-incumbency mood in a state sets in when the rating of a state government is in the 60’s; for instance, in Madhya Pradesh, last November, 74% of the voters had a positive rating for the government and Shivraj Singh Chouhan won a massive mandate, whereas in Rajasthan the voter rating for the state government was in the mid-50s and the ruling party suffered a colossal defeat.

CM choiceWhen asked to compare, voters still give the present government a slightly higher rating than the previous BJP government, as 42% of the voters prefer the present government over the previous government, while 37% feel the previous government was better.

BSY returnB.S Yeddyurappa is still the second most popular leader in the state and is way ahead of the rest of the pack. His popularity is much higher in Mumbai Karnataka and coastal regions than in the southern parts of the state. There is a significant section of the people (27%) who believe BJP shouldn’t have taken back the former CM into the party fold, but almost 68% of BJP voters believe it was the right decision to re-induct BSY into the party fold. What is even more significant is that 74% of the Lingayat voters are happy that BSY is back in the BJP. Even more SC voters seem to be positive about the development than negative (good – 24%, bad – 21%, neutral – 14% & don’t know – 14%). Thus Yeddyurappa’s return may be beneficial to the BJP as its core-voters seem to have reacted positively.

Issues KarInflation and gainful Employment are the two big issues that the mature Karnataka voters are picking as their problem areas. Here, significantly, 37% voters feel BJP is best suited to provide jobs, while only 25% vote for Congress on this. Similarly 34% voters think BJP is best suited to handle inflation, while 30% think Congress is adept at it. A whopping 59% hold central government responsible for inflation. On the corruption issue, both BJP and Congress are seen to be equally corrupt at 35% and 33% respectively (the recent induction of tainted ministers in the Siddramaiah cabinet has not gone down well among the voters).

UPA performanceAll of this state-level information may not be of much use to us in determining the upcoming elections as what matters is the national government. The Karnataka voter has always had the maturity to distinguish between the state election and the national election, so the one statistic that matters is this – a whopping 74% of the voters in the state have a negative perception of the Congress led central government. What is even more stunning is that 40% of the voters believe this is the worst government in living memory and only a paltry 9% of the voters think the UPA government can be termed as “good”. Such levels of anti-incumbency against the central government are unheard of in the southern states since independence – even in the post-emergency JP election of 1977, such a mood wasn’t seen in the state. Yet, despite such an overwhelming antagonism for the central government, the voter is not punishing the Congress as vehemently as one would have expected, and thereby lies the sorry tale of the main opposition party, the BJP, in the state.

Region 1: North-Central Karnataka – The Lingayat Heartland

The five districts of Hyderabad-Karnataka, 3 districts of Central-Karnataka and five districts of Mumbai-Karnataka make up this region of North-Central Karnataka. The 2009 super-show of BJP in Karnataka (the state that gave the largest chunk of saffron MPs) was powered by this region as the party had won a whopping 11 of the 13 MP seats on offer in this region. BJP had literally swept Mumbai-Karnataka and Central-Karnataka sub-divisions by winning every parliamentary constituency. It is no coincidence that BJP’s biggest rise came from this region which also happens to be the Lingayat heartland. Since the last year, Congress is on a revival path here.

North-Central KarnatakasThe fact that BJP is now neck and neck with Congress in this region is testimony to the party’s recovery after the humiliating defeat of just 8 months ago. Yet, since this is the region where BJP has to win most of the LS seats, the current recovery is not enough, especially considering the huge popularity that Modi enjoys in this region. It is the same old story of local-level failures tying down the party in an otherwise favorable atmosphere. Congress, on the other hand would also be worried, for its overt concentration of power in the hands of CM Siddramaiah is not going down well with many powerful north-Karnataka leaders of the party. There is a strong Lingayat lobby within the Congress party which is getting increasingly restless and is not averse to teaching the party leadership a lesson or two in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls. As always, JDS is getting wiped out of the electoral landscape in the national elections.

PM North Kar

  • Congress party seems to be off its peak in this region of the state and is now sliding with each passing week, unless it takes drastic steps the party may have a surprisingly poor show here
  • Apart from union railway minister, Mallikarjun Kharge, in Gulbarga (where he is leading by a huge margin), none of the other seats in this region can be termed as safe seats for the Congress which had a good showing in the assembly elections just a few months ago; for instance, even former CM, Dharam Singh, seems to be suffering from huge anti-incumbency in Bidar
  • Sriramulu, the former health minister, still has reasonable influence in at least 3 parliamentary seats – Bellary, Raichur and to some extent Haveri – and he may be the crucial differentiating factor between victory and defeat in these LS seats
  • The worrying signs for the BJP are in the form of voter’s antipathy towards sitting MPs who are facing a great deal of anti-incumbency and need to be replaced wholesale (even in the safe seats of Belgaum, Dharwad etc.)
  • BJP needs to woo back large sections of SC (left wing) voters in this region who had abandoned the party in the assembly elections, but have otherwise been with the party for more than a decade now
  • AAP has zero influence in Hyderabad-Karnataka or Central-Karnataka, but voices in favor of the new party where heard in parts of Mumbai-Karnataka, especially in the big cities of the region like Hubli, for ex, where BJP sitting MPs have become very unpopular
  • Even state unit president, Prahlad Joshi is facing an uphill task

South Karnataka – Cosmopolitan Vokkaliga territory

This is the combination of BKT region and Old Mysore region wherein Gowdas have reasonable influence as a dominant caste. There are 11 seats in this region and Bangalore itself is home to 4 parliamentary seats; of these 11 seats, Congress and BJP had won 4 seats each, while JDS had won 3, thus showing a 3-way split. This time, in the old-Mysore region, the contest is directly between Congress and JDS with BJP virtually absent. BJP’s presence is almost totally limited to Bangalore and Tumkur as of now.

South KarnatakasOur projected vote-share of the region suggests a big gap of 7% between Congress and BJP, although it is much lower when only BKT region is taken into consideration. This is a very important region for the Congress party as it has all its power concentrated in this region and anything less than a sweep would be hugely counterproductive for the party – the CM and most of his top cabinet colleagues along with the state unit president belong to this region, apart from two powerful union ministers of the state (Veerappa Moily and K.H. Muniyappa). Even the other power centre of the state Congress, former external affairs minister, S.M. Krishna, belongs to this region. It was also in this region that Congress won the two by-elections late last year for two prestigious MP seats which had been JDS strongholds in the recent past. There are also strong rumours that Rahul Gandhi would be contesting from this region as a safe bet in the wake of a difficult time in Uttar Pradesh.

PM South Kar

  • JDS seems to be in a big decline in this erstwhile stronghold and Devegowda also has lost a great deal of his charisma and is a distant third in the popularity ratings for the PM race.
  • The 2014 election could well decide the future of the JDS as a party, for it may even be reduced to a solitary parliamentary seat this time around (that of family stronghold, Hassan)
  • In the three urban seats of Bangalore, BJP still has a great deal of popularity due to its prime-ministerial candidate and has a decent chance of repeating the 2009 showing
  • Surprisingly, BJP has a decent lead in Bangalore south, which goes contrary to conventional wisdom of the social media; more than 60% of the respondents of this constituency haven’t heard of Nandan Nilekani and Anant Kumar is still a well-known face.
  • Apart from Bangalore, Tumkur is one seat where BJP still has an edge over others, but everything depends on how BSY manages this seat (there are rumours that he may himself contest from this seat, which could make this  a one-sided contest as a big 61% of the respondents were in favor of this)
  • Apart from Bangalore, Tumkur and Hassan, it is virtually a one-horse race in the other 6 LS seats where Congress has a big lead although K.H. Muniyappa seems to be suffering some pockets of resistance, but has no credible opposition leader to challenge him
  • In Mandya, the starlet Ramya, seems to be enjoying huge popularity and may win by an even bigger margin in the 2014 election
  • AAP has limited presence in Bangalore and may only become a spoiler only if strong candidates get tickets from the party

Coastal Karnataka – The ideological battlefield

Coastal KarnatakasThe 5 districts of Coastal Karnataka are currently in the midst of a Modi wave and BJP, which had won all the 4 parliamentary seats in this region, may well repeat the 2009 performance. The return of Yeddyurappa has also made things relatively easier for the BJP. Congress, which had a historic opportunity to put down BJP in this region after an unexpected windfall gain in last year’s assembly elections seems to have squandered that opportunity. Coastal-Karnataka is the original BJP bastion where the party had first found its foothold during the RJB movement; in fact, the Sangh has been a force here from an even earlier period of the Jan Sangh days. This is one area that is similar to other BJP strongholds like Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh where a strong BJP ecosystem exists.

PM Coastal Kar


  • The contest here is directly between Congress and BJP, which is also essentially a contest of Hindus v/s minorities for all practical purposes
  • As we have seen in the last few weeks, in any direct contest between Congress and BJP, the former has a huge disadvantage (MP, Rajasthan etc. where Congress was decimated) and the later almost always emerges victorious – this is what is likely to happen in coastal Karnataka too
  • Congress doesn’t even have a credible candidate in at least 2 of the 4 LS seats to take on the BJP juggernaut, so much so that BJP might get a virtual walkover in Shimoga where Yeddyurappa or his son may contest
  • Mangalore is literally divided into two halves of Hindus and non-Hindus, almost reminiscent of Uttar Pradesh like polarization along religious lines, which will hurt the Congress party
  • The backward caste voters of this region are flocking towards BJP in a big way
  • JDS is once again just a namesake player here and AAP is non-existent

The PM contest and NaMo’s popularity

Modi Popularity casteNarendra Modi’s popularity in the state is unprecedented. Not even powerful state leaders of the past have had such high ratings; for instance, even when Veerendra Patil won a massive mandate in 1989, his popularity in the state was in the range of 43% to 49% at its peak as per polls of that era. Today, Narendra Modi’s popularity in the state is at about 55%, which is unprecedented to say the least. Among the largest caste of the state, the Lingayats, Modi is the only non-Lingayat (apart from Ramakrishna Hegde) who has enjoyed popularity rating of 70% and above. What is surprising is that even among Kurubas, a caste to which Siddramaiah belongs, Modi is the number one choice to lead India after 2014. The only community where Modi’s popularity is abysmally low is among Muslims.

In Karnataka too, the Modi vote is the broad spectrum of Hindu vote just like his heartland experiment. Here, the Lingayats have replaced the OBCs as the core of that united Hindu vote, which has now been augmented with the arrival of B.S. Yeddyurappa, the tallest Lingayat leader in the state. Another feature of the popularity of the Modi Vote is his huge credibility in tier-2 cities and small towns; for instance, Modi maintains a big 15% lead over his nearest rival in a whopping 24 district headquarters of the 26 surveyed (barring Mandya and Gulbarga).

Almost 87% of the voters recognize/recall Modi which is a very high number, considering that less than 70% of the Kannadiga people recognized either Manmohan Singh or L.K. Advani in the run-up to the 2009 LS elections as per two different opinion polls of that time. A few respondents in the interiors of the state do recall Modi, but are not sure which party he belongs to, which is a problem that BJP has to address as soon as possible. Here is a funny statistic; about 3% of the rural Muslim respondents (especially women), believe Modi is a Muslim, because they have possibly heard that name in some religious context! (Is it possible that Modi, the name, has secular connotations to it?)

Despite such huge popularity ratings of its prime-ministerial candidate, BJP is still the second choice of the voters in the state, and that is a story in itself. It is amazing that 3 out of 10 voters who want Modi as the next PM of India are not voting for the BJP! The BJP’s woes at the local level are far too many and Modi’s popularity alone cannot sweep all of them under the carpet. For instance, the party cadre are absolutely distraught that the party is not making an issue of the blatantly communal agenda of the Congress government in the state, this anger of the cadre against the leadership is seen to be believed in Northern Karnataka. Modi himself had a great opportunity to raise the issue of the blatantly communal Shadi Bhagya in his Bangalore speech recently, but he simply chose to ignore that (his Karnataka advisors must be held answerable for this major gaffe).

One way to tackle the local problems of the BJP is to not give tickets to at least 60% (if not more) of the sitting MPs of the party and giving some tickets to newcomers and professionals, at least in bigger cities and more urbanized constituencies. Will BJP leadership show the courage to implement the Yeddyurappa plan (of wholesale ticket rejection)? Or will the Delhi-clique be able to wield its power and retain old-timers as contestants? The answer to these two questions will also be the answer to how many seats the party will win in the state.

For the Congress party, the less it involves the central leadership, the better would be the result. It is indeed a challenge for the Congress to convert a national election into a local one, just like it was an insurmountable challenge for the BJP to convert an essentially local election into a national one in May 2013. The one big issue that Congress leadership has to solve is to create checks and balances against Sidhramaiah’s power which has reduced all other Congress leaders to irrelevance (especially in North Karnataka). A weakened high command has created many orphans among Congress leaders who are feeling utter helplessness in a state that is being controlled by CM’s cronies.

A note on undecided voters

Undecided Voters & SwingSince May 2013, there has been a 11% +ve swing in favour of the BJP, which has mostly come from the fragmented vote of “others” who have ceased to exist after the assembly elections (KJP has merged with the parent party). This is also a typical national election imbalance wherein the two national parties get the maximum vote and the other smaller parties tend to underperform. What is significant is that Congress is also losing a bit of its vote-share even in the honeymoon period, which underlines the antagonism for the Congress party in the national elections and the lackluster performance of the state government.

There are an unusually large 10% undecided voters in the state which tells us that people are still assessing the ground situation and any party that makes the right moves in terms of good candidate selection may walk away with the advantage. Here, BJP enjoys a fair bit of advantage due to the popularity of its PM candidate, for almost 42% of the fence-sitter, undecided voters prefer Modi as their PM choice, while less than 9% of the same voters have Rahul Gandhi as their choice (about 30% of the undecided voters are also unsure about the PM candidate). BJP has to take advantage of this momentum that is with the party, whereas Congress has an uphill task of arresting its decline.

Seat Projections

Most poll surveys get their vote-shares right, but make huge errors in seat conversions because of the inherently complex arithmetic involved in deciding the Indian elections. Since this is a mixed level poll survey, wherein each MP constituency has been surveyed individually with a target sample of 400+ and a sample size of not less than 300 (for each constituency), the seat projections are based on a much more robust deeper level survey and not just by converting vote-shares.

Seat-shareOf these 28 LS seats, 9 are in the vulnerable category – 3 in the “close contest range” and 6 in the “very close contest range”. Of the 9 vulnerable LS seats, Congress is ahead in 5, BJP in 3 and JDS in 1. Since the fence sitters decide who will win these 9 vulnerable seats, we can term the ranges as follows – Congress (9 to 18), BJP (9 to 18) and JDS (1 to 4). Thus both BJP and Congress are unlikely to win less than 9 seats and more than 18 seats, unless there is a major shift of votes from one party to the other, apart from the undecided voters. Once again, it is clear that the momentum is with the opposition BJP as the Congress party, which was ahead in more than 20 seats just a few months ago is declining with each passing week.

Typically, the next survey in the state, much closer to polls and with candidates decided, would give us a clear picture of what would be the final Karnataka takeaway. A second poll survey would also give us the swing from January to Election Day and all the other resultant changes.

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For our detailed OSOP – Open Source Opinion Poll of Karnataka, please click here, OSOP