Retributions | On Modi the Prime Minister

Narendra Modi is handicapped by BJP’s geographical reach. Don’t fall for the hype

(This a guest post from a friend who wishes to remain anonymous. Lightly edited for clarity)

If the Delhi-based media and the popular commentary are to be believed, Narendra Modi is the frontrunner for the Delhi crown by a fair distance. Even his opponents appear to be in a state of panic with columns across multiple newspapers lamenting how his inexorable rise threatens the ‘idea of India.’ But beyond the media hype and the promise of a glitzy campaign, is that really true?

Let us look at some facts from the 2009 general elections in which the Congress scored a comprehensive victory. Why 2009?: Because it is the only general election held after the fresh delimitation of Lok Sabha constituencies. In 2009, Congress contested 440 seats on its own, and on 350 seats, the party either won or stood second. In contrast, BJP contested on 433 seats, and was either first or second only on 226 seats. This sharp difference— 350 seats for the Congress and 226 for the BJP – is a fair assessment of the seats on which the respective party was a serious contender. In other words, the BJP would be nearly 50 short of a majority even if it won every single seat it was a serious contender in 2009 on. Even if you extend it to the seats on which the party saved its deposit, the BJP will still fall short by 10 seats. It saved its deposit only on 263 seats compared to 366 for the Congress party. Therefore, the argument that BJP can achieve a near majority on its own is fallacious. Even to win 180 seats–considered by many to be minimum number required for Narendra Modi to become the prime minister–would be a tough task.

It is also important to consider how really unequal the battle between the two parties is. For instance, rather than looking at the gross percentage votes won on 545 seats, let us look at the effective percentage votes won on the seats actually contested by the party. The vote percentage of Congress on the 440 seats it contested in 2009 was 35.8 percent. In the case of the BJP, it was 23.4 percent on 433 seats. That is an effective difference of nearly 12 percentage points—a substantial advantage in a multi-polar polity like India. Not only is the BJP not a serious contender on enough seats, it is substantially less popular on the seats it contests.

Or consider this. In 2009, the BJP was a in direct contest with the Congress party only on 140 seats. In other words, only on 140 seats were both winners and runners up either from the Congress or BJP. (Congress won 74 of these seats.) Only in 140 out of 350 seats (where Congress was either first or second) was thus BJP a direct challenge for the Congress. In the balance 210 seats, the main opponent of the Congress was a party other than the BJP.

If the argument is that2009 was an exceptional election, let’s look at it differently. As this Tehelka report showed,  even if a ‘Best of BJP’ tally is created by totaling the party’s best ever performances in individual states since 1984, it adds up to only 251 seats. To achieve 251 seats, BJP won 18 seats in Karnataka (2009), 5 seats in Tamil Nadu (1999), 9 in Odisha (1999), 7 in Andhra Pradesh (1999), 52 seats in Uttar Pradesh (1998) and 12 in Jharkhand (1998). Is it remotely possible that these numbers would be replicated in 2014?

If anything, the situation has only worsened for the BJP since 2009 (map) in terms its of reach as well as alliances.  The anointment of Narendra Modi is shrinking the party geographically, socially and politically. Mr Modi’s ascension means that minorities can’t even consider BJP as an alternative and in fact would vote strategically to defeat the party in states like UP and Bihar.  Geographically, the party is conspicuous in North-eastern, Eastern and Southern parts of the country only by its absence. Because of the substantial negative baggage associated with Modi, no party in these parts of the country wants to ally with the BJP and suffer grievous electoral consequences. No amount of propaganda, demagoguery, and social media outreach can overcome hard socio-political realities of India.

Attempts are being made to sell a political narrative which doesn’t match the facts on ground. It aims to portray that the Congress Party is in deep political trouble heading into the general election, and the BJP is on an upswing. Here is what has actually happened. Since 2012, Congress and BJP have contested five assembly elections where they were the two principal contesting parties — Karnataka, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Goa. Congress won three of these five states, including Karnataka. Karnataka, lest you forget, was the largest source of BJP’s Lok Sabha seats in the 2009 election. In fact, the Congress Party today is in government in 14 states. This is the largest number of states governed by it since 2006, and only one fewer than the most states it has governed at a single time in more than twenty years.

Despite the charges of corruption and bad governance, it is still advantage Congress in 2014. It will certainly not repeat its performance of 2009 but even 140 odd seats are enough to ensure the formation of UPA-3 at the Centre. Rather than resurrecting the BJP, the virtual anointment of Narendra Modi as BJP’s prime ministerial candidate has only made the Congress’ task easier.

DISCLAIMER: This is an archived post from the Indian National Interest blogroll. Views expressed are those of the blogger's and do not represent The Takshashila Institution’s view.