Why the Modi Wave Has Not Drowned the BJP's Opponents

While BJP may have swept the elections, data shows that the vote-share of other parties have actually increased since 2014.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L), Harish Rawat (Top), Akhilesh Yadav (Middle) and Mayawati (Bottom)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L), Harish Rawat (Top), Akhilesh Yadav (Middle) and Mayawati (Bottom)

While much is being read into the results of the assembly elections in the five states, a look at the sheer number of votes polled shows a pattern where some of the performance of parties like the BSP, SP, AAP and even the Congress, was not as disappointing as far as their appeal among their supporters went. In fact all these parties significantly improved on the votes they have polled in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

Improving numbers

The Aam Aadmi Party, which came second in Punjab in terms of seats – despite being deemed an outright favourite in an opinion poll early in 2016 – actually got 2,89,603 votes more than it did in the state in 2014, when it surprised everyone by winning four of the 13 Lok Sabha seats. And while this was a different election, fought on different issues and meant to elect a different kind of government, the party, whose obituary has been written by various political pundits and analysts, is certainly nowhere near dead, if the sheer number of supporters is anything to go by.

The same holds true for the Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh. Some have written that Mayawati’s party has lost its winning touch. But what they are forgetting is that this party has not only polled 22% votes in the state, it has also polled over 32 lakh more votes in the state this time. What should not be forgotten is that BJP is riding a Modi wave, like it did in 2014. But as former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah recently tweeted – drawing a great deal of flak – the need is to start planning for 2024. What went unsaid was that Modi will not be there for BJP always, and parties like the BSP and AAP, which should stand their ground in the interim, still have a future before them.

The Modi wave also seems to have undone all the efforts of Uttarakhand chief minister Harish Rawat to retain his seat against the tide. While BJP ended up sweeping the state, winning 56 seats in a 70-seat assembly (with the result of one seat yet to be declared due to a re-poll), the data revealed that the Congress under Rawat had improved its position in the state. The party polled 1,71,224 votes more than it did in 2014. Rawat, in-fact, had become the chief minister only on January 2015 after the party had replaced Vijay Bahuguna over allegations of inefficient administration and corruption.

For Rawat, even this should be a major victory as he almost single-handedly tried to negate the impact of the Modi wave, which in the final analysis, proved too much for him in the absence of strong support from the central leadership.

Polarisation of voters

For the BJP, retaining its voters in Uttar Pradesh was crucial. The party had swept the state in 2014, winning 71 of the 80 seats with its ally, the Apna Dal, bagging two, and it was essential for it to see that the Modi magic continued. A look at the actual votes polled shows that while 312 seats of the 403, won by the BJP – with another 13 from its allies – is being seen as historic, what the party succeeded at was to hold on to a majority of those voters who had voted in the name of Modi in 2014.

In real terms, the BJP polled a little over 3.44 crore votes in the assembly elections which was actually just 84,185 votes more than what the party had got in the state in 2014. So, in the final analysis, it is clear that rather than a large number of new voters joining the BJP in the state, the main effect of Modi campaigning extensively – and also the vitriolic campaign around kabristan-shamshan issue – had almost the exact impact as the party had managed in 2014 when the Muzaffarnagar riots had left the state highly polarised.

That the BJP managed to retain a large number of votes in Uttar Pradesh also meant that the Samajwadi Party under Akhilesh Yadav was not able to put up the kind of fight that it was expected to, considering that it had won 224 seats in 2012. And like Rawat, Yadav was campaigning around his own ‘clean image’ and ‘good performance’. Though the SP managed to get 9.34 lakh more votes in comparison to 2014 – despite leaving 98 seats for its ally, the Congress – the surge in favour of the BJP proved to be too much for it.

Forming governments

While the governments in Punjab, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh will be formed through the front door with a clear verdict in each, in Goa and Manipur, which had hung verdicts, the governments are being formed with the help of smaller parties and independents.

In Goa, while the BJP is mustering up a majority with Manohar Parikkar at the helm, on the ground it had a higher vote-share of 32.5% as against 28.4% of the Congress. The fact remains that of the five states, it is here that the saffron party has witnessed its worst decline in actual popularity with those voting for it actually dropping by nearly 1.40 lakh. In the same period, Congress votes in the state have actually increased by 38,992.

Similarly, the BJP has been reasoning that in Manipur the three-time Congress chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh had no business seeking a return to power as people have voted against his government. Consequently, Congress’s tally, at 28, in the 60-member assembly has dropped below the half way mark. While by that yardstick and logic, the BJP should have desisted from forming a government in Goa, what is also interesting to note is that in Manipur, the Congress has managed to largely hold on to its own despite a marked increase in BJP’s vote share from 11.98% in 2014 to 36.3% this year. Its own votes only declined by 7,003 in the entire state but still it has lost power.

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