It is a widely accepted fact that the Bharatiya Janata Party’s fate in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections rests largely on its performance in the Hindi heartland.
In a recent article, we had reported the results of a prediction exercise regarding the outcomes of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in Uttar Pradesh – the most populous Hindi heartland state. Our results showed that if voting trends in the recent past are good predictors of current voting patterns, then the BJP could lose 40 seats in Uttar Pradesh. In this article, we extend our analysis to five more Hindi heartland states.
While we would have liked to carry out the prediction exercise for all the ten Hindi heartland states – Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh – limitations of data prevent us from doing so. Our prediction exercise is based on extrapolating voting trends observed in the recent past.
Only six of the ten Hindi heartland states have had assembly elections in the past two years: Chhattisgarh (2018), Himachal Pradesh (2017), Madhya Pradesh (2018), Rajasthan (2018), Uttarakhand (2017) and Uttar Pradesh (2017). The other four states had assembly elections in 2014 or 2015. We do not feel confident of using trends on voting from so far back in the past.
The six states we looked at are immensely important for the BJP. Together, they account for 154 seats in the Lower House: Uttar Pradesh (80), Madhya Pradesh (29), Rajasthan (25), Chhattisgarh (11), Uttarakhand (5) and Himachal Pradesh (4). In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, BJP won 142 of the 154 seats from these states. Thus, these six states gave BJP exactly half of its total seat tally of 283.
How will BJP perform in these states in the ongoing elections to the Lok Sabha? To answer this question, we have used the same methodology that was the basis of our results in the previous article.
Our method starts by identifying all the assembly constituencies in a parliamentary constituency. Then we add up the votes for each of the major parties in the assembly constituencies that make up a parliamentary constituency. We do the same to get the total number of votes cast in a parliamentary constituency. Dividing the former by the latter gives us the vote share of each party at the parliamentary constituency level. We then use this number to predict the vote share for each party at the parliamentary constituency level in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. Finally, we choose the party or alliance with the largest vote share as the winner of the seat.
The results of our prediction exercise for the six Hindi heartland states are summarised in Table 1, and Figure 1 and 2. In each of these states, the BJP will lose vote share. The smallest loss in terms of vote share will be seen in Uttar Pradesh (2.8%), followed by 5.25% in Himachal Pradesh, 8.79% in Himachal Pradesh, 13% in Madhya Pradesh, and about 16% each in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. While the loss of vote share is important, its conversion in terms of loss of seats is more important.
The loss in terms of seats is much more dramatic. If voting patterns in the recent past are good predictors of current voting trends, then BJP could face a deficit of 75 parliamentary seats in these six states alone vis-à-vis its performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. It will lose the most in Uttar Pradesh – a total of about 44 seats. But it will lose significantly in terms of seats in three other states: 12 seats in Rajasthan, 10 seats in Madhya Pradesh and 9 seats in Chhattisgarh. It is only in the two smaller states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand that the BJP will manage to retain its tally of seats.
Although BJP lost only three percentage point vote share in UP, the loss of seats is disproportionally high. The reason is the mahagathbandhan or grand alliance comprising of the Bahujan Samaj Party, Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Lok Dal. This alliance is likely to consolidate votes and put the BJP on the back foot. In other states, the contest between the BJP and Congress is almost bi-polar, and other parties do not figure prominently. Thus, in states other than UP, the loss of seats of the BJP can be entirely attributed to the loss of vote share.
Can our prediction go wrong? State-level voting patterns for assembly elections may not be repeated in the all-India Lok Sabha election, where the BJP, a national party, could gain more traction. The larger-than-life image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi still has purchase among the masses. And last but not the least, the BJP has more financial resources than its rivals.
While these points are important, in the specific context of the six Hindi heartland states that we have looked at, they might not have lot of salience. This is because, in all states other than UP, the fight is between the Congress and BJP, both of which are national parties. Hence neither can be ignored as a regional player.
In UP, on the other hand, the formation of the mahagathbandhan has created the possibility of nullifying the BJP’s advantage as a national party. The ongoing agrarian crisis, the negative shock of demonetisation and the Goods and Services Tax, and lacklustre growth of employment opportunities have hardly been dealt with. If, as seems likely, these were the factors that prompted BJP’s poor electoral showing in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh four months ago, then they may have an impact on the Lok Sabha election results too.
How this debacle in the six Hindi heartland states will impact BJP’s overall performance depends, of course, on how it does in the other states (that we have not included in our analysis). But it is extremely doubtful that the BJP will be able to recoup, from other states, any significant part of this deficit of 75 parliamentary seats.
Deepankar Basu is associate professor in the Department of Economics, University of Massachusetts Amherst. Debarshi Das is associate professor in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati.