Opinion Op Ed 23 Dec 2019 BJP support base is ...

BJP support base is still strong, despite setbacks

COLUMNIST | SANJAY KUMAR AND NEEL MADHAV
Published Dec 23, 2019, 3:16 am IST
Updated Dec 23, 2019, 3:16 am IST
The BJP doesn’t seem to enjoy the same relations with many of its alliance partners as it used to be in the past.
 The BJP doesn’t seem to enjoy the same relations with many of its alliance partners as it used to be in the past.

A few weeks ago, the social media space was filled with two political maps of India depicting the states where the BJP was in power. The social and electronic media space was, however, flooded with the narrative of the BJP’s losing ground across the country. The map depicted the states where the BJP was the ruling party a year ago and how the geographical space of BJP rule had shrunk in a year. Based on those maps, many believe that the BJP was on the decline, and some went a little ahead in their analysis. But a careful look at the BJP’s electoral performance in the past one year suggests a slightly different picture — while the BJP has lost power in some big states in the past one year, it doesn’t suggest a steep and systematic decline in the saffron party’s support base.

The BJP lost power in many big states in the past year. The BJP, either alone or in alliance with other parties, was in power in 17 states. Now the BJP has a government on its own only in Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura, while it is part of the ruling coalition in nine other states. The BJP has also accepted the role of being a junior partner of the coalition government in many Northeastern states, like Meghalaya where it is a partner of the NPP, in Mizoram in alliance with the MNF, in Nagaland in alliance with the NPPP and in Sikkim in alliance with the SDF. In Bihar, the alliance is led by the JD(U). The BJP doesn’t seem to enjoy the same relations with many of its alliance partners as it used to be in the past. Some regional parties which were the BJP’s allies till recently have left the NDA; the Shiv Sena, its oldest ally, being the most recent example. The BJP is also fighting the Jharkhand Assembly polls alone as its alliance partners were unwilling to be part of its coalition in that state. Even in the recent Assembly elections in Haryana, in order to form the government, the BJP had to form an alliance with the JJP, a party which attacked the BJP very aggressively during the entire period of the campaign. The recent misadventure in Maharashtra, when it tried to form the government in alliance with the Nationalist Congress Party’s Ajit Pawar, and the BJP’s forming the government with the PDP in J&K earlier does indicate it needs to cross ideological boundaries for power.

Earlier, the Telugu Desam Party pulled out of the alliance in Andhra and the BJP broke the alliance with the PDP in J&K, while the results of the Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan elections came as a blow to the BJP. Chhattisgarh elected a Congress government for the first time after its formation, Madhya Pradesh saw a change of party in power after over 15 years and Rajasthan voted for Ashok Gehlot as chief minister again after a five-year gap.

After all this, the political map of India is bound to look different from what it was last year. But this mere pictorial visualisation doesn’t mean that the BJP is on a steep decline. True, it lost power in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh last year, but these don’t suggest a major decline in its support base. In Madhya Pradesh, the BJP’s voteshare was marginally higher compared to the Congress, though it declined by 3.8 per cent compared to the previous Assembly election in 2013. Similarly, the BJP suffered a 6.4 per cent vote drop in Rajasthan but its voteshare (38.8 per cent) was almost the same as the Congress (39.3 per cent). The BJP suffered its real defeat only in Chhattisgarh where it trailed behind the Congress by 10 per cent votes. But it is important to note that even in these states, the BJP won 62 out of 65 Lok Sabha seats only a few months after this defeat.

Though the BJP failed to form the government in Maharashtra, it still emerged as the single-largest party, winning 105 seats with 26 per cent votes. Even in Haryana, the BJP failed to get a majority on its own, but it emerged as the single-largest party, winning 40 seats with 36 per cent votes.

These indicate two things: first, during the past year, voters have made a distinction between Assembly and Parliament elections. In the Assembly elections, local considerations are weighing heavier than national ones. The different political choices that voters have expressed in many states are a clear indication of this.

The very large support for the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls even as it lost the Assembly elections clearly indicates that the BJP, and more so Prime Minister Narendra Modi, still remains the only choice of voters in these states and in a very large part of India. Going by the 2019 verdict it is difficult to conclude that the BJP is on the decline. What is happening is that voters are making different choices while electing state governments and for deciding who should be in power in New Delhi.

But the evidence doesn’t merely indicate this, the BJP’s falling voteshare in many states also shows that it no longer remains the only choice of voters when it comes to choosing state governments. The forthcoming Assembly elections in Delhi will make things much clearer. The verdict of Jharkhand and the BJP’s approach towards forming a post-poll alliance if need be might also indicate how the alliance with the JD(U) may work in Bihar when the state goes to the polls by 2020’s end. We might have to wait longer to see how the pan-India narrative which the BJP is trying to build with the Citizenship (Amendment) Act works for it when Assam and West Bengal hold elections in mid-2021. For now, the BJP looks much stronger than any of its political competitors in national elections, though this may no longer be true for state elections.

Sanjay Kumar is a professor and currently the director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS). The views expressed here are personal.

Neel Madhav is a student at Delhi University and a researcher with CSDS’ research programme Lokniti.

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