How Did the BJP Sweep the Polls in 2014?

June 2, 2014

bjp_sweep

By Deepankar Basu

Spread over a period of more than a month from April 7 to May 12 in 2014, close to 554 million voters in India chose 543 candidates to the 16th Lok Sabha, the lower house of the parliament. The voter turnout of 66.48 percent – 554 million voters from an electorate of 833 million – is the highest in post-independence history. The highest turnout before 2014 had been seen in 1984 – 64.01% of electors turned out to vote – when the Indian National Congress (INC) had swept the polls with 414 parliamentary seats.

The high voter turnout was not concentrated in a few pockets. Polling was generally high across states with Jammu & Kashmir reporting the lowest turnout at 49.65 percent and Tripura showing the highest turnout at 84.72 percent; other states lay in between (see Figure 1). The polling percentage in 2014 had increased by more than 8 percentage points from 58.21 percent seen in the previous Lok Sabha elections in 2009 (the 15th Lok Sabha), which had itself inched up marginally from 58.07 percent in 2004. Moreover, the increase in voter turnout is spread out across all states: in every state other than Nagaland and Sikkim, voter turnout has increased in 2014 in comparison to 2009. Many states, like Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Delhi, saw voter turnout increase by more than 10 percentage points. Thus, in terms of popular participation, this election saw polling that was high by historical standards in India.

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Figure 1: Voter turnout (as percentage of electors) in the 16th Lok Sabha Elections in Major States.

As results for the elections to the 16th Lok Sabha started emerging on May 16, it quickly became clear that, just like in 1984, there was a sweep of the polls. The difference was that instead of the INC, it was the right-wing, Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that had swept the polls with 31 percent of the votes polled and 282 parliamentary seats. The National democratic Alliance (NDA), the BJP-led alliance that included, apart from smaller regional parties, the Telegu Desam Party (TDP) from Andhra Pradesh, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) from Punjab, and the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) in Tamil Nadu, has won 336 parliamentary seats. These numbers are significant because a single party – the BJP – has won a majority of parliamentary seats after 30 years, leading political analysts to see in these results the emergence of a new phase of the polity.

Table 1: Performance of National Political Parties in the 14th, 15th, and 16th Lok Sabha Elections in India. Data collected from the website of the Election Commission of India.

200420092014

Vote Share

Seats Won

Vote Share

Seats Won

Vote Share

Seats Won

BJP

22.16

138

18.8

116

31

282

BSP

5.33

19

6.17

21

4.1

0

CPI

1.41

10

1.43

4

0.8

1

CPM

5.66

43

5.33

16

3.2

9

INC

26.53

145

28.55

206

19.3

44

NCP

1.8

9

2.04

9

1.6

6

RJD

1.27

4

1.3

4

AAP

2

4

 

In winning 282 parliamentary seats on its own in 2014, the BJP has tremendously improved its previous electoral performance. In the 2009 general elections to the 15th Lok Sabha, the BJP had received 18.8 percent of the votes and won 116 parliamentary seats. The performance in 2009 had been a setback in comparison to the 2004 general elections to the 14th Lok Sabha when the BJP had garnered 22.16 percent of votes and 138 parliamentary seats (see Table 1).

BJP’s unprecedented victory has been built on the complete electoral rout of the incumbent INC. This is because election to the 16th Lok Sabha was largely a contest between the incumbent Indian National Congress (INC) and a resurgent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Having defeated the incumbent BJP-led NDA government in 2004, the INC had led a centre-left coalition – the United Progressive Alliance (UPA -I and UPA – II) – government at the Center for two terms, 2004-2009 and 2009-2014. Due to the pressure of grassroots peoples’ movements and the presence of the parliamentary Left parties, the first term saw the passage of a slew of progressive legislations, including the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), that the people appreciated tremendously by voting the INC back to power in 2009. In fact, the INC increased its vote share from 26.53 percent in 2004 to 28.55 percent in 2009. Due to the peculiarities of India’s first-past-the-post electoral system, the 2 percentage point increase in vote share translated into a 42 percent increase in parliamentary seats, from 145 in 2004 to 206 in 2009 (see Table 1).

In its second term from 2009 to 2014, the INC-led UPA government significantly weakened its commitment to the same set of progressive policies that it had championed in its first term. Partly this was the result of the absence of the parliamentary Left parties, and partly it was the result of the dominance of the neoliberal wing of the INC. For instance, total expenditure on the NREGA did not show steady increase from 2009 onwards. In 2009-10, total expenditure was Rs. 37905.23 crore, and in 2013-14 it stood at Rs. 38537.6 crore. Thus, over a 4 years period when inflation was hovering at double digit levels, nominal expenditure on MGNREGA increased by a staggering 2 percent!

Even as the second UPA government started scaling back its commitment to pro-poor policies, news of its unstinted support for crony capitalism started emerging in a regular and steady stream: the 2G spectrum scam in 2008, the Commonwealth Games Scam in 2010, the coal block scam in 2012 … the list is long, but the UPA government chose to push these matters under the carpet. Hobbled with these corruption scandals which it was unwilling to address, rising inflation since the mid-2000s that it was unable to control and the curtailing of its commitment to pro-poor policies led the electorate to punish the INC severely. Its vote share in the 2014 general elections fell to 19.3 percent and its seat tally came out the worst in post-independence India: 44 parliamentary seats (see Table 1).

Along with the ascendance of the BJP and the decimation of the INC, one also notices a slow but steady decline of the Left in India’s electoral politics. The combined vote share of the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)] fell from 7.07 percent in 2004 to 6.76 percent in 2009, and further down to 4.0 percent in 2014. The fall has been sharper in terms of seats: a total of 53 in 2004, which declined to 20 in 2009, and then slid down further to 10 in 2014.

The other progressive force in the Hindi heartland, BSP, also saw its fortunes dwindling. At the national level, its vote share had increased between 2004 and 2009: from 5.33 percent to 6.17 percent. In 2014, it fell to 4.1 percent. BSP’s seat tally had increased from 19 to 21 between 2004 and 2009; in 2014, it could not open its account.

At the all-India level, the picture that emerges from consideration of electoral performance of the major national political parties is a consolidation of right-wing forces around the BJP and an erosion of Left and progressive forces. To understand this better, let us look at BJP’s performance across the states.

States of BJP

To understand the breadth and depth of BJP’s electoral victory, I look in detail at 23 major states: I leave out the states in the North-East and all the union territories other than the National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi. This gives me a sample of 23 states that together account for 528 parliamentary seats (out of a total of 543) and give a comprehensive picture of the electoral outcome across Indian states.

Table 2: Seats Won by BJP in the 14th, 15th and 16th Lok Sabha Elections in Major States.
Data collected from the website of the Election Commission of India.

Seats Won

Change

Change

SEATS IN

2004

2009

2014

2009-2004

2014-2009

LOK SABHA

Kerala

0

0

0

0

0

20

Tripura

0

0

0

0

0

2

Tamil Nadu

0

0

1

0

1

39

Orissa

7

0

1

-7

1

21

Goa

1

1

2

0

1

2

Punjab

3

1

2

-2

1

13

West Bengal

0

1

2

1

1

42

Andhra Pradesh

0

0

3

0

3

42

Jammu and Kashmir

0

0

3

0

3

6

Himachal Pradesh

1

3

4

2

1

4

Uttarakhand

3

0

5

-3

5

5

NCT of Delhi

1

0

7

-1

7

7

Assam

2

4

7

2

3

14

Haryana

1

0

7

-1

7

10

Chhatisgarh

10

10

10

0

0

11

Jharkhand

1

8

12

7

4

14

Karnataka

18

19

17

1

-2

28

Bihar

5

12

22

7

10

40

Maharashtra

13

9

23

-4

14

48

Rajasthan

21

4

25

-17

21

25

Gujarat

14

15

26

1

11

26

Madhya Pradesh

25

16

27

-9

11

29

Uttar Pradesh

10

10

71

0

61

80

 

Table 2 provides information about the parliamentary seats won by the BJP in the last 3 general elections with the rows arranged in ascending order of the seats won in 2014. BJP’s overall tally, which had fallen from 138 in 2004 to 116 in 2009, has more than recovered in 2014 with a win in 282 seats. Other than Karnataka, where its tally fell by 2 seats, and Chhattisgrah and Kerala, where it’s seat tally remained unchanged, the BJP has managed to increase its seats in every other of these 18 states. The biggest increases have been seen in Uttar Pradesh (61 seats), Rajasthan (21 seats) and Maharashtra (14 seats). In terms of the number of seats won in 2014, the two most crucial states were Uttar Pradesh and Bihar; in the former, it won 71 out of 80 seats, and in the latter 22 out of 40. In six states, three of which figure in Table 2, BJP won all seats: Delhi (7/7), Gujarat (26/26), Goa (2/2), Himachal Pradesh (4/4), Rajasthan (25/25), and Uttarakhand (5/5). In terms of seats, BJP still looks like a party of north-western India: 230 of its tally of 282 seats came from Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. To conclude from this that its reach is limited only to north-western India would be incorrect. To assess its true reach, we need to look at data on vote share, which, because of India’s first-past-the-post electoral system, is a much more reliable indicator of “popular” support than the number of seats won.

Table 3: BJP’s Vote Share in the 14th, 15th and 16th Lok Sabha Elections in Major States.
(Source : Data collected from the website of the Election Commission of India)

Vote Share (% of votes polled)

Change

Change

2004

2009

2014

2009-2004

2014-2009

Kerala

10.38

7.31

10.3

-3.07

2.99

Tripura

7.82

2.72

5.7

-5.1

2.98

Tamil Nadu

5.07

2.3

5.5

-2.77

3.2

Orissa

19.3

16.89

21.5

-2.41

4.61

Goa

46.83

44.78

53.4

-2.05

8.62

Punjab

10.48

10.06

8.7

-0.42

-1.36

West Bengal

8.06

6.14

16.8

-1.92

10.66

Andhra Pradesh

8.41

2.84

8.5

-5.57

5.66

Jammu and Kashmir

23.04

18.61

32.4

-4.43

13.79

Himachal Pradesh

44.24

49.58

53.3

5.34

3.72

Uttarakhand

40.98

33.82

55.3

-7.16

21.48

NCT of Delhi

40.67

34.28

46.4

-6.39

12.12

Assam

22.94

16.21

36.5

-6.73

20.29

Haryana

17.21

17.21

34.7

0

17.49

Chhatisgarh

47.78

45.03

48.7

-2.75

3.67

Jharkhand

33.01

27.53

40.1

-5.48

12.57

Karnataka

34.77

41.63

43

6.86

1.37

Bihar

14.57

13.93

29.4

-0.64

15.47

Maharashtra

22.61

18.17

27.3

-4.44

9.13

Rajasthan

49.01

36.57

54.9

-12.44

18.33

Gujarat

47.37

46.52

59.1

-0.85

12.58

Madhya Pradesh

48.13

43.45

54

-4.68

10.55

Uttar Pradesh

22.17

17.5

42.3

-4.67

24.8

Table 3 provides information on the vote share (expressed as a percentage of votes polled) garnered by the BJP in the last three general elections in the 18 states that figured in Table 2 (the states are arranged in Table 3 in the same order that was followed in Table 2). In terms of the level of vote share that BJP got in 2014, the following major states saw BJP garnering more than 40 percent of the valid votes polled: Gujarat (59.1), Uttarakhand (55.3), Rajasthan (54.9), Madhya Pradesh (54), Chhattisgarh (48.7), Delhi (46.4), Karnataka (43), Uttar Pradesh (42.3), and Jharkhand (40.1). Naturally, most of these states saw major wins by the BJP.

What is more striking, and more relevant for assessing the spread of BJP, is the change in vote share. For all the 18 states in Table 3, other than Karnataka and Haryana, BJP’s vote share declined between 2004 and 2009. The results in 2014 are in stark contrast to that trend: BJP’s vote share has increased in all the 18 states, other than Punjab. Figure 2 gives a visual representation of the change in BJP’s vote share across the major states and highlights the fact that the BJP’s reach is far wider than is suggested by even the spectacular results on seats won. States where BJP registered large increases in vote share between 2009 and 2014 are, in decreasing order: UP (24.8), Assam (20.29), Rajasthan (18.33), Haryana (17.49), Bihar (15.47), Gujarat (12.58), Jharkhand (12.57), West Bengal (10.66), MP (10.55), Maharashtra (9.13), Andhra Pradesh (5.66). Both Kerala and Tamil Nadu saw increases of about 3 percentage points. This is a stunning victory given that the BJP had lost vote share in all these states between 2004 and 2009, other than in Karnataka.

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Figure 2: Change in BJP’s Vote Share between the 15th and 16th Lok Sabha Elections in Major States.

While BJP’s electoral victory in terms of parliamentary seats won is built on the massive wins in the extended Hindi heartland (from Gujarat to Assam), its reach has expanded far beyond its traditional areas of strength. As can be seen from vote share data, it has decisively entered into the states of the South. Moreover, the three states where regional parties held their ground in terms of seats – Orissa, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal – the BJP has managed to garner large vote shares. In Orissa, the BJP got 21.5 percent of the votes polled even though this did not translate into a single win. In West Bengal, it got 16.8 percent of the votes polled, which gave it 2 seats. In Tamil Nadu, it got 5.5 percent of votes polled, which it could convert – due to tactical alliances – into 1 seat. The data presented in Tables 2 and 3 highlight the scale and scope of BJP’s electoral success: it has managed to not only consolidate itself in its traditional stronghold in the North, West and Central parts of India, it has made significant inroads in the East and the South.

BJP’s Demographic Dividend

What can explain the phenomenal electoral success of the BJP? Electoral outcomes are the result of complex social and political factors. Hence, it is certain that many factors have been at play. Among the many factors that have been offered as explanations, the following are certainly important: (a) the Indian corporate sector’s support for the BJP, which probably contributed to the massive amount of funds that the BJP spent in its campaigns (by some estimates the BJP has spent Rs. 5000 crores, about 4 times the amount spent by the INC), (b) the calibrated use of religious polarization and skillful re-fashioning of caste alliances, especially in the Western and Northern Indian states including the electorally important states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, (c) the virtual take-over of the mainstream media by the BJP’s campaign machine, facilitated no doubt by corporate financial and ideological support, (d) the discrediting of the incumbent INC-led government (the second United Progressive Alliance in 2009-14) by the spate of corruption scandals that came to light over the last few years, (e) the half-hearted support of the INC-led government for the same welfare schemes that it (the first United Progressive Alliance in 2004-09) had inaugurated and championed 5 years ago.

While all these factors are important and might have played a role in BJP’s electoral success, I would like to suggest that one of the most important factors was demographic: the proportion of first time (and young) electors. Many commentators and analysts have speculated that the relatively large number of young electors in 2014 has been crucial in driving the sweeping victory of the BJP in the 16th Lok Sabha Elections. This intuition is indeed correct: states which had a high proportion of first time electors (the group of persons between the ages of 18 and 22 years) were also the states where BJP increased its vote share significantly between 2009 and 2014. This suggests that one of the important factors underlying BJP’s unprecedented electoral victory was its ability to reach out to first time electors.

Before we look at the state-level evidence, let us ask whether first time electors were a significant proportion of the electorate in 2014, whether they could have in fact made a difference to electoral outcomes. At the all-India level, my calculations from the 2011 Census suggests that there were about 120.53 million first time electors in 2014. These are all the persons who were between the ages of 15 and 19 in 2011. Since the electorate was about 833.06 million strong in 2014, first time electors (the group of persons between the ages of 18 and 22 years) accounted for about 14.47 percent of the electorate. Is this large?

To get a sense of these numbers, let us recall that 66.4 percent of the electorate cast their ballots in 2014, of which BJP got 31 percent and the INC 19.3 percent. Hence, the difference in total votes polled by the BJP and INC was about 65 million, which is only about 54 percent of the number of first time electors in 2014. Thus, any party which could tap into the group of first time electors would certainly have gained in electoral terms.

Table 4: First time electors (as % of electorate) and change in BJP’s Vote Share between elections to the 15th and 16th Lok Sabha Elections across Major States. First time electors are persons in the age group 18-22 years in 2014, i..e, in the age group 15-19 in 2011; data for first time electors is taken from the 2011 Census. The electorate is the total number of valid voters; data for the electorate is taken from the website of the Election Commission of India.

First time electors (% of Electorate)

Change in BJP’s Vote Share between 2009 and 2014

Punjab

14.37

-1.36

Karnataka

12.61

1.37

Tripura

14.98

2.98

Kerala

10.73

2.99

Tamil Nadu

11.35

3.20

Chhatisgarh

14.72

3.67

Himachal Pradesh

13.32

3.72

Orissa

13.45

4.61

Andhra Pradesh

12.46

5.66

Goa

10.74

8.62

Maharashtra

13.28

9.13

Madhya Pradesh

15.48

10.55

West Bengal

14.42

10.66

NCT of Delhi

13.12

12.12

Jharkhand

15.75

12.57

Gujarat

14.45

12.58

Jammu and Kashmir

17.23

13.79

Bihar

14.86

15.47

Haryana

16.63

17.49

Rajasthan

17.10

18.33

Assam

16.29

20.29

Uttarakhand

15.77

21.48

Uttar Pradesh

16.59

24.80

 

Table 4 provides data on first time electors (as a percentage of the electorate, which is every person age 18 years and above) and change in BJP’s vote share between 2009 and 2014 across the major states. The rows of the table have been arranged in increasing order of the change in BJP’s vote share. Thus, the first row has Punjab, which saw a negative change in BJP’s vote share (-1.36 percent); and the last row is Uttar Pradesh, which saw the highest positive change in BJP’s vote share (24.8 percent). If we follow the states down the rows of Table 4, we see a pattern: states that have a high percentage of first time electors are also states where the BJP increased its vote share between 2009 and 2014 significantly.

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Figure 3: First time electors (as % of electorate) and change in BJP’s Vote Share between elections to the 15th and 16th Lok Sabha Elections across Major States. First time electors are persons in the age group 18-22 years in 2014, i..e, in the age group 15-19 in 2011; data for first time electors is taken from the 2011 Census. The electorate is the total number of valid voters; data for the electorate is taken from the website of the Election Commission of India.

Figure 3 presents the same information visually as a scatter plot. The percentage of first time electors is measured on the horizontal axis; the vertical axis measures the change in BJP’s vote share. Each point on the chart represents a state and is a combination of the percentage of first time electors and the change in BJP’s vote share associated with that state. The solid line in the chart captures the statistical relationship between the percentage of first time electors and the change in BJP’s vote share across the states. The fact that it is upward sloping means that there is a positive relationship between the percentage of first time electors and the change in BJP’s vote share: states that have a high percentage of first time electors are also states where the BJP increased its vote share between 2009 and 2014 significantly. One can be more precise: states that had a higher share of first time electors (as a percentage of electors) by 1 percentage point gave BJP, on average, a 2.5 percentage point increase in vote share.

Why did the first time and young electors vote for the BJP? Several reasons might have played a role. First, the young population is much more likely to be literate and tuned in to the print, electronic, and social media. Thus, the massive advertising campaign that the BJP undertook must have affected the young electors much more strongly than older electors. In fact, targeting young electors was an important, if not the most crucial, part of BJP’s electoral strategy.

But why did BJP’s campaign messages resonate with the young? Political economy might provide a clue. The pattern of growth that India has been witnessing over the past few decades has been intensely disequalizing. Inequalities have grown across dimensions of class, caste, region, and states. One important reason underlying the widening of inequality has been the dismal performance of the Indian economy on the employment front, both in terms of quantity and quality. Despite witnessing historically unprecedented rates of growth of real GDP since the mid-1980s, the Indian economy has not generated adequate good quality jobs to absorb the growing labour force. In fact, the overwhelming majority of jobs have been of an “informal” kind, either jobs in the unorganized sector or informal jobs in the organized sector. Informal jobs are marked by low wages, lack of job or social security, abysmal conditions of work, and absence of collective bargaining rights. This has meant the large workforce that has emerged over the recent past due to India’s demographic transition has been forced to lead an extremely precarious existence. Absence of strong Left, progressive and democratic political movements has probably made this “precariat” open to the lures of a right-wing, authoritarian leader. The complete discrediting of the incumbent, venal INC has allowed BJP to sell dreams of development to this young, aspirational voter, even as it skillfully airbrushed the 2002 Gujarat riots out of mainstream media discourse. The fact that the group of young electors does not have any memory of the riots of the 1990s or of the horrors of the 2002 pogrom in Gujarat has played out to the advantage of the BJP.

The Story from UP and Bihar

In addition to wooing young and first time electors, BJP’s electoral victory relied crucially on refashioning old alignments of caste and community alliances. This was nowhere more important than in 2 crucial states in the Hindi heartland: Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. In comparison to 2009, these two states together gave BJP an additional 71 parliamentary seats in 2014. By all accounts, electoral performance in these two states made the difference between the largest parliamentary party (as BJP was in 1999) and a parliamentary party with absolute majority (as BJP was in 2014).

In 2014, Uttar Pradesh saw a 4 cornered race between the BJP (in alliance with Apna Dal), the Indian National Congress (in alliance with the Rashtriya Lok Dal), the BSP and the SP. The BJP more than doubled its vote share from 17.5 percent in 2009 to 42.3 percent in 2014; the SP’s vote share came down from 23.26 percent in 2009 to 22.2 percent in 2014; the BSP’s vote share fell from 27.42 percent in 2009 to 19.6 percent in 2014; and the INC’s vote share collapsed from 18.25 percent in 2009 to 7.5 percent in 2014. Thus, while SP managed to keep its vote share relatively stable, BSP and INC were the main losers in 2014 as compared to the previous Lok Sabha elections. Moreover, the gain in vote share by BJP at 24.8 percentage points was a little more than the combined loss of INC, BSP and SP. This suggests that the BJP managed to take away a substantial chunk of the upper caste and OBC vote from the INC, and more surprisingly, a large chunk of the dalit and OBC votes away from BSP.

Much like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar witnessed a 3 cornered contest in 2014 between the BJP (in alliance with Lok Janshakti Party and the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party), the RJD (in alliance with the INC and NCP) and the JD (U). Compared to 2009, the BJP more than doubled its vote share from 13.93 to 29.4 percent, the RJD’s vote share increased mildly from 19.31 to 20.1 percent, the INC’s vote share dropped from 10.26 to 8.4 percent, and the JD(U)’s vote share fell from 24.04 to 15.8 percent. Thus, while the RJD alliance managed to keep its vote share nearly stable, the largest loser was the JD (U). In a pattern that closely matches Uttar Pradesh we can again surmise from aggregate vote share data that underlying the change in observed vote share distribution is the story of a substantial chunk of dalit and OBC votes shifting away from JD (U) towards the BJP.

To see if these possible explanations of the aggregate vote share trends is correct, we can turn to data collected as part of the National Election Study (NES) 2014 conducted by Lokniti, Programme for Comparative Democracy at the Center for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), New Delhi. The NES is a large post-poll sample survey conducted in which 22295 individuals were interviewed across 26 Indian states to gather data that could help understand voting behavior, including voting behavior across castes, communities, age and income groups. While the basic data is still not available to the general public, researchers associated with the NES have written articles in the media using that data. Using information available in two such articles in The Hindu, I have summarized the data for community-wise distribution of votes in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in Figure 4 and 5 respectively.

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Figure 4: Community-wise break-up of vote share in Uttar Pradesh. SP: Samajwadi Party; BSP: Bahujan Samaj Party; BJP: Bharatiya Janata Party; AD: Apna Dal; INC: Indian National Congress; RLD: Rashtriya Lok Dal. Source: National Election Study 2014 as reported here.

Figure 4 shows the distribution of votes of upper castes (Brahmins, Rajputs, and other upper castes), OBCs (Yadavs, Kurmis & Koeries) and other OBCS, dalits (Jatavs and other dalits), Muslims and others. The BJP alliance consolidated the vast majority of the upper caste vote and also managed to draw a large part of votes from two important groups: (a) the non-Yadav OBCs (about 55 percent), and (b) the non-Jatav dalits (45 percent). In addition to this, a significant part (27 percent) of even the Yadav vote went to the BJP. The SP continues to be a beneficiary of the Muslim-Yadav coalition (58 and 53 percent respectively), and the BSP remains the main party of the Jatavs (68 percent). But these coalitions were, by themselves, not enough to deliver electoral results. The BJP’s strategy of highlighting the OBC status of the Prime Ministerial candidate and the use of communal mobilization – recall Amit Shah’s incendiary remarks with regard to the Muzaffarnagar riots – combined with the natural allegiance of upper caste Hindus to the party of Hindutva allowed it to fashion a coalition of upper caste Hindus, OBCs and non-Jatav dalits that delivered handsome political dividends.

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Figure 5: Community-wise break-up of vote share in Bihar. JD(U): Janata Dal (United); RJD+: the alliance of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Indian National Congress (INC) and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP); BJP+: the alliance of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), and Rashtiya Lok Samata Party (RLSP). Source: National Election Study 2014 as reported here.

Figure 5 shows the distribution of votes of upper castes, OBCs (Yadavs, Kurmis, Koeris and Lower OBCs), dalits (Dusadhs and other dalits), Muslims and others. Mirroring the dynamics in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP-led alliance managed to not only get the vast majority of upper caste votes (78 percent), which is understandable, but also significant parts of the Dusadh (68 percent) and lower OBC (53 percent) votes. While the RJD alliance remains the party of the Muslim-Yadav combine (like the SP in Uttar Pradesh) and the JD (U) the party of the Kurmis and Koeries, these alliances, by themselves, were not enough to deliver electoral victories. In Bihar, BJP’s alliances with dalit parties (LJP and RSLP), the natural allegiance of upper caste voters, the slogan of development and the strategy of highlighting the OBC status of the Prime Ministerial candidate ensured massive electoral gains.

Concluding Thoughts

The general elections to the 16th Lok Sabha marks a watershed in Indian political history. A right-wing Hindu nationalist party, the BJP, has been elected to the parliament with an absolute majority. Analysis of the mandate across states suggests that one of the important reasons behind the BJP’s victory – apart from caste realignments and communal mobilization in the Hindi heartland – was its success in wooing young electors. This has important implications.

The vote for BJP by the young electors was primarily a vote for more inclusive growth, it was not a vote for its divisive, communal agenda. Fed up with the string of corruption scandals, high inflation and lack of employment growth, the group of young electors have voted against the incumbent INC. The BJP campaign was able to convert the widespread anger against the INC into electoral dividends by downplaying the communal agenda and foregrounding the “development” achievements of its Prime Ministerial candidate in the state of Gujarat. Even though there were excellent critiques of the so-called Gujarat model of “development” available, there was no credible political force that could take it to the people and nullify BJP’s campaign.

The vote for growth and the track record of Narendra Modi in Gujarat means that there is a distinct possibility for the consolidation of developmental tendencies in India in the precise sense in which this term has been used recently by political scientist, Atul Kohli. In analyzing the variation of growth and distribution across Indian states, Kohli has identified three “types” of states: neo-patrimonial (Uttar Pradesh being an example), social-democratic (examples of such states being West Bengal and Kerala), and developmental (with Gujarat and Maharashtra being examples).

How do we understand such developmental states?

“… a few of India’s states have started moving towards becoming developmental states of sorts, in which the government works closely with business groups to promote economic growth. While these states generally do well in the dimension of economic growth, politics within them tends to be volatile, with exclusionary characteristics. Gujarat and Maharashtra typify this emerging tendency across Indian states.” (Kohli, Atul. Poverty Amid Plenty in the New India. Cambridge University Press. 2012, pp. 146)

Explaining the characteristics of states with such developmental tendencies, Kohli writes:

“… a handful of … [Indian] states have actively sought to promote economic growth by encouraging private sector development. These states not only mirror the national level trend in India toward prioritizing growth and supporting private capital but are also beginning to perform some of the functions that one associates with the developmental states of East Asia. Indian states with developmental leaders at the helm have a clearer public purpose, even though that purpose is defined fairly narrowly in terms of the promotion of economic growth. This commitment facilitates a ruling alliance with producer and business groups, whom the leaders consider best suited to be agents of growth promotion. Leadership priorities bequeath some sense of efficiency to the state-level bureaucracy, especially in those pockets within the state most relevant to growth promotion, such as the economic ministries. A variety of pro-business incentives are then put in place, including taming labour activism… The common political-economic theme that gives these states [like Gujarat, Maharashtra, Haryana, Punjab] some sort of coherence as a “type” is a political commitment to growth via support for the private sector.” (Kohli, 2012, pp. 155)

What kind of policy priorities do such developmental states pursue?

“As state elites [in developmental states] forge growth-oriented coalitions with private sector elites, it is typical for pro-business policies to emerge. These include eliminating bureaucratic obstacles to investment, provision of a variety of subsidies – especially cheap land, tax holidays, and reliable access to electricity – and favourable labour laws. More important than specific policy priorities is the general sense that a state welcomes business and that state elites are ready to help overcome any and all bottlenecks faced by private producers.” (Kohli, 2012, pp. 157)

With Modi at the helm in the Center, the developmental tendency, as outlined in the recent work of Atul Kohli, might come to dominate the political economy of India, something that has already been underway in India since the mid-1980s. This new State will be a strong state, along the lines seen in China, Korea and Singapore, that will emphasize economic growth driven by private capital, will try to foster industrialization, will try to build infrastructure, streamline the bureaucracy and make India even more business friendly that it currently is. Growth fetishism will make a renewed come back.

The new government at the Center has already indicated that it will clear 28 stalled projects worth Rs. 80,000 crore in the next few days. While growth might indeed pick up due to the recovery of investment as a result of the “fast clearance” of projects, poverty will go down slowly and living standards will improve much more slowly than would be predicted by the high growth. And all this will come together with authoritarianism and a volatile politics. All forms of democratic dissent will be curbed, rights of labour will be eroded or at least its demands will be dampened, minorities will be marginalized and intimidated (as has happened in Gujarat under Modi), and freedom of expression will come under attack. Legitimacy for the rule of the State will often be difficult to generate through democratic politics; hence the recourse to communal violence and polarization (Kohli, 2012).

It is here that the role of the young will become important. For even though they have voted for change and for development, a large section of the young have not voted for authoritarianism. The BJP government will have to hegemonize the young with an anti-democratic ideology, will have to convince them that authoritarianism is acceptable if it is accompanied with growth, will have to convince them that indeed democratic functioning is an impediment to growth. Since the process of hegemonizing the young is not yet complete, it allows space for contestation. It is here that the Left has to intervene forcefully to contest BJP’s ideology and practice, it has to forcefully defend principles of democratic rights, civil liberties and secularism. To regain a foothold in Indian politics, the Left has to seriously engage the young, restless, increasingly urban and precarious proletariat and fight the battle of ideas against the resurgent Right.

(I would like to thank Amit Basole, Debarshi Das and Sirisha Naidu for useful comments on an earlier version of this article.)

2 Comments »

2 Responses to “How Did the BJP Sweep the Polls in 2014?”

  1. ananda Says:
    June 9th, 2014 at 14:28

    While I appreciate this detailed analysis, the insight that it attempts to offer is regarding the “demographic dividend” also called the “youth bulge” or the aspirational class – and I wish we had some more data for it.

    I am not sure of all the math – how stringently the “1% higher share of FTVs ~= 2.5 incr. in vote share” holds across all states – but at any rate, a comparative analysis of the gains thru caste manipulations and demographic dividends would have been helpful. I also wish we had some post-poll data to go on the “why” of the demographic dividend instead of merely surmising about an unequal society and the lack of jobs.
    What has also to be underscored is the BJP’s hold in the states it has held power (why no anti-incumbency in Chattisgarh?), the new gains and inroads it has managed to make and of course, the caste manipulations it managed to effect in UP/Bihar. This last is crucial because it is also a win for BJP’s own cutting-across-caste-lines politics (or the show of it), where it seems to have broken all barriers and predictions and reached out to everyone…how did they manage to convince all those “constituencies?” How is the BJP perceived on the ground, say among dalits and OBCs…? Obviously not in a fashion many of us progressives would like to imagine…

  2. Nirmalangshu Says:
    June 12th, 2014 at 01:12

    Most informed analysis. Three points need to be emphasised for meaningful democratic resistance to the rise of Modi-BJP.

    1. Outside UP and Bihar, BJP’s national vote-share is roughly 20%, very similar to INC. 80% of electorates did not vote for BJP.

    2. In UP and Bihar, young voters played little role. The new caste alliances were forced by sustained communal propaganda assisted by dozens of riots of carefully selected size and location for nearly an year. See my http://kafila.org/2014/05/23/a-stolen-verdict-nirmalangshu-mukherji/

    3. As the author shows, the largest share of seats and votes came from just 9 states where BJP already had a traditional base. Each of these are marked by complete absence of the left for decades. In Jharkhand and Chattisgarh, the situation has worsened due to the presence of extreme left as the traditional left was systematically wiped out.

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