In every victory lie the seeds of defeat. And in every defeat there are seeds of victory. I was very young (well below voting age, but already obsessed with politics…lol) in the autumn of 1999 when Vajpayee won a clear majority. All I remember is that there was going to be a BJP sarkar and my mother was very happy 🙂
Years later, somewhere around 2010, I opened up the Wikipedia article on 1999 Lok Sabha elections and began to look at the numbers. Yes, the BJP had reached a historic high of 182, but look at where those seats had come from:
Andhra Pradesh: BJP 7
Tamil Nadu: BJP 4
West Bengal : BJP 2
Odisha: BJP 9
These were seats coming purely at the mercy of allies like TDP, DMK, BJD and TMC. Once those allies either deserted (like BJD, TMC, DMK) or collapsed themselves (like TDP), the BJP’s tally also collapsed in these states. In reality, Vajpayee’s 1999 mandate was built on sand. Once the arithmetic moved a little, the allies got shuffled, the mandate fell apart.
Modi’s 2014 mandate is made of much harder rock. And that’s not just because of the BJP’s stunning 73/80 tally in Uttar Pradesh. The BJP has come to power under Modi by maximizing its core states and establishing itself as dominant in traditional Congress states like Karnataka and Assam. Right now the BJP has just 1 seat in TamilNad compared to 4 in 1999, but even this 1 seat is from the BJP’s own strength, not from allies. I would say this 1 seat in Kanyakumari in Tamilnad is worth much more than the 4 it had in 1999.
However, there was one weakness in the Modi mandate. That was in Bihar, where the NDA’s voteshare (38.8%) was less than the combined voteshare (44.3%) of the RJD+Cong+JDU. A very solid lead of 5.5%. A lot of us believed that a spirited Modi campaign could wipe away this deficit. A lot of them believed that a spirited campaign building on the obvious positives of Nitish Kumar’s Chief Ministership could hold off Modi. In other words, both sides expected this to be an exceptional election. But, what happened is that the electorate saw it as an ordinary election and gave an ordinary verdict.
The Mahagathbandhan’s voteshare fell from 44.3% to 42.1% and the NDA’s vote share fell from 38.8% to 34.4%. The vote gap of 5.5% widened to a gap of 7.7%. What is interesting is that BOTH sides lost votes, which went to local players. This is a well recognized phenomenon. As elections get more local, BOTH the big parties lose voteshare and smaller players get more and more votes. It happens everywhere. There was no switch of voters from NDA to MGB. What this means is that the Dalits who voted for the NDA in 2014 have still preferred NDA to MGB by roughly the same margin in 2015. In fact, the NDA’s vote share of 34.4% is nearly 20% more than the BJP’s core vote bank of upper castes (15%). Whereas the MGB’s 42.1% is barely 7% more than the MGB’s core vote bank of Muslim-Yadav-Kurmi (35%). What this means is that NDA is attracting many more non-caste based voters than the MGB. In other words, the NDA is getting many more “Chemistry votes” and the MGB is getting many more “Arithmetic votes”.
Why do I say that Nitish Kumar’s victory is built on sand? Because an analysis of voteshares shows that the JDU has been decisively pushed to No. 3 in Bihar. First let’s look at the headline voteshares from 2015:
Clearly no. 3. But of course, one would say that the JDU and RJD fought only 100 seats each and so their voteshares would appear artificially lower compared to the BJP which fought 160 seats. Let us ask ourselves: what happens to vote shares in an alliance? The purpose of an alliance between 2 parties is obviously to pool voteshares which will increase seats and strike rate of both. Because the stronger party has more voters, it’s vote share decreases when it fights fewer seats because of the alliance. On the other hand, the weaker party sees its vote share go up. Now watch:
JDU 15.8% 16.8%
RJD 20.1% 18.6%
The alliance causes JDU to gain vote share and RJD to lose vote share. There can no doubt that JDU is the weaker party than the RJD today. Just like politics abhors a vacuum, politics abhors an unnatural distribution of power. Right now, JDU is the weakest party in Bihar but enjoys the highest amount of power. This is unsustainable. The verdict is built on sand.
Like Vajpayee, if Nitish fails to recognize that his “victory” is built on sand, he will be looking at a very long dry spell out of power very soon. And with Nitish’s core votebank of Kurmis at a mere 4-5% of the electorate, once out of power, Nitish may never be able to bounce back.
All this is not meant to console BJP supporters after a humiliating defeat in Bihar. Like I said on Nov 8, the BJP needs to learn the importance of eating humble pie. This is to understand that Nitish Kumar is sitting on a very wobbly throne. In 2005, Nitish Kumar had the benefit of being compared to a disastrous Jangal Raj of Lalu Yadav and his Chief Ministership shone brightly in comparison. All the low hanging fruit has been plucked now. And Lalu Yadav needs to promote his own children. With 80 seats compared to Nitish’s 71, Lalu is under pressure to show himself as the dominant partner. You may say that fear of Modi will keep them together. But you must ask: is the fear of Modi in 2015 even greater than the fear of Indira in 1980? Why did the Janata govt fall apart then?