Gains for the BJP

Print edition : November 27, 1999

ON the face of it, the Bharatiya Janata Party dominated the Lok Sabha elections in Madhya Pradesh, winning 29 out of the 40 seats. However, as is often the case in first-past-the-post electoral systems, the contest was much closer in terms of votes. The BJP's 18-seat victory margin over the Congress(I) is a hefty reward for a narrow three percentage-point lead in votes. Although the Congress(I) snatched only one seat from the BJP, it managed to cut down its vote deficit by increasing its vote share by 4 .5 percentage points relative to the 1998 verdict. The BJP also increased its vote share, albeit by less than one percentage point. The rise in the vote share of both major parties means a further consolidation of a bipolar system in the State, largely a t the expense of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). The latter, which after the 1998 elections looked likely to emerge as a party of the future, suffered a severe setback; it won just 5 per cent of the votes.

The region-wise picture reveals some minor changes in the voting pattern since the previous elections. The Congress(I) gained in Vindhya Pradesh: its strength increased from 29 per cent votes and one seat in 1998 to 41 per cent and three seats. The incre ase is attributable to the shift in the BSP votebank. The BJP made gains in the tribal-dominated Chhattisgarh region; its vote share increased from 44 per cent in 1998 to 48 per cent, and it won eight seats, one more than in the previous elections. Neith er party recorded a significant change in its position since the last Lok Sabha elections. But there was a turnaround from the November 1998 Assembly elections, with a five-percentage-point swing against the Congress(I). The Congress(I) in Madhya Pradesh enjoys more success in Assembly elections than in parliamentary elections - unusual for a party that prides itself on its national appeal.

Caste is not the be-all and end all of Madhya Pradesh politics.

The sample size for the State is 563. The sample over-estimates the vote share for the Congress(I) and under-estimates the vote share for the BJP.

Neither the BJP nor the Congress(I) displays the kind of sharp division of social profiles that is seen elsewhere in the country, and more specifically seen when the two parties are in direct competition with each other. In Madhya Pradesh they are both e ssentially "catch-all" parties. However, the usual bias persists to a small extent. The BJP enjoys a moderate lead among the numerically large segments of the upper castes and the Other Backward Classes, whereas the Congress(I) enjoys more substantial su pport among the numerically smaller segments - the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes and Muslims. The BSP was relegated to a position of winning considerably reduced support from the S.Cs; it did not receive any noticeable backing from the other com munities. Although the BJP fared well in the reserved S.T. constituencies (the reason for this is not that it enjoys the support of the majority of tribal voters), the CSDS survey reveals that it polled only 25 per cent of the S.T. vote. It appears that the votes of non-tribal people in the tribal constituencies have shifted to the BJP.

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