Wave that was not

Print edition : January 10, 2014

Narendra Modi addressing an election rally in East Delhi on November 30. Photo: Shanker Chakravarty

BJP leader Vasundhara Raje meeting supporters at her Civil Lines residence in Jaipur on December 9, a day after the results were announced. Photo: PTI

Chief Ministers Shivraj Singh Chouhan of Madhya Pradesh (left) and Raman Singh of Chhattisgarh during Vasundhara Raje's swearing-in ceremony in Jaipur on December 13. Photo: PTI


Missing magic

By Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprashasta

DESPITE the fact that voters’ considerations are different in Assembly and parliamentary elections, the recent elections to the Assemblies in five States were seen as a crucial test for the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and his appeal among the electorate. The BJP and its growing social media campaign have projected Modi as the most important force that will determine voting preferences in the 2014 parliamentary election. The campaign has not only helped Modi and his rhetoric of development to gain great influence among the neo-middle class that has benefited from the opening up of private sector services in the past decade but has also pushed him to the centre of political debates before next year’s elections.

As the BJP is attributing thumping victories in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh and its comfortable win in Chhattisgarh to Modi’s appeal, the result in Delhi, which threw a hung Assembly, points to ambiguous trends. While it is clear that the Congress received a drubbing from the people of Delhi, the result shows that the BJP, too, is not comfortably placed in terms of it being seen as an alternative to the Congress.

The spectacular showing of the one-year-old Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi emphasises that neither Modi nor his aggressive campaign helped the BJP significantly. Political observers say that the mandate in Delhi is, undoubtedly, a referendum against the top-heavy, communal, and autocratic brand of politics that Modi professes and practises. This can be understood from the fact that even an unprecedentedly high resentment against the ruling Congress was not enough for the strong cadre-driven BJP, the main opposition party for 15 years in Delhi, to muster a simple majority in the 70-member Assembly. The Congress’ three consecutive terms in Delhi and a wave of disenchantment against the Union government had given the BJP ideal political ground to emerge victorious. However, the result shows that the people of Delhi are willing to vote for a third party and have lost considerable faith in both the Congress and the BJP.

The State BJP fought the elections by projecting Modi as its biggest leader. None of the other big leaders of the BJP, including L.K. Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, figured prominently in its campaign. This it did by resorting to a three-pronged strategy. First, despite the fact that its State unit president Vijay Goel projected himself as would-be Chief Minister two months before the elections, the BJP chose Modi’s nominee Harsh Vardhan as its chief ministerial candidate. Instead of projecting Vardhan’s leadership capabilities, he was shown as Modi’s protégé who would adopt Modi’s style of governance in Delhi. The party clearly sacrificed Vardhan in the race to push Modi to the front.

Secondly, in an attempt to diffuse the feuds within the State unit, Modi’s image and personality cult loomed large in all the party’s talk and hoardings. On December 4, the day of election, newspapers carried a front page advertisement of the BJP featuring Modi prominently, with Vardhan pushed into a small corner of the page. Thirdly, party activists specifically invoked Modi’s name in all the constituencies of Delhi. From upper-class constituencies in south Delhi to the ones in rural and outer Delhi, party activists projected him as the symbol of change.

It was clear that the BJP relied on the Modi cult in the campaign, in the belief that Modi has the biggest traction among urban voters. That is why Modi started his nationwide electoral campaign from the prestigious Shri Ram College of Commerce of Delhi University. Delhi became the BJP’s testing ground and it put high energy into the electoral battle in the national capital.

The BJP’s miscalculation became clear when the AAP cut not just into the traditional votes of the Congress but also a major chunk of the BJP’s votes. The AAP won from all the regions of Delhi, dismantling the traditional caste and class loyalties that the Congress and the BJP enjoyed. It won in Dalit-dominated constituencies which were traditionally Congress seats and also in posh south Delhi areas considered to be BJP strongholds. A founding member of the AAP, Prashant Bhushan, told Frontline: “In all our surveys, we found that we were drawing equal number of votes from both the Congress and the BJP. It is because of the AAP that the BJP could not form the government. I don’t think there was any ‘Modi effect’ and people voted for a clean alternative that was present before them.”

The crucial factor that points to Modi’s failure in winning over the masses in Delhi is that the BJP lost most of the constituencies where Modi himself had campaigned. He led massive rallies in six constituencies, of which it won only two. In Ambedkar Nagar, Ballimaran, Sultanpur Majra and Rohini, the BJP candidates lost, whereas in Vishwasnagar and Matiala, where the party’s candidates were stronger than those of other parties, the party won the election. This, despite the fact that five of these rallies were held in the last four days of the campaign.

Significantly, the BJP lost in nine of the 12 reserved constituencies to the AAP, making it clear that Modi’s rhetoric against corruption and poor governance did not have a great appeal among the underprivileged population. Modi, in the past year, has talked about price rise, effective governance, corruption, and communal harmony—the impact of these issues is the greatest among the poor, but the Delhi result shows that the neither the poor nor the minority groups voted for the BJP. For instance, the vote share of the BJP in Muslim-dominated Matia Mahal constituency is just 8.46 per cent. In Sultanpur Majra and Ballimaran, both Muslim constituencies where Modi held rallies, the BJP’s vote share was less than 15 per cent. In Ambedkar Nagar, a reserved constituency where Modi canvassed, the AAP defeated the BJP by a huge margin. Of the 32 seats it has won, the BJP has won only 15 seats with more than 8 per cent margin.

Not surprisingly, the BJP’s vote share dropped from 36.3 per cent to a little less than 34 per cent. A preliminary survey by the New Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) found that Modi has gained high traction among the electorate for the Prime Minister’s post but in Delhi his popularity was nullified by the AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal.

The survey also found that the AAP’s popularity among young voters—in the age group of 18- 25 years—is significantly high and that the BJP enjoys greater support among the middle-aged and the elderly, suggesting that Modi’s appeal among the youth, a factor the BJP has been playing up, may not work well in Delhi. “In a comparative analysis, it can be safely said that the ‘Modi factor’ worked the least in Delhi. Here, people placed more faith in the AAP. People’s issues like price rise and corruption were addressed better by it. We found that both the BJP and the AAP are neck and neck in terms of electoral support in Delhi,” Sanjay Kumar of the CSDS told Frontline.

Clearly, the people of Delhi lack complete trust in Modi, and the hung Assembly in Delhi demonstrates it. The “Modi effect”, after all, may not prove to be the Indravajra (weapon of the god Indra) that the BJP relies on now.


Double whammy

By T.K. Rajalakshmi

THE near decimation of the Congress in the Assembly elections in Rajasthan, where the party’s seat share is at its lowest since 1952, at the hands of the BJP has generally been attributed to the aggressive campaign of the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. There is little doubt about a major erosion of the Congress’ traditional vote base comprising Jats and the Scheduled Tribes, but the BJP’s thumping victory (163 seats in the 200-member House) was not so much because of the Gujarat Chief Minister’s campaign blitzkrieg as much as it was because of the double anti-incumbency sentiment against the governments, in the State and at the Centre. Price rise, unemployment and the neglect of communities like the socially and politically dominant Jats who were perceived to be close to the Congress are said to be among the main reasons for the Congress’ debacle.

The anti-incumbency mood against the State government led by the Congress in the 2003 Assembly elections continued in the Lok Sabha election in 2004, giving the BJP a 49 per cent vote share in the State and leads in 140 Assembly segments. Yet, in the very same election, the BJP, which was leading the ruling National Democratic Alliance at the Centre, was voted out of power.

In the Lok Sabha election in 2009, the anti-incumbency factor worked against the incumbent BJP government in the State. This time round, the results went against the ruling party in the State and at the Centre, enabling the BJP to repeat its performance in the 2004 Lok Sabha election. In 2004, the Congress got 41.4 per cent of the votes (against the BJP’s 49 per cent), that is, 8.4 percentage points more than in the recent Assembly elections. This was at a time when there was no Modi factor to reckon with. The anti-Congress mood was more palpable this time because the party was in power both in the State and at the Centre, unlike during the previous Assembly elections.

The Modi factor became relevant only to the extent that it helped the anti-Congress sentiment express itself in a way as if it was a national election. The BJP basically rode the anti-Congress wave. The sharp decline in the vote share of “Others” from 29 per cent in 2008 to 17 per cent this time was indicative that it was a bipolar contest as in the case of a Lok Sabha election. The BJP gained from the decline in the share of “Others” rather than from the Congress.

Nevertheless, five candidates of the BJP forfeited their deposits while eight among the Congress, including the State Congress chief, forfeited theirs. “Had there been a wave, the BJP candidates would have at least saved their deposits,” noted an observer.

A careful look at the Assembly segments will show that the Congress drew a blank in almost all Jat-dominated seats. For instance, the party lost all the seats in Hanumangarh district and Nagaur, which have five and 10 Assembly segments respectively. It won just one of the seven Assembly segments in Jhunjhunu district, three of eight in Sikar district (this was the first time that the BJP won five Assembly seats in Sikar), two of seven in Bikaner district, one of six in Barmer, and one of 19 in Jaipur district.

Of the 10 seats falling in Jodhpur district, the Congress retained only one, that of Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot. The party drew a blank in other constituencies represented by important Congress Ministers too. In Ajmer, Union Minister Sachin Pilot’s Lok Sabha constituency, which has eight Assembly segments, the party did not win a single seat. The joke doing the rounds is that the Congress’ seat tally of 21 does not match even the number of districts in the State: 35.

The neglect of the Jat community, which constitutes 14 per cent of the population, cost the Congress dear. This was apparently the first time in a Congress-led dispensation at the Centre that no Jat was inducted as Minister for almost the entire tenure of the government; the late Sis Ram Ola was taken in as Minister only this year. With his death recently, it is perceived that the last bastion of the Congress in Jhunjhunu has also collapsed.

In a State where identity politics plays a major role, the aspirations of the Jat community that one among them should be made Chief Minister was sabotaged several times. Jats have been feeling alienated for some time. Hemaram Chaudhary of Barmer resigned as Revenue Minister in the State earlier this year apparently upset over the shifting of a refinery site. There was also resentment among Jats at the denial of the party ticket to contest the Lok Sabha elections in 2009 to three-time Parliament member Sonaram (Sonaram lost the Assembly elections this time on the Congress ticket) and at the arrest of Mahipal Maderna, former Water Resources Minister and son of an aspirant for the Chief Minister’s post Parasram Maderna, on the charges of the abduction and murder of a midwife in 2011.

Of the 59 reserved seats, the BJP won in 53; not a single Scheduled Caste (S.C.) candidate of the Congress won. Of the 25 Scheduled Tribe (S.T.) seats, the Congress won only four. Compared with 2008, when the Congress had 11 Muslim legislators and 38 S.C. and S.T. representatives, in 2013 the party has four S.Ts and no Muslim or S.C. representative.

The minorities by and large voted for the Congress despite their misgivings about the party. Minority candidates of the Congress lost by small margins. But veterans such as Duru Mian and Mahir Azad had to bite the dust. Comprising 8.47 per cent of the population, Muslims are estimated as having a presence in at least 50 constituencies. “The day the minorities desert the Congress, it is curtains for the party,” said an observer. Other communities, like the Gujjars, did not vote for the Congress despite the appeal from K.L. Bainsla, the leader of the Gujjar agitation for reservation to his community, to vote for the Congress.

With a few months to go before the Lok Sabha election, the Congress will find it an uphill task to retain its hold on the 20 out of 25 seats it won in Rajasthan in 2009.

This was an issue-based election where personalities played a role to the extent that their celebrity presence helped in consolidating votes. The presence of Modi only consolidated the anti-Congress sentiment where the sole purpose of the voter was to defeat the Congress nominee. In that process, the benefits accrued handsomely to the BJP.


Raman effect

By Purnima S. Tripathi

IS the Modi effect more myth than reality? Can the BJP’s prime ministerial nominee hypnotise the people of this vast country to such an extent that they vote in unidimensional manner? Can Modi actually deliver the victory that the BJP is hoping for in the 2014 Lok Sabha election? If the answers to these questions are uncertain from the results of the just-concluded round of Assembly elections in four north Indian States—Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Delhi—then it is bad news for the BJP. While it is true that the party retained its governments in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh for a record three terms and wrested Rajasthan from the Congress, the credit for these victories lies at the door of the respective leaders from these States: Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Raman Singh and Vasundhara Raje. Though the BJP’s national leaders have wasted no time in giving Modi the credit for these victories, facts say otherwise.

A close look at the results in Chhattisgarh shows that if it was not for Raman Singh’s personal appeal, the BJP could well have lost the State to the Congress. In the extremely close contest, at some points during the counting, on December 8, it looked like it was slipping out of the BJP’s hands. It was only during the last rounds of counting that the BJP acquired a definite lead over its rival. The BJP won 49 seats, one less than its tally in the 2008 elections, while the Congress increased its tally from 38 in 2008 to 39 this time. The BJP’s vote share was a mere 0.7 per cent more than that of the Congress; it was 2 per cent in 2008.

What was more worrying for the BJP was that it had to cede substantial ground in the tribal areas of the State to the Congress. In 2003 and 2008, the BJP won nine and 11 seats respectively out of the 12 tribal seats in the Bastar region, but this time its tally here was reduced to four. The Congress, whose tribal leadership in the State was almost entirely wiped out in a Maoist attack in May 2013, won eight seats here. This indeed was a blow to the BJP, which had claimed to have weaned the tribal voter away from the Congress.

Chhattisgarh should have been an easy win for the BJP because of the Chief Minister’s populist schemes, including that of giving foodgrains to people at a low price (this had earned Raman Singh the moniker of chawal wale baba), free power to farmers and uninterrupted power supply, and linking villages with pucca roads and ensuring education and health for all. Besides, he had earned a reputation for being clean despite charges of corruption against many in his government. Adding to this obvious advantage was the carpet bombing of a campaign by Modi, who addressed 12 meetings in Chhattisgarh, including many in naxalite areas, in a span of one month. If there was indeed any Modi effect, the BJP should have swept the elections.

The opposition Congress was a divided house, with the entire State leadership pitted against former Chief Minister Ajit Jogi. Though Jogi continued to be a force to reckon with in Chhattisgarh, his marginalisation by the party high command was no secret. This apparently sent confusing signals to the voters. Yet, the Congress increased both its seat tally and its vote share.

“If indeed Modi is such a vote-catcher, then why did he fail to impress the voters here? If only our campaign was more focussed on the leadership issue and there was no internal sabotage, we could have easily won the election,” a close aide of State Congress president Charan Das Mahant said shortly after the results. The reference to “internal sabotage” was aimed at Jogi, who, party leaders alleged, gave tacit support to at least 10-12 rebel candidates, thus damaging the Congress’ overall prospects.

Given this sort of a divided opposition and his own impressive record, Raman Singh should have sped past the post. Then why this cliffhanger of a victory? Offering a feeble excuse, a BJP leader said: “Chhattisgarh has always been a Congress bastion. Even before the State was created, this region in undivided Madhya Pradesh was a Congress stronghold. So for a BJP government to be voted in for a record third term is indeed significant.”

Madhya Pradesh

A vote for Shivraj

By Purnima S. Tripathi

IN Madhya Pradesh, Brand Shivraj was so strong that even detractors of the Chief Minister would not find fault with him on a personal level even though there was unanimity about him not being an effective or stern administrator. His affable image, easy accessibility, and some solid work at the ground level with regard to bijli, sadak, paani (electricity, roads and water) ensured that he scored a brilliant hat-trick. Besides, secular gestures like his participation in roza iftaar, letting Muslim women tie rakhi on his wrist, and organising pilgrimages for people of all religions added to his acceptability, which even the royal charms of a Jyotiraditya Scindia, the Congress in-charge of elections in Madhya Pradesh, could not dent. So much so that the BJP won as many as 56 of the 66 seats in the predominantly Muslim Nimar-Malwa region. The huge winning margin here makes it obvious that the Muslims have voted for the BJP, says Ishrat Ali, Shahr Qazi of Indore.

Modi or no Modi, Chouhan was holding his own and this was obvious in the results: the BJP won 165 seats, up from 143 seats in 2008. The party’s vote share too went up by almost 8 per cent. The Congress also increased its vote share by about 4 per cent, but its seat tally went down from 71 in 2008 to 58 this time.

“When the choice is between good roads and potholed roads, between enough power and dark nights, between adequate water and dry taps, then it is not difficult for the voter to make his choice,” a voter told this correspondent in Indore, alluding to the Congress days during Digvijay Singh’s rule when Madhya Pradesh fared poorly on many development indices.

Chouhan’s wide appeal among voters was visible even as early as September 2013 when he organised a workers’ mahapanchayat in Bhopal. The fact that he was the leader of Madhya Pradesh was quite clear even then and his winning the election does not come as a surprise.

If there was any Modi effect in Madhya Pradesh, it was only perhaps in uniting the disparate elements in the anti-BJP camp; this explains the increase in the vote share of the Congress. Many people told this correspondent in Indore and in Khandwa region that the prospect of a Modi-led government at the Centre and a BJP government in the State was scary and so the anti-BJP vote got consolidated, resulting in an increase in the overall voter turnout.

“Strong State leaders like Shivraj Singh or Raman Singh were judged by the voters on the basis of their own performance. The Modi factor was irrelevant in these States. Had the BJP swept the elections in Chhattisgarh, then we could have said yes, this was due to Modi. But this was not the case. Delhi shows that where there was an alternative, people weighed their options. A rank outsider like the Aam Aadmi Party, which promised to give clean governance, was given a chance by the voters,” says Shaibal Gupta, a Patna-based social scientist and the member-secretary of the Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI) there. According to him, Modi at best has shown that he can galvanise his own party cadre, make effective interventions in his own organisation and instil in party workers the confidence that the BJP can win. “Nobody else could have caused the last-minute change of the BJP’s chief ministerial face in Delhi. The way he has galvanised the party workers, nobody else could have done that, but there is no evidence to show that he has the incremental vote as well,” he says.

Political observers are of the view that whether Modi will deliver in 2014 is too early to say because in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan the contest was essentially bipolar and there was not much fragmentation of voters along identity lines. But in States like Bihar or Uttar Pradesh, this factor would be put to real test, they say. And if the results in Delhi are anything to go by, the clear message is that people will look at the governance record, or the promise of it, of any contender for power, and that they will not shy away from adventurous experimenting as well.

“In States where the BJP already has a strong base but is scattered, like in Uttar Pradesh or Bihar, Modi can make a difference, but where it has no base, like in Tamil Nadu or West Bengal or Andhra Pradesh, people are not going to blindly fall in love with Modi,” says Prabhat P. Ghosh, director of the ADRI.

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