2014 General elections: Which way the wind blows?

General elections in India have never been national in true sense and character, always been a comprehensive of regional political preferences.  With fast approaching of general elections 2014 it is important for all of us to recollect the voting pattern of the 2009 general elections of the Indian two political parties the Indian National Congress (INC) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ? two major political parties of the world?s largest democracy. A quick review of the last results with the present trend, influencing factors along with the record of governance on hand we will be able to preview the probable outcome of the forthcoming 2014 general election.

The combined recorded vote share of the INC and BJP was 47.5% in 2009 general election showing a decline of 1.2% as compared to the earlier election in the year of 2004.  A further review will make it noteworthy that the both parties collectively secured 57% of vote share in the general elections of 2001 ? a very clear indication of gradual declining in electorate preference for these two. This marked decline gave rise to polity to the regional and other national political parties.  It is also worthwhile to observe that BJP?s vote share had declined by 3.6% from 22.2% to 18.6% while Indian National Congress had recorded an increase of 2.1%, from 26.5% to 28.6% in the last election.

Geographical political indices and ground realities

Political pundits and analysts are fairly convinced that BJP will gain prominently in Chattisgarh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajastan where BJP is in direct contest with INC. Collectively these states represent 16.74% parliamentary share. Electorate in these states seems to be convinced with the narrative of INC?s misdeeds, coupled with swing favoring BJP. Bihar and Maharashtra collectively represent 16.19% parliamentary share.  Nitish Kumar of JD(U), a seasoned politician – a long time ally turned foe of BJP, severed relationship with the party by rejecting Modi for his Prime ministerial aspirations will fight tooth and nail to restrain BJP to ensure Modi gasp for breath. JD(U) will try and garner more seats to contain BJP in more share in a virtual direct contest. Maharashtra will have time tested alliance of INC-NCP taking on BJP-SS with no major electoral tilt favoring any party, may maintain the same vote share.

Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal, J & K and Odisha along with North eastern states collectively account for parliamentary representation of 35.89% where BJP virtually has no presence at the grass root level.  Surprisingly BJP had failed miserably except in Assam where it won 4 seats and 1 seat in West Bengal in last 2009 general elections. INC will miserably fail in Andhra Pradesh where it had utmost representation from, while BJP has failed to address any important issues or present a strong development agenda in these states since last general election which could have helped them in shifting the voting pattern in their favor.

BJP will significantly make gains in NCT of DELHI and in Haryana. In Jharkhand it is likely to lose its grip over the last numbers while it will maintain comfortable position in Punjab. In Himachal Pradesh it will not make any impressive gains. However, Uttarakhand may make satisfactory gains. Collective share of parliamentary representation of these states is about 9.76% while the Union territories and Goa with a parliamentary share of 1.47% is likely to maintain the same outcome as that of 2009 election.

Karnataka with 5.15% parliamentary share, is an important south Indian state. Electorate in Karnataka has not forgotten the high drama in the recent past when BJP Chief Minister B.S Yediyurappa was made to step down owing issues of corruption, followed by installations of two successive chief ministers. Severe infighting, heightened dissidence led dethroned B.S.Yediyurappa resign from the party. He formed his own party to witness a devastating poll outcome to himself and BJP, thus reducing BJP to 3rd position due to splitting of votes in the recently concluded assembly election. Though it is widely speculated that B. S. Yediyurappa will return home but damage will be irreversible, will certainly reflect in the results of general elections in contrast to what it gained in 2009.

Uttar Pradesh ? the political pulse of India

Uttar Pradesh historically played a significant political role in national politics. Its share of 8 out of 14 prime ministers in the service of the nation is the testimony to the fact. The beauty and vagaries of the election process through FPTP (first past the post) method is best witnessed in this state that has the largest parliamentary representation of 14.73%.  The INC, BJP, BSP & SP will be locked in quadrangular contests in all the constituencies. Modi?s appointment of his close confidant, BJP national general secretary Amit Shah as in-charge of campaigning of UP is a no secret that BJP would like to attempt revival of magic of iconic leader A.B.Vajpayee in 1998 that saw winning 59 seats (undivided UP).  Speculations of Modi filing nomination from Lucknow or Varanasi may also be a part of the strategy.  INC has appointed Dr. Nirmal Khatri as president of UPCC, a senior congressman, a wizard in handling organizational matters and imposing discipline, to keenly oversee and ensure increase in its vote share. Mayawati will make all out attempt to consolidate and repair the damage she suffered in the recently concluded assembly elections by highlighting the deterioration of law and order situation under the present SP regime. Mulayam Singh, a maverick will perform all gimmicks to hold on to the fort, if not to excel.

Swing vote and political wave

Swing voters or the floaters can substantially impact the poll verdict.  These are a mixed bag partly comprised of intelligent set of people without affiliation to political parties, while affiliated, may also cut the party lines in favor of specific candidates, often as a matter of personal liking or driven by caste card. A section of swing group is undecided, influenced by social media, negative, hyped campaign and propaganda. Religious sentiment, discreet dictums and sympathy also play a big role on swingers. It has often seen that young or first time voters who have not established their personal political philosophy tend to swing in a peculiar pattern and make large impact in battleground states where the election result could go either way.  Forthcoming general election will register significant swing voting share tilt towards the BJP in the Hindi heartland (except UP, Bihar & Haryana) while the swingers in South India will play significantly in favor of regional parties, Andhra Pradesh may witness astonishing level of swings towards regional parties in the forthcoming elections.

Union finance minister Chidambaram recently acknowledged that Modi is a challenger to INC and frank admission of Omar Abdullah, chief minister of J&K that Modi?s impact will be felt in the next elections. Though he ruled out any ?Modi wave? whereas it is progressively evident that such a wave is being felt in parts of Hindi heartland where BJP is in direct contest with INC and may confine within.

The National governance and state of major opposition party

INC, in its two-term period of governance has been successful in steadfastly projecting its image with secular values of ?tolerant vision for promoting multi-religion society? upheld by the M.K. Gandhi.  On the other hand it is tormented by the allegations of corruption, inability to handle economy, failure to control inflation, unemployment and by anti incumbency factor.  BJP, being the main opposition party has not missed any opportunity to erode the image of the ruling INC while it was not able to set its own house in order. Major disagreements, discontent within the senior BJP national leaders from handling of organizational issues by former party president Nitin Gadkari, declaration on Narendra Modi as Prime ministerial candidate, ineffective handling of Karnataka BJP crisis in tackling severe infighting, dissidence among the top ranking leaders in Karnataka. People in the state mutely witnessed unfolding the high drama. Karnataka is such an important south Indian state to BJP where its lotus bloomed in 2008 with much fanfare, euphoria and hopes that sent 19 BJP representatives to the parliament in 2009, highest among all states. BJP central leadership?s futile, counteractive exercise known to have caused large scale indiscipline that led to utter failure in performance of the party in the recently concluded assembly elections, now pushed to the 3rd slot in the state.

Narendra Modi, prime ministerial candidate of BJP, in his high-voltage, well publicized political campaigns does not leave any stone unturned in eroding the image of INC that includes practice of dynasty politics and has been terming Rahul Gandhi, Vice President of INC as heir apparent of the party and crown prince. His campaigns have been getting rouse receptions with swelling crowds.  He has been projecting himself as icon of governance, recently evoked a stir by announcing ?toilets first, temples later?, projecting

himself on a secular path leaving behind the Hindutva plank, his excessive utterances against the Gandhi family and lack of finesse in the public speeches seem to polarize instead evoking broad-based support for BJP.

Writing on the wall and our FPTP electoral system

Our FPTP (first past the post) electoral system determines the winner by relative majority with plurality voting pattern is adopted in 1950 considering composition of our diversity, multi-ethnicity and multi -religious society. It provided relative representation of socially oppressed and under privileged group by reservation. The system was adopted to deliver stable government.  It also gives freedom and opportunity to participate in the race to many to assume new identities and reinvent the past leaves strong impact on the outcome of the verdict.

The super charged BJP campaign runs with riding on pro nationalistic sentiments, national integrity, security and pride, playing Hindu nationalism card, all out condemnation of INC and Gandhi family in particular. The forthcoming assembly elections in Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi will unquestionably favor much to the expectations of the BJP. Conversely, this region-specific stronghold of BJP should not be presumed to have similar impact elsewhere in the coming elections. Narendra Modi?s grand initiative of honoring Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel by constructing a biggest statue in Gujarat may not help in repeat history of A.B. Vajpayee, may not succeed in crossing 150 seats mark. However, indisputably it will outperform its earlier record by 31 to 33 seats, bringing the total tally around 149.

The tarnished image of UPA overrode all its good work on pro-people policies that was done.  Though the INC struggled to defend the various charges of the opposition it has been successful in projecting its image as sole guardian and protector of religious minorities, socially oppressed classes, gesture that is well accepted by minorities, if not fully by the oppressed class.  This will make noteworthy contributions in favor of INC in terms in vote share. Undoubtedly the INC may clearly lose as many as 53 seats from the numbers of last election, bringing the total down to around 155 to 153, likely to retain the status of single largest party with the razor thin margin with BJP.

On the other hand, the regional and other national parties with diametrically opposing ideologies in Tamil Nadu (AIDMK), Andhra Pradesh (YSR Congress, TDP & TRS) West Bengal (AITC), Uttar Pradesh (SP & BSP) & Bihar (JD-U, RJD), Odisha (BJD) and not to forget the Communist Party of India (Marxist) will emerge as major influencing factors in installation of government in weaving the fractured mandate.

Likelihood of uniform deterioration of INC in poll results, region-specific rise of BJP and titling of electorate conscience to regional and other national parties are clear indication signs of rejection of two biggest national parties for their failure to give good governance, playing Hindu nationalism and attempting societal divisions on communal lines.

          Steven J Menezes

Author: Steven J Menezes