Kuala Lumpur, April 30 (South Asian Monitor): Given the fact that opinion polls are conducted by the corporate-controlled media, and the media’s concentration is on the views and interests of the urban elite, India’s middle and upper classes believe that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by the charismatic Narendra Modi, will win the on-going Indian parliamentary elections, albeit with a smaller majority.
And given the socio-economic and political character of the Indian media and its concentration in the big cities, the issues that are considered electorally relevant are also those of the largely non-voting upper middle and upper classes.
Modi’s TV theatrics, his oratorical abilities and his grandiose schemes go down well with these classes, even if these plans had failed to take off, and the “Acche Din” (the good times) he promised never materialized in the past five years.
The opinion polls conducted in India have rarely been right because of the way they are conducted; the samples they choose; their insensitivity to regional and local concerns; and the simplistic questionnaires they use. And yet, ahead of every election, polls are taken perhaps as part of party propaganda.
In 2004 opinion polls confidently predicted the BJP’s victory as the generally acceptable A.B.Vajpayee was the Prime Minister and there had been an impressive media blitz on “Indian Shining.” But the BJP led NDA was defeated by the Congress led by Sonia Gandhi of Italian origin.
This time, the air war against Pakistan and the hero-worship of the MIG 21 pilot who was shot down over Pakistan are said to have triggered a nationalist wave which has buoyed up Modi’s chances which are already rated high because of the perceived appeal of his aggressive Hindutva.
But it is forgotten that anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim actions appeal mainly in states in North India which nurse the wounds of partition of India in 1947 which affected them physically and territorially.
However, even in these “Hindutva-oriented and nationalistic” States, there are other pressing issues which concern the masses in the rural areas who are the majority in the population and also the majority in the voter list. It is the latter who brave the sun and the rain to stand in serpentine queues to vote, not the chattering classes.
The BJP-led central government’s performance on 30 top concerns for voters such as better employment opportunities, healthcare facilities and drinking water supply, is rated “below average”’ by a late-2018 all-India survey by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR).
“This indisputably is a result of prevailing governance deficit in these sectors that is causing deprivation to the average Indian voter,” the survey report said.
Carried out between October 2018 and December 2018, the “All India Survey On Governance Issues and Voting Behaviour 2018” ’ covered 534 of 543 Lok Sabha constituencies, with 273,487 participating voters spread across various demographics.
ADR’s report identifies 30 voters’ priorities including drinking water, electricity, roads, food, education, healthcare and public transport, in their respective regions. For assessing this, voters were asked to list their top five concerns.
‘Better employment opportunities’ emerged as the topmost concern for 46.8% of voters, followed by better healthcare (34.6%) and drinking water (30.5%).
ADR asked participants to rate the government’s performance on each of the 30 voters’ priorities. A three-level scale of ‘Good’, ‘Average’ and ‘Bad’ was used, where ‘Good’ was given weightage if 5, ‘Average’ was weighted 3 and ‘Bad’ was weighted 1.
The government’s performance on addressing the top three concerns–employment, healthcare and drinking water needs–was rated 2.15, 2.35 and 2.52, respectively, or “below average”, according to the report. In fact, in all 30 listed issues, across rural and urban areas at the all-India level, the government received a rating “below the average” score of 3 out of 5.
Importance of Coalitions
In an interesting analysis published in The Diplomat, Krzysztof Iwanek, makes the following observations on the importance of the performance of coalition partners as the BJP is expected to come down in numbers because of bad governance.
In 2014, the BJP won the majority on its own, winning over 282 seats, 10 more than necessary for a majority. The BJP’s allies had won 54 seats. But out of this, 16 were later lost when the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) from Andhra Pradesh left the alliance complaining of broken promises.
Therefore, Modi’s party would have to hope that its allies will win more than last time, or it would have to bring new players onboard. A few larger, regional, and currently fence-sitting parties would have to salvage BJP’s result.
Out of the 29 Indian States, 29 are big and important electorally because of their size and numbers in parliament.
Five states may be counted as ‘make-or-break” ones. And these are: Uttar Pradesh (80 seats), Maharashtra (48), West Bengal (42), Bihar (40), and Tamil Nadu (39). Together these five states occupy 249 seats in the house of 543.
Next come Madhya Pradesh (29), Karnataka (28), Gujarat (26), Andhra Pradesh (25), and Rajasthan (25).
These “Great Ten” states are jointly represented by 382 MPs in the Lok Sabha. In 2014, BJP won 213 seats in the Great Ten states. But of these, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu offered it a total of only five seats.
Therefore, it was from the remaining seven – Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat, and Rajasthan, that the BJP marshaled an army of 208 legislators.
But in the 2018 State Assembly elections in MP and Rajasthan, the Congress and the BJP finished neck-to-neck and Congress ultimately formed the government. It was similar in Karnataka, with Congress making it and BJP losing at the end of the day.
Against this background ,the BJP’s seat share in three states could significantly go down.
Karnataka, MP, and Rajasthan provided Modi’s party with 69 legislators in 2014. Losing a part of them without additional gains elsewhere, would mean that BJP would fall below the majority bar in its current election.
In 2014, UP gave the BJP 71 seats ,But it does not seem it can repeat this feat now with loses in the recent by-elections to the State Assembly.
Even if one imagines that losses would only be suffered in UP, MP, Karnataka, and Rajasthan, this would mean that the party would have to retain its result everywhere else, and would still need to win new ground or attract new allies.
In UP, there is a “Grand Alliance” against BJP though the Congress is not part of it. But the Congress does not count in UP. The anti-BJP alliance has different caste groups and minorities as their pillars of support. The Grand Alliance could be a winning combination. Also ,after elections, the Grand Alliance, comprising the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) could support the Congress-led United Peoples Alliance (UPA) as both the alliance and the Congress are anti-BJP.
In Maharashtra, the BJP is the incumbent facing anti-incumbency. But with 18 MP now, the Shiv Sena is the biggest pillar of the BJP’s alliance. Therefore, prospects look good for BJP. And Maharashtra is a Hindutva State though its farmers’ debt issue could take the shine off its Hindutva base and reduce the BJP’s seats tally.
West Bengal has never had a BJP presence. The All-India Trinamool Congress (AITC), led by Mamata Banerjee, is facing an anti-incumbency factor, but it is sure to win more of the vote share than any of her rivals, especially BJP. The AITC is not part of any of the two national coalitions at the moment, but since Mamata Banerjee is vehemently opposed to Modi’s rule, she is likely to support his rival ,the UPA led by Congress after the elections.
In Tamil Nadu the BJP has virtually no presence. But the ruling AIADMK will support it because its rival, the DMK, is with the Congress-led UPA. But the AIADMK faces incumbency, and has been weakened by the death of its charismatic leader J.Jayalalithaa, and a subsequent internal struggle.
In Bihar, the BJP had won the largest number of seats in 2014. But in the State Assembly elections of 2015 it was defeated by a coalition of regional parties and the Congress. However in 2017, when Nitish Kumar, the leader of the JD(U) party, stabbed his allies in the back by withdrawing support to the government, and then establishing a new coalition with the BJP, the BJP was able to become the State’s ruler. But Bihar is a politically unstable State and not amenable to predictions.
In Andhra Pradesh, the BJP is very weak after the TDP quit the alliance, and Telangana seceded from Andhra Pradesh in 2014. The TDP is strong in Andhra Pradesh and a regional party, the Telangana Rashtra Samity, is very strong in Telangana.
With the situation in the key States being such, the BJP will have to perform better this time than in 2014 and its dependence on the performance of its allies will increase.
It may also have to work out a post-poll alliance with fence-sitting parties which can be wooed by offers of office and cabinet positions and development packages for their States.