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Updated: June 12, 2013 01:56 IST

Modi and the numbers game

M. K. Venu
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The Hindu

The first past the post system has thrown up surprising results in successive elections. 2014 promises to be no different

With Narendra Modi taking charge as head of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s election campaign committee, one presumes he will deploy his own team of analysts to study the party’s strengths and weaknesses across different States. If his approach in Gujarat is any guide, Mr. Modi likes to go down to granular details while studying various constituencies in order to deploy resources optimally. It increasingly seems like the BJP will fight the 2014 elections under the de facto — if not de jure — leadership of Mr. Modi. This would indeed cause some complex realignments in the hitherto presumed voting patterns, particularly in the northern belt which is critical in deciding who leads a coalition at the Centre. For instance, the polarising influence of Mr. Modi among the minority and upper caste Hindu votes in Uttar Pradesh could create vote shifts not experienced so far. Since national elections have increasingly become an aggregation of State-level choices made by voters, it is difficult to predict what kind of shifts might occur in the voting patterns in 2014.

Least national

The last five general elections have empirically shown that India’s elections are least national in character compared with most countries in the world. After all, even in 2009, the combined vote share of the Congress and the BJP, at 47.5 per cent, had declined by 1.2 per cent. The Congress and the BJP together had nearly 57 per cent vote share in 1991. There has been a near 10 per cent decline in the vote share of the two national parties over the past 20 years. This is how much the polity has got regionalised over this period. Strictly speaking, in terms of geographical spread, even the BJP can be described as a party largely confined to the northern and western region. In the 2009 election, the Congress improved its overall vote share from 26.5 per cent to 28.6 per cent, and the BJP declined from 22.2 per cent to 18.8 per cent. The BJP’s vote share in just the seats it contested declined even more dramatically — by 11 per cent.

In 2009, the Congress primarily reaped the advantage of the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system as it gained a large number of Lok Sabha seats (61), even if its vote share improved only by 2.13 per cent compared with the 2004 general election. Purely statistically, it is possible that the Congress experiences the reverse of what it did in 2009 — lose a disproportionately large number of seats with a 2 to 3 per cent fall in its vote share. These are simply the vagaries of the FPTP system.

Going by the currently popular narrative, the Congress is reeling under a natural two-term anti-incumbency, compounded by a sharply declining economy, growing unemployment, high inflation and myriad charges of corruption. Indeed, if the average voter is convinced of this narrative, the Congress could easily suffer a 2 to 3 per cent decline in its vote share. The party could then lose over 60 seats, and possibly more, that it had gained in 2009. But these seats may not automatically go to the BJP. For instance, in the southern States, where the BJP has virtually no presence, the Congress’s loss cannot be the BJP’s gain.

The Congress’s loss can be the BJP’s gain only in States like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Gujarat and Delhi where the two national parties have a direct contest. Outside these States, we have multi-cornered contests almost everywhere, with the presence of strong regional parties. Here the complex FPTP system will determine how a change in the vote share gets converted into seats.

The complex conversion of vote share into seats was studied in some detail by Yogendra Yadav of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) in the extensive National Election Study carried out by CSDS. Essentially, Mr. Yadav has analysed how unpredictable the vote share to seats multiplier can be.

For instance the Congress enjoyed a relatively higher conversion ratio of votes into seats in 2009. The party got more than seven Lok Sabha seats for every one per cent of its vote share in the 2009 general election. Therefore it ended up bagging 206 Lok Sabha seats with its 28.6 per cent national vote share. Interestingly, in the 1999 general election, the Congress had nearly the same vote share as in 2009, but it got three seats less for every one per cent vote share. So what explains the increase of nearly three Lok Sabha seats for the Congress for every one per cent of its votes between 1999 and 2009?

Congress, a more natural choice

Indeed, this is the most complex aspect of the FPTP system. The BJP’s vote share to seats multiplier has been steadily declining since 1999 when it had peaked under Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s leadership. Logically, the Congress’s higher conversion of vote share into seats possibly happens because it still gets votes from various castes and communities at the margin because of its national umbrella character, even if this has eroded considerably over the years. The National Election Study of the CSDS also shows that even though India’s general elections are largely driven by State-specific choices, at least 41 per cent of voters interviewed did say that the Central government also mattered to them along with the State government.

It was also found that the Congress, partly because of its history, is a more natural choice among voters who gave some importance to who ruled at the Centre. By and large, however, Indian elections are an aggregate of regional political choices.

As a natural party of the Centre, the Congress has had some advantage over the BJP, but it cannot take this for granted. Now Mr. Modi is trying to change this, at least at a psychological level, if not on the ground yet. This would mean trying to get the BJP back to the multiplier of over seven Lok Sabha seats for every one per cent vote that it had enjoyed under Mr. Vajpayee in 1999.

So, politically, Mr. Modi’s attempt will be to run a focussed campaign to erode the Congress’s image among large sections of the voters as a natural party of governance and instead project the BJP as a more worthy candidate at the Centre. Some of this strategy is already being implemented as the BJP leaders at the Goa national executive meet repeatedly spoke about national security and national pride as important planks for the 2014 elections. Lack of strong leadership at the Centre, and India becoming more vulnerable in the eyes of the rest of the world, is another narrative being pushed by the BJP. The Congress will have to be far more creative in defending itself, facing as it does a heavy two-term anti-incumbency. The Congress’s Bharat Nirman campaign is partly aimed at reinforcing its credentials among the people as a party of natural choice at the Centre. Mr. Modi has been quick to punch holes in the Bharat Nirman campaign.

It is critical for the BJP to increase its national vote share which is at just 18.8 per cent after it peaked in 1998 at 25.6 per cent. Both the BJP’s vote share and its vote to seats conversion multiplier peaked during Mr. Vajpayee’s time; it has been in steady decline since then. This is the BJP’s best chance of reviving both these critical parameters. However, it does not have a Vajpayee to restore the old glory. Instead, it has Narendra Modi whose de facto projection as a future Prime Minister will tend to polarise rather than create a more broad-based support for the BJP as had happened under Mr. Vajpayee.

In his analysis of the 2009 general election, Yogendra Yadav had argued (Economic and Political Weekly, Sept. 26-Oct. 9, 2009) that “the key to the Congress performance was in the party’s success in direct contests against the BJP and [the] Left … In the 115 seats where it was a direct Congress versus BJP contest, the Congress gained 3.1 per cent vote and the BJP lost 5.1 per cent vote share. These states also accounted for the biggest addition to the Congress kitty. The Congress gained 26 seats and the BJP lost 26.” Clearly, Mr. Modi and his strategy team will have to give special attention to the direct contest areas in order to maximise gains in both vote share and seats.

Of course, outside the “direct contest” States, the BJP is hoping to make big gains off a very low base in Uttar Pradesh where it got just 10 seats in 2009. The other three parties in Uttar Pradesh — the Congress, the SP and the BSP — got 20 seats or more. A top BJP leader recently told this writer that there was scope to increase seats by up to 30 in Uttar Pradesh. If Mr. Modi were to fight the Lok Sabha election from Uttar Pradesh, as is being speculated, the polarisation of votes will be acute and any freak result is possible given the uncertainties inherent in the FPTP system.

Typically, the vote share converts into seats in a very strange way in Uttar Pradesh. In the 2009 Lok Sabha election, for instance, the BJP lost 4.7 per cent vote share and yet did not lose any seat compared with its 2004 tally. Conversely, the BSP gained a nearly three per cent vote share and added just one extra seat to its tally. The equation between vote share and seats works in strange ways. Mr. Modi will probably make it even more complex in 2014.

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@ Kurt Waschnig: I: Firstly, thank you for your interest in Indian politics. You should know that the concept of "mob justice" is a feature of Indian society. People, sometimes even on the basis of mere suspicion or hearsay, are thrashed, lynched, burnt, etc. in broad daylight,sometimes right under the noses of the police, when an issue goes out of control, and especially if it is politically or religiously sensitive. Whether the brutal killing of the Sikhs following Indira Gandhi's assassination, the riots over Babri Masjid, or the burning of the Godhra train and the horrible killings that followed, and countless number of other riots-even over the death of film stars-all have different causes but are singularly similar in one sense-the state and the law enforcing agencies have never ever done enough. But whether they have actively participated in the riots or not can be decided only by the courts. In this regard, the highest court of the land has not found Modi guilty.

from:  luhar sen
Posted on: Jun 13, 2013 at 13:23 IST

BJP actually has much better leaders than Congress and middle-class to upper-class all favor Modi as the next PM.
Now only in Northern belt, in UP etc is going to be a challenge and the success will greatly depend on coalition factor and not who aam junta votes for.

Congress plays dirty and BJP will have to get in the dirt if they want to win and be more aggressive.
I hope that BJP wins as Modi is the leader India deserves at this oint.
India appears as a very vulnerable country right now and we need a strong persona.

from:  sardar khan
Posted on: Jun 13, 2013 at 13:20 IST

It was a sad day in Indian denmocracy, when Modi was elected for such a big party's election campaign. After all his deeds in Godhra incident even the U.S gave him a slap of refusing a visa, and here he has been appointed head. This is indian democracy, shame for indian democracy, this evil will never become PM.

from:  ashish
Posted on: Jun 13, 2013 at 13:00 IST

The article analyses all factors that lead to decline of BJP's share in
national elections.... but the most central cause has been missed:
Leadership.... What Vajpayee had, Advani lacked... Lack of leadership
and the various storms within BJP for the last 8 years destroyed it....
People will vote for BJP again, thanks to Modi, and I really hope BJP
doesnt play itself short in the south....

from:  sastry
Posted on: Jun 12, 2013 at 20:30 IST

The whole Modi-Advani saga is a pathetic 'storm in a teacup'. Advani needs to concede that he should retire now. Modi is a vibrant and modern as well as a nationalistic leader. Modi is just the kind of PM that India needs to lead india through troubled waters, regarding domestic, economic and foreign policies. Lets hope that the Indian public see the dynamism offered by Modi and there is no need for a coalition.

from:  Vida
Posted on: Jun 12, 2013 at 17:14 IST

I was very surprised that Narendra Modi has been chosen to lead the main opposition party´s campaign for elections due next year. Mr. Modi is seen a a rising star in the Hindu nationalist BJP and tipped as a possible candidate for prime minister.
He is credited with making Gujarat one of India´s most prosperous states. But Mr Modi is also accused of doing little to stop anti-Muslim riots in 2002 which left more than 1,000 dead. His appointment as the head of the Bharatya Janata Party´s election campaign came at a meeting of the national executive to plan for elections due by May 2014.
The 2002 anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat – one of the worst episodes of Hindu-Muslim violence in modern India – all eyes are on the Mr Modi who led the state then and still leads it today. The 2002 violence began on February 27 2002, with the burning in Godhra of a train car full of activists from a Hindu nationalist group. Immediately after that incident , Mr Modi supported Hindu nationalists´call for a general strike and allowed them to take the dead bodies from Godhra to Gujarat´s biggest city, Ahmedabad where they were displayed publicly, two decisions that have been widely criticised as inflaming anti sentiment.
Mr Modi has massive support both within the party as well as among India´s middle classes and business community who see him as a charismatic leader who has turned Gujarat into an economic powerhouse.
As things stand today, the situ ation is not so much about a Modi versus Rahul in the run up to the next Parliamentary elections, but how Mr Modi can step into the shoes of a man like Atal Behari Vajpayee and how he can reach out to the people.
Being the face of a political party is one thing which is something different from being the acceptable face of other partners. This is the pre-requisite of coalition politics, where striking the right alliance with other parties become the mantra for electoral success.
Quality newspapers in Germany like Die Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Die Süddeutsche Zeitung have reported regularly on Mr Modi during the last days.

from:  kurt waschnig
Posted on: Jun 12, 2013 at 16:32 IST

Each state in India has it's own dynamics and the smartest national
party is that which makes seat adjustments with the regional leader. The
congress should make alliances with the BSP in UP, the JD(U) in Bihar,
the TMC in WB, the NC in J&K, the NCP in Maha, the Jagan Congress in AP,
the AIADMK in TN and the JD(S) in karnataka. That way it can ensure the
creation of a brand new UPA-III

from:  Uday Kamat
Posted on: Jun 12, 2013 at 16:14 IST

People who think, analyse and then vote will vote for BJP. the
congress has divided people into not just religions but also caste and
sub caste. the HJP does not hve the fear of retaining vote banks and
the hindus (which it supposedly belongs to) dont have the vote bank
culture, the biggest hindu party in that case would be the communists.
so i think the BJP will work for a better India. If at all some people
vote for Cong, then it would be like ' My dad and granddad voted for
them' or simply not looking into details. And the comment ' modi will
polarise votes is in bad taste,. The hindu, i am sure would have
analysed Guj Elections. It is the tendency of the uninformed to say
polarisation and this is not the first time, Even better known media
has interpreted it like this - 'BJP polarises votes in Jammu' when it
wins but not bothered when BJP losses in Kashmir to call it ' COngress
polarises votes in Kashmir with their Pro Pakistan Attitude

from:  Vinod
Posted on: Jun 12, 2013 at 15:59 IST

BJP and India needs leaders like Shyam Prasad Mookerjee, Nanaji Deshmuck and Deenadayal.Pity that Advani now invokke their names to his rescue,but cared less to groom himself to fill the void.BJP men are like Congressmen are all profiteers and self seeking.Luckily Modi can bring some hope to Indian masses.The success of the BJP depend how best and strong the BJP creates anti-Congraess sentiments in the Country to replace the Congaress at the Centre. Lalu will manage with Nitish. Like Advani,Lalu , Nitish is a self centring politician. North Indian leaders are having no concern for the Country. Majority of the Southern people support leaders like Modi,who can provide dynamic and vibrant leadership to the Country.
India should be controlled by nationalist parties only and regional parties are there only to weaken the Country by raising petty slogans.Patriotic elements of the Nationalist Parties alone can provide good government. The Congress should be cleansed and the BJP too!

from:  Sundresan
Posted on: Jun 12, 2013 at 14:44 IST

Nice article. But i don't think BJP can win in the upcoming central
election. Coalition with the state parties will decide the BJP win.
Right now they have only three parties with them. Hopefully in Bihar,
Nitish will go away from BJP coalition and after election ADMK will
come and join in BJPs coalition.And there is a chance Mamda ji will
support BJP after the election but she won't get enough seats to carry
the BJP. Maya from UP will support BJP after the election but Mulayam
will support Congress. So, like that so many changes will happen, but
all will happen after the election. Even if you wish or dont wish ,
again Congress will lead the nation by riding on the regional parties.
That's for sure.

from:  Mydeen
Posted on: Jun 12, 2013 at 14:18 IST

NaMo in 2014 will be like the Mule in Asimov's Foundation. His effect on the voters will be unpredictable. Many rules/analyses will be rewritten after these elections. Whether he wins or not, one can't be sure. But, he will make a crater like impact. Even if he loses, his followers will escalate the fight against the elected.

from:  Arun Murthy
Posted on: Jun 12, 2013 at 14:10 IST

All these calculations are based on the votes recorded in the Electronic Voting Machines in last few years elections. The vulnerablity of the EVMs for manipulations are in the discussions & even under question in courts. Also improvements on EVMs with paper printouts etc are going on. Hence I doubt the accuracy in the analysis based on a doubted machine recorded data.

from:  M Balachandran
Posted on: Jun 12, 2013 at 13:58 IST

Modi's appeal is limited to Gujarat and RSS followers. More
appropriate would be to give a chance to AAP because when it comes
to Congress and BJP, there's not much difference. Both parties are
expert in engineering riots though BJP wins in this department
while in corruption, nepotism, policy mismanagement they score a
tie. BJP is though more business-friendly for obvious reasons.

from:  Ganesh Narang
Posted on: Jun 12, 2013 at 12:28 IST

Good analysis of the vote percentage and their role in seat conversion. An objective analysis of the game theory in Indian politics without taking any sides. Wish to see more articles like this. Even the politicians contesting for the general elections in 2014 can use this article to decide their strategy.

from:  Ankit Choudhary
Posted on: Jun 12, 2013 at 12:14 IST

Informative. I would like to see Modi (as well as BJP, not of recent-year's) to be elected this term. As an youngster, I feel it is high time I should safeguard my self respect which, in no way, Congress failed to.

from:  Venkat
Posted on: Jun 12, 2013 at 12:04 IST

Well analyzed article over Namo and number game. The recent bereft within BJP has again made Congress as a natural choice. People are thinking that BJP is a party lacking leadership quality among its leaders. The party which cn't stand by its leaders, how can they lead a nation.But still they have time to protray themslevs as an alternative of natural choice .One year is more than enough to leader like Narendra modi to erode the picture of corrupt UPA nirmaan.

from:  abhishek
Posted on: Jun 12, 2013 at 11:53 IST

The author rightly says that the General elections have become aggregation of state level choices. But if we look carefully we will understand that this was not the case before 1996. Even if we take post Nehru period , the elections were giving strong signal of national character . Just look at 1971,77, 79,85, 89, even 1991. What has basically changed is the very very long prolonged Election schedule prepared by election commission. This became a norm after the famous 3 week break given by Mr. Sheshan in 1991 election. As we know this break caused two very different choices by people.
The justification for this prolonged schedule of election is that ‘ The commission want to conduct free & fair elections. ‘ But this assumes that election is a mechanical process and involves casting of vote peacefully by voter without any pressure and then counting of those votes in fair manner. However this assumption is wrong because Election is an “Organic” process and not mechanical. Election involves people, their emotions , desires, dreams , expectations, ideologies, preferences and many more things which cannot even be known.
So… minimum what can be done is to conduct election all over India in one day as was done earlier. With increased resources and experience and matured electorate it is possible to conduct General election in one day and make it reflect the common wish of the people of India.

from:  ANIL P.
Posted on: Jun 12, 2013 at 11:29 IST

Venu has analysed the facts in good perspective. But he has missed to
spell out the vote share of BJP in totality with NDA as a whole in
which many regional parties like Nitish, Mamta, Navin were partners in
the NDA led by BJP. In the present circumstances, the NDA is
dithering-JD(U) is on way out and many other old partners have already
left NDA. In that circumstances, Will it not be quite essential for
Narendra Modi to garner expected vote share to get more seats?
However, Modi's likely contest from any of UP seat will complicate
results of Lok Sabha seats from Uttar Pradesh where Mulayam, Maya,
Congress have also strong presence !

from:  K K Singh
Posted on: Jun 12, 2013 at 11:11 IST

It is interesting analysis which points to the number game in
determining the national question of pride or democracy. Just a 1 or 2
per cent vote could convert 60 seats in certain states reveals how
game theory operate in the elections. Then the question of
representation, social justice, decentralization of power etc., become
meaningless.

India need a leader to canvas and convince the majority that apart
from caste, region and religion, there is one thing which is important
in politics, whether you are for the poorest of the poor or not? And
are you stand for development or growth?

from:  RAJESH KOMATH
Posted on: Jun 12, 2013 at 11:11 IST

Coalition is the key. Its evident that none of the national parties
would get majority required to form the government. Allies of the
national parties play an instrumental role in deciding the winner.The
complex relation between vote share and number of seats is because of
simple majority procedure used in determining the number of seats. It
doesn't matter if a person wins by huge margin or narrow margin, that
does change vote share without any induced affect on number of seats.
Parties should have broad-based strategies in order to cover large
number of constituencies rather than restricting its ambit to
particular areas. We might have read that we have proportional
representation in the parliament to determine number of seats for a
party, but it had to be multiplied by a factor which gives correct
number. I hope I would do some research on the factor some day !! ;)

from:  ranjithp
Posted on: Jun 12, 2013 at 11:06 IST

very good article indeed providing insights about present political
situation

from:  gupta
Posted on: Jun 12, 2013 at 10:44 IST

Good analysis and interesting to read about vote vs seat ratios. I think Modi will make a positive difference in the states where there will be direct contest between BJP and Congress. Although, it remains to be seen how much Modi will make a difference as compared to Vajpayee. But one thing is sure people are somewhat fed up with the Congress this time and are looking for an alternative govt. And whose gains it would be, depends upon how the various minor parties, particularly BSP and SP, run their election companigns in UP and how the minor parties align themselves to form a coalition govt. To me, 2014 general elections will be the most interesting in the history of Indian politics.

from:  Sanjiv
Posted on: Jun 12, 2013 at 10:10 IST

Most interesting analysis. It shows that Modi's performance outside Gujarat will not automatically be the same. The increasing role of the regional parties in a coalition is a very important factor. The BJP poor support in the Southern States will compel them to seek support by some horse trading. More importantly, some of the problems faced by the present Govt are the result of some serious global trends and mere national pride cannot solve those problems. For example on economic issues the BJP has no clear strategy or policy. MOdi supports FDI but the party has opposed FDI in various ways. World commodity prices again are not in our control. On foreign affairs, the stance taken by the party on relations with Pakistan and China, defy diplomatic compulsions. Similarly, on internal security, MOdi's known policies will not help in restoring confidence among the minorities. On corruption ,their party as as guilty as any other. What does the electorate choose?

from:  S.N.Iyer
Posted on: Jun 12, 2013 at 10:00 IST

What an insightful and exciting article!

from:  pranav
Posted on: Jun 12, 2013 at 07:04 IST

Excellent piece of psephological analysis by Venu and it is clear what Path each of these
two parties have to follow for Election 2014. It can be safely expected that Modi with his
innovative approach will definitely have made all the analytics and compared to Congress
with its old and conventional harping on 'secular' and 'umbrella' politics of super market
offerings where every voter will be shown with an offering supposed to be tailor made, and
he will be take advantage of new technologies.

from:  MvjRao
Posted on: Jun 12, 2013 at 06:47 IST

What other political parties are left after they are gone: Congress - Nehru Dynasty ?
SP - Mulayam Singh Yadav ?
BSP - Mayawati Devi ?
AIDMK - Jayalalita ?
TDP - Naidu ?
TMC - Mamta ?
JD (U) - Nitish Kumar?
These breakup party (Bharat) exists because of them. All need to go and come up with new

from:  Amit
Posted on: Jun 12, 2013 at 03:12 IST
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