The poll wind direction may have changed

Despite the BJP’s advantages in Maharashtra and Haryana and emphasis on issues of nationalism, local issues counted

Conventional wisdom and past electoral verdicts in India suggest that voters generally vote for the same political party in the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections if both are held within a short span of time; but there are some exceptions. The political verdicts in the Haryana and Maharashtra Assembly elections do seem to be somewhat different.

Though the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Shiv Sena managed to retain power in Maharashtra, and, the BJP emerged as the single largest party despite huge setbacks in Haryana, the results clearly indicate that local issues have triumphed over national issues in both States. A large section of voters did vote against the same party which they had voted for in a big way six months ago in the general election, where the polls were contested largely on national issues. During the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the BJP had polled 58% per cent of the votes in Haryana and 51% (in alliance with the Shiv Sena) in Maharashtra. Voters had some concerns about growing unemployment, rural distress and the farmer crisis, showing that popular mood has changed in a short span of time. The issues of nationalism, national identity and national pride could not completely overshadow local issues. Even though the Opposition was in a complete disarray, the verdicts show that at least in Haryana, voters do count. While the Prime Minister is still popular, voters have made a distinction between State Assembly elections and national elections; his personal popularity was not much of a draw in these elections unlike previous polls when Mr. Modi seemed to have helped the BJP win.

A decline in Maharashtra

In Maharashtra, though the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance has managed to retain power winning 160 of the total 288 Assembly seats with 42.18 % votes. In a comparison between the 2014 Assembly elections and the 2019 Lok Sabha election results, there has been a drop for the BJP— the BJP and Shiv Sena had contested the 2014 Assembly elections against each other where the BJP had won 122 seats and polled 27.8% of the votes, while the Shiv Sena won 63 seats with a vote share of 19.4%. The combined vote share of the Shiv Sena and the BJP went up to 47.2% and their combined tally of seats was 185, more than the magic number required to form the government. The seat tally for the BJP declined by 17 seats compared to its 122 seats in 2014 and its vote share went down from 27% to 25.8% in 2019, though the Shiv Sena managed to virtually repeat its performance winning 56 seats with a lowered 16.52% of the votes.

In Haryana, though the BJP emerged as the single largest party winning 40 of 90 Assembly seats with 36.5% votes, the party suffered a massive setback if one looks at its performance in the 2014 Assembly and 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The BJP had polled 33.3% votes in the 2014 Assembly polls which went up to 58% in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. It had won 47 Assembly seats during the 2014 Assembly elections and won all 10 Lok Sabha seats during the the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Seen in terms of Assembly segment leads, it had established a lead in 78 Assembly segments while the Congress led in only 10 Assembly segments. The tally of the Congress went up from 15 seats in the 2014 Assembly to 31 while its vote share increased from 20% in 2014 to 28.1% in 2019. The Congress managed to increase its vote share largely due to the decline of the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) which emerged as the main Opposition winning 19 seats with 24.1% votes in 2014. After the split in the INLD which led to the emergence of the Jannayak Janta Party (JJP) in November 2018 (though officially the party was formed in December 2018) the JJP has virtually wiped out the INLD, winning 10 seats and polling 14.9% votes.

In recent years, the BJP has successfully experimented with the politics of building a caste bloc, by ignoring the most dominant caste of the State. For example, in Uttar Pradesh, it successfully experimented with the non-Yadav OBC mobilisation. In Bihar it worked with non-Yadav Other Backward Classes mobilisation, while in Haryana, it managed to run the government without a Jat Chief Minister (which was unheard of). Similarly, in Maharashtra, it has successfully worked with a non-Maratha Chief Minister and managed to retain power without trying to build a non-Maratha social coalition. But this strategy of building a coalition of various castes leaving aside the dominant caste of the State did not last long and the BJP has paid the price, in Haryana and Maharashtra.

Key factors in Haryana

The success of the Congress and the JJP and the decline of the BJP in Haryana is largely due to the ire of the numerically larger Jats in the State. The Jats, who constitute nearly a quarter of voters in Haryana voted for the Congress in constituencies where they saw the Congress winning, and for the JJP where they realised its candidate was much stronger. The support of the numerically second largest community, the Dalits (20%) and Muslims who constitute 7% of the State’s population made the difference for the Congress and the JJP in these elections.

Even if the BJP has managed to “win” both Assembly elections, it should share the credit of its victory equally with the Congress, which has been demoralised and divided as a party unit. Though the Congress has improved its performance to emerge as a stronger opposition in both States it has still missed the bus. A united Congress in Haryana could have made a substantial difference in terms of the electoral outcome.

Sanjay Kumar, a Professor, is the Director of Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS). The views expressed are personal

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Printable version | May 30, 2020 2:33:54 AM |

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