Photo: Mint
Photo: Mint

Where the BJP fell behind and how

  • The BJP won Maharashtra and it may still win power in Haryana. But the party lost ground in both the states, and here’s where that happened
  • The opposition parties of both states have shown they still hold relevance in the minds of the electorate

For its sweeping success in the national elections five months ago, the verdict from the results of Maharashtra and Haryana elections is like a glass half empty for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The party, which was expected to romp home in both states, won Maharashtra with a smaller margin than 2014 and, in turn, is likely to have lost some bargaining rights to its alliance partner, the Shiv Sena. In Haryana, it sits uncomfortably on the edge, relying on its own muscle and the willingness of other parties to come together to pull it through.

Conversely, opposition parties, led by a pair of old hands, have shown they still hold relevance in the minds of the electorate.

Graphic: Ahmed Raza Khan/Mint
Graphic: Ahmed Raza Khan/Mint

However, the big story remains how the BJP has lost ground, which is something that was seen across a cross-section of constituency profiles.

The Maharashtra Assembly map can be broken into five regions. In three of those regions—Konkan, Khandesh and Marathwada—the BJP saw a net loss of just one seat. However, two regions held the key in the unravelling of its dominance in Maharashtra—Paschim Maharashtra, which accounts for 58 seats in the 288-member assembly, and Vidarbha, which accounts for 62 seats. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA), principally led by the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance, saw its count in Paschim Maharashtra decline from 31 seats to 21 seats. Overall, the NDA managed to win only about a third of the seats on offer in the region.

The second region of setback was Vidarbha, which has seen acute agrarian distress and several farmer suicides. The region surrounds the city of Nagpur, which is home to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and the Lok Sabha constituency of Union cabinet minister Nitin Gadkari, and also includes the Nagpur South West Assembly constituency represented by Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis. The BJP lost 18 seats in Vidarbha, with 10 of them picked up by the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) combine and eight by other smaller parties.

Looking back, the four-cornered fight in the 2014 elections, when all four principal parties fought alone, seemed to have helped the NDA then.

Contrast this to 2019, when the consolidation of votes impacted its showing in close contests. In 2014, the BJP and Shiv Sena won 49 of their 185 total seats with a margin of less than 5 percentage points. This number fell to 30 in 2019. The number of seats won by them with a medium margin (5-20 percentage points) and a high margin (above 20 percentage points) have also dropped, but less dramatically so.

Graphic: Ahmed Raza Khan/Mint
Graphic: Ahmed Raza Khan/Mint

Both the national as well as these assembly elections were held against the backdrop of significant social uprising and socioeconomic turmoil. The year 2018 saw widespread protests and clashes between the upper castes and Dalits in the Bhima-Koregaon region, which quickly spread to other parts of Maharashtra.

There are 100 assembly constituencies in Maharashtra where the share of scheduled castes (SCs) and scheduled tribes (STs) in the population is more than 15%. The BJP’s tally in these seats fell from 47 in 2014 to 34 in 2019. While the Congress held on its tally of 20 seats, the big gainer was the NCP, which doubled its seat count in these constituencies to 21. Many of these seats lie in the Vidarbha and Khandesh regions. A decline in return from seats with a prominent SC/ST population share was also seen in Haryana. Of the 90 seats in Haryana, there are 32 seats where the share of SC/ST in the population is above 15%.

In 2014, the BJP won 14 of these. Amid widespread churn, it saw this tally reduce to 10. The Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) also lost out in a big way, while the big gainer in this election has been new entrant Jannayak Janta Party (JJP), a break-away faction of INLD led by Dushyant Singh Chautala.

As with Maharashtra, in Haryana too, the story about the BJP’s slide is divided into regions. In this northern state, other than the national capital region, the BJP failed to replicate its decisive mandate from the national elections of 2019.

The near collapse of the INLD in the Jat-Sikh region helped parties other than the BJP, which only gained a single seat. The Congress went from zero seats to 5 seats, while the JJP picked up 8 seats. The Congress made significant gains in the Ambala division, whittling down the BJP tally from 14 to 8, and picking up 5 more seats in the process. In regions dominated by Jats, which have the highest proportion of seats in any of the Haryana regions, the Congress won 15 seats to the BJP’s 12. The BJP juggernaut has been slowed.

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