Can anyone stop the BJP in western states?4 min read . Updated: 16 Jun 2019, 05:28 PM IST
In the 2019 election, the BJP-led NDA has cemented strongholds in the four western states, drawing on support from different castes, important allies
New Delhi: No set of election results epitomized the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) dominance in the 2019 elections better than the verdict from western India. Across the 101 seats at stake in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Goa, the BJP and its allies won 92. In these states, more than elsewhere in the country, the party drew support from the full spectrum of caste and class.
Not only did the BJP sweep most of the region, it did so with big margins. Across these states, the BJP’s median victory margin (the difference in vote share to its nearest contestant) exceeded the national equivalent (25% compared to 20%). In Gujarat and Rajasthan, where contests were essentially two-way battles with the Congress, the BJP’s median victory margins were nearly 30 percentage points. These two states are now home to some of the firmest BJP strongholds in the country, with 19 seats voting for the party over three consecutive elections.
This BJP sweep was particularly resounding given the setbacks the party had faced in state assembly elections leading up to 2019. In Rajasthan, for instance, just six months before this election, the BJP had been usurped by the Congress in the 2018 state assembly elections. The Congress with 39% of the vote share (slightly more than the BJP’s 38%) had secured a majority in the state assembly. In previous elections, success at state-level had meant success at the national level. In this election though, the pattern was broken. The BJP’s vote share soared to 58% in the general election, while the Congress’ vote share shrank to 34%.
The BJP’s immediate resurgence was a combination of Narendra Modi’s popularity and dissatisfaction with the Congress. Using data from the post-poll surveys conducted by Lokniti-Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), political scientist Sanjay Lodha argues that it was the dissatisfaction with Vasundhara Raje, the Rajasthan BJP chief minister that cost the party and that voters had no issues with Modi (bit.ly/2wmrFSw). In addition, a significant portion of Rajasthan voters who voted for the Congress in the state elections switched to the BJP because of the Congress selecting Ashok Gehlot as the chief minister instead of Sachin Pilot, suggests Lokniti-CSDS data.
Similarly, the 2017 state assembly elections had hinted at cracks in Gujarat where the BJP had been extremely dominant. For the last 25 years, Gujarat has voted for the BJP at both state and general elections. But in the 2017 elections, the BJP, despite securing a majority, lost ground in poorer, rural Gujarat and among certain communities. In this general election though, these groups once again returned to the BJP fold. For instance, the Congress matched the BJP’s vote share in rural areas in the 2017 state elections, but in this election, rural voters overwhelmingly preferred the BJP.
This was a result of adjustments to the BJP’s strategy made in the aftermath of 2017, and the Congress’ failure to consolidate its gains. For instance, ahead of this election, the BJP recruited a popular Koli community leader who was part of the Congress (Kunvarji Bavaliya) to win back the Koli vote.
Finally, underpinning all this was Modi’s enduring popularity in his home state. Ahead of the elections, he issued an impassioned plea to the state’s voters to vote for him. In the end, two out of three Gujarati voters wanted him as Prime Minister, according to the post-poll survey from Lokniti-CSDS.
In the West, the two states where the BJP faced some competition were Maharashtra and Goa. In Goa, the BJP regained one seat (North Goa), but lost South Goa to the Congress. In Maharashtra, the elections boiled down to a battle of two alliances: BJP-Shiv Sena against Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). The battle though was largely one-sided, with the BJP-Shiv Sena sweeping 41 of the 48 seats on offer. The NCP was only able to win seats in its traditional strongholds (such as Baramati), while the Congress could only win a single seat in Chandrapur. The Congress’ solitary seat is the culmination of its steady decline in a state where it was once dominant.
Ahead of the elections, the Congress-NCP alliance considered bringing in the newly formed Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) into their fold, but this fell through. The VBA, which targeted Scheduled Tribe voters, did win 7% of the votes partially eating into the Congress-NCP share—but this was unlikely to be critical. Even if the VBA had joined the Congress-NCP alliance, the BJP-Shiv Sena combine would have only lost five seats (assuming an addition of vote share)—such was the BJP-Shiv Sena dominance.
A big reason for the BJP-Shiv Sena combine’s popularity was the general satisfaction with governments at the centre and in the state (where the BJP is in power with the Shiv Sena). According to Lokniti-CSDS, nearly two-thirds of state voters were satisfied with both central and state governments. This explains why despite discontent among community groups, such as the Marathas, the BJP and Shiv Sena drew support. The Marathas, once the backbone of the NCP’s support base, have now switched to either the BJP or Shiv Sena.
With state assembly elections due later this year, the prospects look bleak for the NCP and Congress in Maharashtra. Reports of infighting within the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance over the chief ministerial candidate, among other issues, are perhaps the only glimmer of hope for the opposition.
Taken together, the results from west India encapsulate all the factors that drove the BJP’s nationwide sweeps: Broad-based support across caste and class, strategic alliances, Modi’s popularity, and the failure of the Congress and its allies to come up with a credible narrative to challenge the ruling party.
This is the third of a five-part series on the Lok Sabha election verdict.