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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 23 New Delhi May 28, 2016

Amazing Story From Fine Print on State Elections

Sunday 29 May 2016, by M K Bhadrakumar

The Bharatiya Janata Party has always excelled in its mastery of the art of hyperbole. Remember ‘Shining India’? The hype that the party leadership is giving to the BJP’s perfor-mance in the recent State elections—in Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala and in the Union Territory of Puducherry—does not come as a surprise.

The BJP narrative is four-fold: one, the BJP has eclipsed the Congress as the star performer in these State elections; two, India is getting rid of the Congress; three, the BJP is now a truly national party with a dynamic presence all over the country; and, four, the “BJP’s ideology is being accepted, appreciated and supported by more and more people”. (PM Narendra Modi)

However, the fine print contradicts the narrative. Reproduced below are certain perti-nent observations culled out from social network sites (which are any day providing far more insightful views on Indian politics than our plaint corporate media):

Out of the aggregate 812 seats contested in the recent elections, the Congress won 115 and the BJP 64. Yet it is being claimed that the BJP won a great victory and the Congress was “routed”.

In terms of popular vote, the Congress got almost thrice as much as the BJP.

The BJP won 60 MLAs in Assam with a population of 31 million. But it could win only eight MLA seats in the other States (minus Assam), which have a combined population of about 250 million.

Then, there are the fine prints

In Tamil Nadu, the BJP candidates lost their deposits in 230 out of 232 seats (because they couldn’t secure even one-sixth of the votes polled in the constituency).

The BJP’s vote-share in these Assembly elections, in comparison with the 2014 poll, actually declined. In Assam, it dropped from 36.5 per cent in the 2014 poll to 30.1 per cent in the State elections; in West Bengal it dropped from 16.8 per cent to 10.3 per cent; in Tamil Nadu from 5.56 per cent to 2.7 per cent. Kerala, the smallest of the four States, is the solitary exception where the BJP candidates actually increased their party’s vote-share from 10.33 per cent in 2014 to 10.7 in the State elections.

Then, there are the still finer points as regards the fortunes of the Congress Party, which put a question-mark on the BJP thesis that Indians are getting rid of the Congress Party:

Contrary to the BJP’s abysmal record of decline in vote-share, the Congress Party actually increased its vote-share in the State elections in comparison with its performance in 2014. The figures are: Assam (increase from 29.6 to 31 per cent); West Bengal (increase from 9.58 to 11.9 per cent); Tamil Nadu (increase from 4.3 to 6.5 per cent.)

Again, the only exception is Kerala where its votes-share of 31.3 per cent in the 2014 poll dropped to 23.8 per cent in the State elections.

How Modi could draw such a sweeping conclusion that “more and more people” are accepting the BJP’s ideology, I do not know.

To be sure, the BJP’s capture of power in Assam is impressive. But then, the fine print here is that the BJP made some smart electoral alliances—while the Congress, on the other hand, was exceedingly foolish to keep the overtures from Muslim parties at arm’s length. Equally, the BJP was not only willing to put its ideology on the backburner, Modi himself adopted (uncharacteris-tically but wisely) a self-effacing role for himself in the campaign and instead projected local Assamese leaders as the party’s mascot.

Now, do the recent elections suggest that the BJP is a rising star in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu or Kerala? I don’t think so, and let me explain why. Given the big population of minority communities in West Bengal and Kerala, the BJP will continue to remain a pariah in coalition politics. As for Tamil Nadu, the BJP remains a peripheral force until the cycle of Dravida politics finally ends.

Finally, does the win in Assam help the BJP to capture power in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab? No, Assam is not a trail-blazer. It could have some limited impact in one or two North-Eastern States—excluding Tripura, of course— but is really a ‘stand alone’ case.

Ambassador M.K. Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings including India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001).