Book Review: Citizen Raj – Indian Elections 1952-2019 by Surjit S Bhalla

New Delhi | Updated: April 21, 2019 2:29 AM

Will the Narendra Modi-led BJP repeat its 2014 performance? Surjit S Bhalla tries to answer that question in these excerpts taken from his latest book.

elections , lok sabha elections, lok sabha elections 2019A wheelchair-bound Kashmiri man arrives to cast his vote during the first phase of the Lok Sabha polls in Handwara district, Kupwara, Jammu & Kashmir, earlier this month. (Express Photo by Shuaib Masoodi)

In the three elections in the mid-1990s, the BJP averaged around 175 seats. During these years, the yield of the BJP vote was around 7.5 i.e., each one per cent vote brought the BJP around 7.5 seats (the same level as in 1989). This increased to 9.1 in 2014. One estimate of the extra seats that the BJP may have obtained in 2014 due to the Modi effect is obtained by assuming that the seat yield of the BJP remained at 7.5—hence, with thirty-one per cent of the vote, the BJP should have secured 232 seats; hence, by obtaining 282 seats, the Modi seat effect in 2014 was fifty seats.

The opinion polls suggest only a one ppt decline for BJP’s vote in 2019; thus, my first estimate for the BJP in 2019 is 225 seats—under the assumption that there is no Modi effect in 2019 and that there is a one ppt decline in the vote share as per the opinion polls. It is interesting to note that this estimate is near the upper end of most opinion poll forecasts (also note that neither forecast factors in the unfortunate and uncertain effects of the Pulwama attack in the Valley in February 2019).

My second estimate is that the Modi effect persists in 2019 in terms of yield i.e., a vote share of thirty per cent and a seat yield of 9.1—this indicates a razor-thin majority estimate of 274 seats for the BJP.

Let us now turn to our forecast of seats based on the margin of victories and losses in 2014. It may be recalled that for the Congress, we had assumed that there would be a positive swing in its favour. For the BJP however, we shall assume a negative swing—a positive swing will automatically mean a seat share greater than the 282 reached in 2014.

My aim is to be conservative, or to go for lower bound estimates. The evidence from the state elections post 2014 however suggests that there will be a positive vote swing for the BJP. If one goes by assembly elections, the swing for the BJP for years 2014 through 2018 were as follows: 9.5 per cent; 6.3; 5.6; 16.2; and 1.5 per cent, respectively i.e., 9.5 per cent in the state elections held in 2014 and 1.5 per cent in the state elections held in 2018 (including obviously the elections in Karnataka, Chhattisgarh etc.). It is interesting to note that the 2014 state elections, held at the same time as the Lok Sabha elections, closely mirror the vote swing for the Lok Sabha.

Even if the 2014 state elections are ignored, the average swing for the BJP in 2015–2018 (weighted by size of the state electorate) was a large 7.5 per cent; while for the Congress it was -0.7 per cent. In 2019, even a two per cent extra vote for the BJP will increase its seat share to 297 (an average historical yield of 7.5); just a one per cent swing will get them to 290. In other words, it is not difficult to imagine a scenario whereby the BJP gets close to the second magic figure of 300.

What if the BJP gets less votes than it did in 2014, as predicted by several pollsters. In other words, what if there is a negative vote swing? The methods employed by me to compute the expected seat loss are a mirror image of the calculations done to estimate the seat gain for the positive vote swing for Congress. Scenario 1 (Sc1) assumes that the BJP loses all the small margin (<5 per cent) constituency victories in 2014 i.e., an against swing of 5 per cent. This yields twenty nine losses for the BJP; hence, Sc1 computes the number as 282 minus twenty-nine, or 253 seats.

Also read: Book Review: Modi and Markets by Dhiraj Nayyar

The second scenario (Sc2) is where the average margin is a decline of 7.5 ppt. It may be recalled that the largest loss for the BJP ever was the 3.4 ppt decline in 2009—from 22.2 per cent in 2004 to 18.8 per cent in 2009. What we are assuming in Sc2 is more than twice this decline. If this were to happen, it would be a wave election, somewhat like the 1977, 1980 or 1984 elections. However, the likelihood of this happening, going by past precedents, is very small. But even if the wave election were to happen, the BJP will, by this calculation or method, be down to 232 seats.
Scenario 3 parallels Sc3 for the Congress—except this time, the estimate is that the BJP loses all the seats it won with <5 per cent margin (i.e., 253 seats) plus it wins half the seats it lost with a <5 per cent margin (twenty-four seats). This yields a Sc3 estimate of 265 seats.

Regardless of the method chosen, the lowest estimate is 232 and the highest: 265. One reason for these ‘high’ estimates for the BJP is that it won the 2014 election with very high margins. In other words, the Opposition has significant hurdles to overcome to claw back some of the lost votes.

One example of testing the impediments is to analyse the recent state elections in two states that the Congress won in 2018—Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. It is a reasonable argument that December 2018 was close to the nadir of the Modi government, at least in terms of popularity.

However, it needs to be mentioned here that these elections were before the highly popular interim Budget presented by the Modi government on 1 February 2019. One parameter of the popularity of the Budget was the way in which the satta bazaar estimate for the BJP moved up to 225 seats from 200.

In addition, there is an assembly to Lok Sabha vote effect for the government at the Centre, in this case the BJP. Historically, this effect has averaged around 2 to 4 per cent for the incumbent. In a two-party close fight, a three per cent extra vote can have a large outsized effect on the seats. (For instance, the vote and seat swings in Kerala on the basis of small differences in vote shares.)
A ‘Preferred’ Estimate of BJP Seats

Just as in the previous chapter, the final column shows my ‘mixed’, but final estimate for the seats that the BJP is likely to obtain in 2019—ScF. This estimate is based on multiple models, multiple considerations, and multiple factors. Some of the factors considered are: swings in assembly elections, nature of alliances, considerations of the most recent assembly elections, historical trends in votes and yields etc. All these determinants lead to my razor-thin majority estimate for the BJP on its own—274 seats.

This estimate is before the terrible Pulwama tragedy. A ten per cent increase in seats for the BJP will get it past 300; a ten per cent negative impact will get them close to 250 seats.

The estimates for Uttar Pradesh deserve special mention. All three scenarios, Sc1 to Sc3, yield estimates upwards of sixty seats for the BJP in 2019. This is understandable, given the BJP had large victory margins, and that was because the BSP and SP had fought separately in 2014. However, despite the alliance, I shall say this here: the BJP is likely to win around sixty-two seats in UP in 2019. Let me explain how. To put it simply, alliances in general, and particularly in UP, have not worked. In 2014, the BJP’s vote share was 42.3 per cent; the BSP and SP together obtained 41.8 per cent, and the Congress, 7.5 per cent. The BJP victory margin exceeded fifteen per cent in forty-one seats. In the current scenario, with the Congress sitting out of the alliance, it is closer to (but not quite) a three-way fight. We also have to factor in the 2017 assembly election results when the Congress and SP were allies. Their joint vote share was twenty-eight per cent, down 1.7 ppt from the 29.7 per cent vote when they had fought separately in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. There is also the question of how many SP votes move towards the BJP or the Congress. All things considered, an estimate of sixty-two seats for the BJP in UP does not look like an extreme bet.
Pages 205-213

Excerpted with permission from Westland

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