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Contours of the BJP’s 2019 Victory: Analysis of West, Central, North-east and South India, Part II

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There are periods in the history of the world when the unseen Power that guides its destinies seems to be filled with a consuming passion for change and a strong impatience of the old…They are periods when the wisdom of the wise is confounded and the prudence of the prudent turned into a laughing-stock; for it is the day of the prophet, the dreamer, the fanatic and the crusader…” – Sri Aurobindo (CWSA 6: 311).

The recent election signifies the momentous turning point that is upon us – a period when, as Sri Aurobindo says, “the wisdom of the wise is confounded and the prudence of the prudent turned into a laughing-stock.” Such is the magnitude of victory of the BJP government that the tradition of India’s politics, after Independence, has been broken and is now being framed anew. Everything that was taken for granted as ‘practical wisdom’ has been swept away in one go.

That one of the most diverse countries, home to the world’s largest election, could result in an electoral mandate so solidly backed by the message of national unity, is reflective of the seal of the Divine on the future path that India will consolidate for herself, taking forward the new awareness about the country that had been awakened over the last five years. It is a path guided by national awakening and unification – transcending all the artificial differences that had ended up making a travesty of our cultural diversity – and in which India is increasingly poised to show the way to other nations who are also in a period of transition.

The results of the north India – as we saw in the last article – showed that the past calculations have been nullified for good. The supposedly ‘historic’ alliance between parties representing one of the most marginalized castes (Dalits and SCs) and those representing the backward castes that had become ‘empowered’ as a result of the reservation movement after the 1990s (the OBCs such as Yadavs), has suffered a resounding defeat in this election. Along with this, the unnatural alliances forged in the north by farmer leaders from the time of Chaudhary Charan Singh in the 1970s – seeking to club Muslims with Dalits, Jats and backward castes – too have ended up being completely irrelevant.

The single most important factor that has broken up these decades-old carefully calculated ‘social coalitions’ is the wave of Hindu nationalism and awakening. By this election the message of the need of national unity, undergirded by the principles of Hinduism, as the driving force of the country’s future, has been effectively brought to the people.

Nowhere was this more evident than in the politics of the core north. In central and western India too, this wave was solidly carried forward on a sure ground. The eastern India – Bengal, Odisha, Jharkhand and the north-eastern states – showed how nationalism has unfolded as a movement, built up over years, disregarding the worst of odds. The southern India – still seen as an outlier – has a more complex story – its Hindu religion riven by hundreds of castes, its strong minority religions and shades of sinister politics, but also housing the historic civilizational wealth of Sanatana Dharma.

In the following sections, we will carry forward the analysis of the electoral results in the West, East, North-east and South.

Western and Central India: Clean Sweep on a Sure Ground

The western states of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Goa, and, the central regions of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, represent a diverse set of regions and are also the states where, like UP in the north, the narrative of national unity projected by the BJP has faced no mean challenges from detractors. Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, as well as Banaskantha and Saurashtra of Gujarat, have seen politics revolve around the farmer question. In the previous article, we saw how farmers voted overwhelmingly for the BJP, as nationalism took precedence over the political ‘farmer question.’

Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan are also the states where the BJP narrowly lost to the Congress in the 2018 assembly elections. In this context, the clean sweep by the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and the immense ground it covered in terms of vote share shows how rapidly the situation on the ground underwent a change.

The remarkable part about the three states where the BJP lost was that the ‘issues’ which the Congress seemed to be banking on turned out to be damp squibs. In regions ridden with farm crisis across the 3 states, BJP was overwhelmingly voted to power. This was despite the fact that all the three Congress government immediately sanctioned the farm loan waivers after coming to power. However, in this election, none of it mattered. Nation and the choice of Modi as the leader were the only considerations.

Madhya Pradesh:

In Madhya Pradesh, the BJP won 28 out of 29 Lok Sabha seats and secured a vote share of 58%, which was almost 17 percentage points higher than its 2018 assembly election vote share and 4% higher than the 54% vote share it received in 2014 general elections. The Congress’s vote share in the 2019 elections stood at 34.5%, compared to the 40% vote share it received in 2018 assembly elections.

The results show that BJP’s 2018 loss was more due to disgruntlement with the local leadership, even though Modi’s appeal and the strength of the BJP remained undented. Winning margins in most of the seats in 2018 elections were narrow, which is why even then BJP had a marginally higher vote share than the Congress. Thus, 2018 was not a loss, but a wake-up call to the BJP to re-define itself in the states.

It is rarely possible for such a quick turnaround to happen and people’s dissatisfaction with the Congress set in within 6 months of the new state government. All of this has reflected in the Lok Sabha results.

Some of the highly observed electoral battles of 2019 were fought in this state. Jyotiraditya Scinda – a royal dynast of the Congress – lost his Guna seat to his former small-time manager, Krishnapal Yadav. What is even more significant is the scale of the loss – he lost by 1,25,549 votes, with a vote share of 41% compared to the 52% vote share won by BJP’s Mr. Yadav.

Incidentally, Scindia occupies a prominent top position in Congress along with other “youth” leaders like Rahul Gandhi and Sachin Pilot.

Yet another blow to the Congress was the victory of first-time contestant Sadhvi Pragya Thakur against Congress veteran, former Union Minister and Chief Minister and Rahul Gandhi’s mentor, Digvijay Singh, in Bhopal. Pragya Thakur’s candidature was amongst the boldest moves by the BJP in this election, since she was alleged to have been falsely framed by the UPA government in Malegoan blast case of 2006, as a part of the then government’s concerted agenda to prove the existence of ‘Hindu terrorism’.

Therefore, Bhopal symbolized pure Hindutva battle against the so-called ‘secular’ forces. Its narrative encapsulated prefectly how Congress’s secularism meant Muslim appeasement. That karma seems to have come to haunt the Congress in 2019 election, more so than even in 2014. Despite the fact that Digvijay Singh went on a Narmada yatra and enticed thousands of sadhus to descent in Bhopal to campaign for him, his loss was massive.

He lost to Sadhvi Pragya Thakur by a full 3,65,000 votes, trailing at 35% to Sadhvi Thakur’s 61% vote share.

The only face-saver where the Congress managed to retain its position was Chhindwara, where Kamal Nath’s son, Nakul Nath, won by a very narrow margin of just 37,500 votes.

Source: Sharma (2019)

In Madhya Pradesh, as the chart above shows, the Congress’s vote share was low among all the communities, except Muslims. It could also corner some Dalit vote. The BJP, on the other hand, saw massive vote share rise led by OBCs, upper castes, Adivasis, Dalits and Others.

In Madhya Pradesh, trumping caste divides and the farmer question, the unmistakable appeal of Hindutva and national leadership of Modi became the focal points. Regardless of the caste question and farmer issues, Hindutva in Madhya Pradesh has always been such a foregone conclusion that even the opposition has had to attempt to prove its Hindu credentials.

Chhattisgarh:

Chhattisgarh presented itself as one of the most stunning BJP victories in this election. In the 2018 assembly elections, the BJP had lost the state to the Congress. In 2019 election, the BJP, despite this loss and despite replacing all its sitting MPs in the state with fresh candidates, won 9 out of 11 seats. It also increased its vote share from 33% in the 2018 assembly elections to a massive 51% in the 2019 elections. The Congress’s vote share in 2019 was 41%, while in 2018 assembly elections, its vote share was 45%.

In 2014 election, BJP won 10 seats, while Congress won 1 seat. BJP’s vote share in 2014 was 49%, while Congress’s vote share was 39%.

The BJP garnered immense vote shares across social groups and castes. Amongst women, the party had a 20 percentage point higher vote share than the Congress and was also way ahead among the youth.

Source: Sharma (2019)

There was also immense support for all central decisions on the ground, such as the general category EWS reservation, demonetization and welfare schemes by the Modi government. This clearly indicates that the 2018 vote was against the state government (like in Rajasthan) rather than against the central government, which continues to enjoy immense popular support.

Maharashtra:

In Maharashtra, the NDA won 41 out of 48 seats (the same as in 2014), increasing its vote share tally to 51%. The Congress won only one seat viz. Chandrapur and that too on the strength of a candidate who had defected from Shiv Sena. The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) won only four seats, out of which three came from western Maharashtra, its traditional stronghold. UPA’s combined vote share was 32% in 2019.

In 2014, BJP had won 23 seats with 27.6% vote share, while Shiv Sena followed on the second spot with 18 seats and 20.8% vote share. NCP had 4 seats with 16% vote share and Congress had 2 seats with 18.3% vote share.

Asauddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) won its first and only seat when it defeated a Shiv Sena veteran in Aurangabad by a slim margin. It was in alliance with Prakash Ambedkar’s Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA), and they played a spoiler for the Congress-NCP alliance in many constituencies.

Within the NDA alliance, if we are to analyse the performance of the partners on the basis of the seats they contested, the Shiv Sena’s vote share on the seats it contested was 49.06%. The party contested from 23 seats and won 18 seats. The BJP contested from 25 seats and won 23 seats, and won a contested vote share of 52.5%. The BJP’s vote share on the seats it contested is slightly lower than that of its alliance partner, Shiv Sena.

In Maharashtra, caste and religion was sought to be revived to give a tough fight to the NDA. The alliance between Congress, NCP and Raju Shetti on one hand, and, Prakash Ambedkar’s Dalit alliance with Muslims on the other hand, was all meant to derail a campaign meant to unify Hindus and bring national security issues like Balakot strikes home to the people. However, the plank failed completely. The BJP-Shiv Sena alliance (the NDA) continued its strong hold in Vidarbha and north Maharashtra, while increasing its vote share in the urban areas as well.

Source: Deshpande & Birmal (2019)

It is evident from the above that major share of BJP’s vote shares have come from upper castes, followed by OBCs and STs. Marathas have voted overwhelmingly for the Shiv Sena, followed by NCP, although BJP has also made some headway with them. STs have also voted in large numbers for the NCP, followed by BJP. Dalits, however, have gone overwhelmingly in the ‘others’ category. This category would prominently include the VBA-AIMIM alliance, among others. The VBA received an 8% vote share in these elections, even though it was a new outfit.

Together with the rise of extremely marginal outfits like the VBA, the attribution of the Dalit vote in the ‘others’ category is also due to the effects of the overall negative caste-based politics – such as around the Bhima Koregaon incidents, exposes on instances of urban Naxalism and others – which was sought to be perpetrated in Maharashtra by the intellectual-political brigade, and which made possible a foothold for the VBA and the partial success of the AIMIM. This brigade – which has died an inevitable death in other parts of north India, and has never been very active in the south, except in areas like art and culture – was most active in Maharashtra and had its wings clipped when a series of investigations were launched into its subversive activities about 2 years back.

Gujarat

In Gujarat, it was an inevitable clean sweep for the BJP, which had a vote share of 62.2%, while Congress’s vote share was 33%. The party won all the 26 seats in the state, with much bigger margins than the 2014 elections, except in Dahod and Porbandar where the BJP won with lesser margins than in 2014. Compared to the 2017 assembly elections, the Congress wipe-out stood out starkly, as the BJP increased its vote share in rural areas by 15 percentage points, which is higher than in urban areas, showing that it had covered the ground it lost in the 2017 assembly elections.

In terms of overall vote shares, in 2014, BJP won all 26 seats with a vote share of 60.1%, while Congress’s vote share was 33.5%. In 2017 assembly elections, BJP had won 99 seats out of 182 seats with a 50% vote share, while Congress had won 77 seats with a 42.2% vote share.

Source: Parmar & Jani (2019)

It is evident from the above that the BJP’s major support base has come from upper castes, Patels, Thakors, Kolis and other OBCs, Adivasis and others. The party’s vote share has gone down amongst the Dalits and Muslims, whose vote shares have been cornered mostly by the Congress. Whatever temporary gains the Congress had made in 2017 amongst the Patidars, Thakors and Adivasis were all eroded in these elections.

Goa

In Goa, the BJP managed a reasonably good performance, but not as good as 2014. The loss of Manohar Parrikar was acutely felt in Goa politics for the BJP, and this had become evident during the past year. In Goa, the BJP secured 51.2% vote share, which was 2 percentage points less than the vote share of 2014. The Congress, on the other hand, increased its vote share from 36.6% in 2014 to 43% in 2019 elections.

While in 2014, the BJP had won both North Goa and South Goa seats, in this election, the BJP lost South Goa by a very thin margin of 9755 votes, while in North Goa its winning margin came down by over 1 lakh votes from the last time.

Vote shares (%) in Goa in 2019:

Congress BJP Others
North Goa
Hindus 18 79 3
Muslims and Christians 82 13 5
South Goa
Hindus 30 62 8
Muslims and Christians 93 4 3

Source: Sardesai & Shringare (2019)

From the above it is clear that while Hindu consolidation occurred very well in North Goa, it did not occur at a similar scale in South Goa. This is despite the fact that in regions such as Ponda, of South Goa, organizations such as the Hindu Janjagriti Samiti are working actively. This indicates that South Goa presents a greater challenge. In South Goa, Muslim and Christian consolidation was also greater than in North Goa. Moreover, South Goa has always voted for Congress since 1977, except in 1996, 1999 and 2014, while BJP has held unbroken record in North Goa since 1999.

Rajasthan

Likewise, in Rajasthan, the clean sweep for the BJP, despite the Congress winning the 2018 assembly elections, is a reaffirmation of the national mood. Besides, it also confirms that the real reason for the Congress being voted into power in Rajasthan in 2018 was due to unhappiness with the local leadership of Vasundhara Raje, as encapsulated by the popular slogan during the assembly elections, ‘Modi tujhse bair nahi, Vasundhara teri khair nahi’. The slogan sums up the people’s sentiment that their first choice would always have been the Modi government at the centre.

In Rajasthan, the BJP underscored the victory by a feat of cornering 58.5% of the vote share – a full 20 percentage points higher than its 2018 assembly election vote share. The Congress secured a vote share of 34.2%, seeing a decline of 5 percentage points from its 2018 assembly election vote share. This is not only significant from the point of view of Lok Sabha elections, but also completely dilutes the Congress’s performance in the 2018 assembly elections.

In 2014, BJP had secured 55.6% vote share, while Congress had just 30.7% vote share. Prior to this, in 2013 assembly elections, BJP had a vote share of 45.2%, while Congress was routed with a vote share of 33%. It was in 2018 that BJP suffered a decline from 2013 and 2014 elections, securing a vote share of 38.5%, while Congress had a vote share of 39.3%.

Source: Lodha (2019)

 

Source: Lodha (2019)

From the above two charts, it is clear that a major part of increase in the BJP’s vote share in Rajasthan has come about as a result of a sharp spike in votes of the Jat, Brahmin and Other OBC communities and a substantial increase in ST votes. Among the rest of the communities – Rajputs, other upper castes and SCs – there has been only a marginal increase in BJP vote share. The party’s Muslim vote share too has increased marginally compared to 2018.

Compared to 2018 elections, among the Rajputs, there has been a 5 percentage point increase in the vote share of both BJP and Congress. Among the SCs, there has been a 15 percentage point increase for the Congress, and only 5 percentage point increase for the BJP.

BJP had allied in the state with Hanuman Beniwal’s Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP). RLP contested from only one seat viz. Nagaur, while BJP contested from the rest.

Eastern India: New Saffron Inroads

The eastern states of Bengal, Odisha and Jharkhand saw the BJP making new gains. In Bengal and Odisha, the progress was particularly remarkable as the party covered entirely new ground, while in Jharkhand, where there was already an incumbent BJP state government, the party further consolidated itself.

West Bengal: Unprecedented Hindu Mobilization Driven by Backward Classes

Bengal holds special importance for the BJP. Albeit ignored by the BJP political leadership before Modi, Bengal is the birthplace of Hindutva politics and nationalism in the country, home to not only BJP’s parent, Jan Sangh’s founder, Shyama Prasad Mookherjee, but also to freedom movement’s great national and spiritual leaders, from Sri Aurobindo to Bankim Chandra Chatterjee. It is often said that what Bengal thinks today, the rest of the country thinks tomorrow. For Bengal to remain under the hostile yoke of immense minority-appeasing secularism for the last several decades and for this mould to break so spectacularly in the current elections, sends out a strong national message, revealing how powerfully the deeper spirit is guiding the country.

BJP’s victory in West Bengal is amongst the most notable developments in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. If the northern states led by Uttar Pradesh saw a sure-footed transcending of caste barriers to consolidate the Hindus, in Bengal, with all the odds stacked against the BJP, the Hindu consolidation took the form of a massive nationalist upsurge. Marked by violence and bloodshed and continuous clashes between TMC and BJP cadres, the movement had a solid purpose to it – to uphold the flag of Sanatana Dharma and to expel hostile invasive influences.

The ground movement for the BJP was driven entirely by the RSS. The Hindu cadres of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) joined the BJP in immense numbers, while most of the Muslim cadres either remained with the CPI (M) or went towards the TMC. In a state where BJP used to have no ground presence, the recent victory was achieved solely on the basis of the intense efforts put in in the last few years.

That the BJP increased its seat share from 2 seats in 2014 to 18 seats in 2019 and its vote share from 17% in 2014 to a massive 40% in 2019, shows how the east India is uniting solidly, under the umbrella of nationalism, with the rest of the country. The BJP now stands almost neck-to-neck with the TMC, which has 22 seats (a loss of 12 seats from 2014) and a vote share of 43%. While the TMC held onto south Bengal, the BJP made solid inroads into northern and western Bengal.

Source: Chatterjee & Basu (2019)

It is evident that the BJP’s Hindu vote share and TMC’s Muslim vote share have risen between 2014 and 2019. While there is a decline in TMC’s Hindu vote share, it is not very sharp. The rise in BJP’s Hindu vote share is mainly because of the transfer of the Left’s Hindu votes to the BJP and the rise in the TMC’s Muslim Vote is mainly because of the transfer of the Left’s Muslim votes to the TMC.

Source: Chatterjee & Basu (2019)

It is evident that BJP’s vote share has increased across all castes, but the increase has been most marked among the Adivasis, followed by Dalits, OBCs and then the upper castes. The Left vote shares have, which were quite substantive in 2014, have collapsed and transferred entirely to the BJP. The TMC has witnessed a decline in its Hindu vote share across all castes, but the decline has been least among the upper castes. This means that the TMC has largely managed to hold onto its upper caste vote shares.

Interestingly, while the BJP was ahead of TMC by 6 percentage points among those aged between 18-35 years, the TMC was 10 percentage point ahead of BJP among those aged above 35 years, showing that the old guard has not changed very drastically (Chatterjee & Basu, 2019).

The backbone of BJP’s victory in Bengal is provided by the Dalits and Adivasis, with the party managing to conquer the erstwhile Maoist dominated tribal belt of Jungal Mahal, in the western part of Bengal. In the north Bengal too, home to hilly areas, BJP made impressive gains, especially in Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar. But all the constituencies which saw more than 30 percentage point increase in BJP’s vote share were in the western part of the state viz. the tribal belt.

The TMC managed to retain its vote share in north and central Bengal, and increased its vote share in south Bengal. It lost its vote share in western Bengal. Prominent constituencies in western Bengal, such as Purulia, Birbhum, Jhargram, Bankura and Medinipur, saw direct contest between TMC and BJP, with TMC’s loss being BJP’s gain. There was no Left factor at play here. This is unlike other areas such as north and central Bengal, where TMC’s vote share remained undented.

There are the constituencies, especially Purulia, where the Hindu consolidation was the most visible. Large processions of Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti – taken out with swords and a strong assertion of Hindutva – have been celebrated in these regions. They used to be traditional Left bastions and Maoist dominated regions. But now they have witnessed the growth of Hanuman temples. At a micro-level, when the politics of each of these constituencies is analysed, the enormous extent of rare religious and cultural churning becomes visible. There is no doubt that the Left vote share transferred to BJP in these areas, like across Bengal, but there was additional loss of TMC bastion to the BJP here and a much more solid cultural churning, unlike in other parts of Bengal.

Across urban areas like Kolkata and its constituencies, it was the TMC which clearly won, although BJP substantially increased its vote share. This shows that the support base of the BJP came from rural, tribal and hilly areas, but mainly from tribal areas.

Constituency-wise vote shares in West Bengal:

Parliamentary constituency BJP (2014) BJP (2019) TMC (2014) TMC (2019)
Alipurduars 27.4 54.4 29.5 36.7
Arambag 11.6 44.1 55 44
Asansol 37 51 30.5 35
Bahrampur (won by Congress) 7 11 20 39
Balurghat 21 45 38.5 42
Bangaon 19 49 43 41
Bankura 20 49 39 36.5
Barasat 23.3 38.5 41.3 46.4
Bardhaman Purba 13 38.3 43.4 44.5
Bardhaman Durgapur 18 42 41.6 41.5
Barrackpur 22 43 45.5 41.4
Basirhat 18.3 30 38.6 54.5
Birbhum 18.4 39 36 45
Bishnupur 14 46.2 45.5 41
Bolpur 15 40.5 48.3 47.8
Cooch Behar 16.3 48 39.5 44.4
Darjeeling 43 59 25.4 26.5
Diamond Harbour 16 33.3 40.3 56
Dum Dum 22.4 38 42.6 42.5
Ghatal 7 41 50 48.2
Hoogly 16.3 46 45.4 41
Howrah 22 38.7 43.3 47
Jadavpur 12.2 27.3 46 48
Jalpaiguri 17 50.6 38 38.3
Jaynagar 9.5 33 41.6 56
Jhargram 9.7 44.5 53.6 43.7
Jangipur 8.65 24.3 18.54 43.15
Kanthi 8.6 42 52 50
Kolkata Dakshin 25 34.6 37 47.5
Kolkata Uttar 26 36.5 36 50
Krishnanagar 26 40 35 45
Malda (won by Congress) 20 34 17 27
Malda Uttar 15 37.6 17 31
Mathurapur 5 37.2 49.5 52
Medinipur 14 48.6 46 42
Murshidabad 8 17 22.4 41.5
Purulia 7 49.3 39 34
Raiganj 18.3 40 17.3 35
Ranaghat 17 53 43.6 37
Sreerampur 22.2 38.4 40 45
Tamluk 6.4 37 53.5 50
Uluberia 11.5 36.5 48 53

Source: Basu & Das (2019)

Constituency-wise vote shares encapsulate a holistic picture of the extent of BJP’s victory in Bengal. There is not a single seat in Bengal where the BJP’s vote share has not increased. In some seats like Purulia, the vote share has increased from just 7% in 2014 to 49.3% in 2019. Such massive increases from just single digit numbers in 2014 has been witnessed across many seats.

Kolkata and its urban seats were an outlier, where there has been an increase, but with lesser or not very impressive margins. These include Kolkata Uttar and Kolkata Dakshin. Nearby areas like Jadavpur, Hooghly and Howrah too follow this pattern in terms of margins.

The scale of BJP’s victory in Bengal opens a new chapter in not only Bengal’s history, but also that of the country. It destroys the bastion of Left-liberal intellectualism that has sucked the country’s systems for so long. Very few people would know how low-caste Hindu Bengalis have been scarred by the Leftist government, which ruled for 40 years in Bengal and whose basis was the ‘bhadralok’ – how they carried out mass purges, in 1979, of Dalit migrants from Bangladesh who had come to Indian part of Sundarbans, unleashing police atrocities on them.

Subsequently, the terror organization of CPI (M), used to ensure that rigged voting processes, as well as tactics of intimidation and strong class culture, prevented the rise of Hindu consciousness. The TMC too, later on, began to unreasonably cater to the Muslims, allowing illegal Muslim immigration – such as of Rohingyas – and giving immense power and heft to the mullahs.

The BJP organization – local-level leadership – was hardly efficient in Bengal, until Modi made it a focus state. Subsequently, against the injustices and anti-national campaigns of the ‘secular’ parties that have coercively dominated the Bengali landscape, it was on the back of lower caste Hindus, chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’, that BJP created a mass movement of sorts. The upper caste support was not at all forthcoming. All they cared about was that TMC had given them roads and amenities. This ‘bhadralok’ lived in the urban comfort of secularism and intellectualism, even as the real war was waged in forests and villages by the Hindus. What happened in Bengal – and what is still happening – is akin to a freedom struggle and a great change, full of blood and toil, with ‘Jai Shri Ram’ becoming a slogan of resistance against decades of intellectual, secularist oppression.

Bengal has often shown the picture of the future and whose realities, positive or negative, and with whatever variations, are seen across the country. Bengal was the birthplace of the political expression of Sanatana Dharma and of political Hindutva in this country from the times of freedom struggle, showing the way to the rest of India in culture and national consolidation, the birthplace of ‘Vande Mataram’ and nationalism, from where it was purged by the intellectuals for half-a-century. Bengal seems set to be its crowning glory now.

The state has become a crown of the east for the BJP and has inspired Hindutva consolidation in other parts of the country too.

Odisha: Another Great Leap Forward

Besides Bengal, yet another state in the east where BJP used to be an outlier was Odisha. Odisha’s politics has been dominated, in the past, by a contest between Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal (BJD), which is the prime pole of Odisha’s politics, and the Congress. In recent years, however, especially after 2014, the BJP has made strong political inroads into the state.

As the 2019 results show, not only has the BJP replaced Congress as the principal opposition in Odisha, but, in terms of vote share, is now heavily breathing down BJD’s neck too. Like in Bengal, in Odisha too, the vote share of the BJP, at 38.3%, is quite close to those of the BJD, at 42.7%. In terms of seats, while the BJD won 12 seats, the BJP won 8 seats. The Congress won 1 seat, with a vote share of 13.8%. The BJP managed to increase its vote share by 17 percentage points from the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, while the BJD just about managed to retain its vote share, although with a marginal decline in it.

Source: Ahmed & Swain (2019)

In Odisha, the only two social groups in which the BJP is ahead of the BJD are OBCs and Adivasis. In terms of upper caste vote share and Dalit votes, BJD is ahead. The only category in which Congress has done well is among the ‘others’, presumably as it houses the Muslim votes.

Jharkhand: BJP Retains its Bastion and Increases its Coverage

In Jharkhand, BJP won 12 out of 14 seats. It contested the election along with its ally, the All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU). While the BJP won 11 seats, the AJSU won 1 seat. Congress and its allies – the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, Jharkhand Vikas Morcha and Rashtriya Janata Dal – lost badly. Thus, the BJP victory in Jharkhand not only defied myths of anti-incumbency, but also defeated a united and conflict-free opposition, yet again defying all class and caste machinations.

The NDA garnered a massive vote share of 51% compared to just 15.6% vote share of the UPA. Such was the scale of victory that even a veteran opposition leader like JMM’s Shibu Soren lost by over 47,600 votes in Dumka, JMM’s bastion, while former Chief Minister, Babulal Marandi, lost Koderma by more than 4,55,000 votes.

In 2014, the BJP had a vote share of 41% and won 12 seats, while JMM, with a vote share of 9.4% had won 2 seats. The Congress had secured zero seats with 13.3% vote share.

Jharkhand has been the hotbed of missionary work for a long time. Disruptive actions have been undertaken during the last 5 years as well. Movements such as Pathalgarhi agitation were meant to subvert BJP’s attempts to unify the tribals and the Indian government. The police cracked down on such agitations, but they reflect the cultural war that is still being fought by the RSS against the missionaries in the tribal areas.

Source: Dayal (2019)

It is, thus, clear that major vote shares of BJP have been led by OBCs and Adivasis. In terms of SC vote share, the contest if almost equal, while the difference between upper caste vote shares is not that large. Muslims, expectedly, have consolidated solidly behind the Congress.

Bihar: A Clean Sweep Mirroring the North

In Bihar, the BJP-led alliance, consisting of JD (U) and LJP, made a clean sweep. The NDA won 53% of the votes, winning 39 out of 40 seats. It lost in minority-dominated Kishanganj, where the JD(U) candidate lost to the Congress by narrow margin of 34,466 votes. The opposition alliance included Congress, RJD, HAM and RLSP.

The RJD, which has held sway in Bihar, was completely decimated in these elections, with just 15% vote share and no seats, while the Congress could manage a vote share of only 7.7%.

In terms of break up of the NDA alliance, the BJP secured the largest vote share at 23.6% followed by JD(U) at 21.8%. LJP’s vote share was 8%.

The elections should not come as a rude shock to those who monitored the actual performance of the parties in the 2015 Bihar assembly elections. The 2015 elections were much hyped. The ‘mahagathbandhan’ of JD(U), RJD, Congress and smaller partners had banded together to defeat the BJP. They did succeed in getting seats, with RJD bagging 80 assembly seats and JD(U) getting 71. However, even in the much hyped 2015 assembly elections, despite defeat, the BJP was the party with the highest vote share, which stood at 24.4%, while RJD’s vote share was 18.4% and JD(U)’s was 17%.

The stability in BJP’s vote share and the current decimation of RJD reveals that BJP now has a solid base in Bihar, while the opposition flounders. JD(U), being a fickle player, can hardly be counted in the long run.

BJP and JD(U) contested 17 seats each while LJP contested 6 seats. BJP’s contested vote share is 55.5%, while JD(U)’s contested vote share is 50.7%. LJP’s contested vote share is 53.8%. Therefore, within the alliance, individually also, each of the partners’ respective vote shares cross the 50% mark, with the BJP performing the best at 55.5%.

Like the UP election, Bihar – yet another playground of even more intensive Mandal or caste-based politics – saw a complete decimation of the caste and religious alliances. Despite the fact that the opposition front had caste-based leaders like Upendra Kushwaha, Jitan Ram Manjhi and Mukesh Sahni, it could only manage to hold onto its Muslim and Yadav votes, with some erosion in the Yadav base as well. Major Dalit and non-Yadav OBC votes shifted towards the NDA.

Source: Ranjan, Singh, & Alam (2019)

It is evident that the NDA has had phenomenal success among Dalits and non-Yadav OBCs, followed by Koeri-Kurmi and upper castes, especially across rural areas. It is also notable that Dalit and non-Yadav OBC vote got less dispersed towards ‘others’ category, as compared to the upper caste vote.

Fruition of BJP’s ‘Act East’ and RSS’s Base: Results in the North-east

In the seven north-eastern states, BJP managed to make historical footprints, based solely on decades of hardwork by the RSS cadre among the Adivasi communities and of dynamic hard work and political efforts of the BJP-led North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), since 2016. NEDA spans the entire North-east and almost all regional parties across states are members of it, and thus, by default, partners of BJP.

It matters little whether these regional parties sometimes contest various elections independently or with the BJP, from time to time. Their membership of NEDA and the strong political entrenchment and indispensably cohesive political basis provided by the NEDA, has ensured that a broad BJP-led political coalition cutting across north-east is now firmly established.

Consider, for instance, the case of Sikkim. In these Lok Sabha elections, for the first time, the entrenched incumbent, Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF), led by PK Chamling, was uprooted by the newly formed Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM). SDF was a member of NEDA, while SKM was a new outfit. However, as soon as SKM gained power in the state, it immediately pledged allegiance to NEDA. Not only this, it also revoked the 2010 orders by the Sikkim state government which did not permit automatic ‘general consent’ to the CBI to start investigations in the state. (General consent’ is given by state governments to the CBI to ensure that the latter may function effectively. In the absence of ‘general consent’, CBI requires special prior permission from the state government to investigate a case in the state. Few months back, TMC in West Bengal and TDP in Andhra Pradesh had revoked this ‘general consent’, out of political spite. Now, with Jagan Reddy at helm, Andhra Pradesh has reinstituted this provision. )

This shows how the entire broad politics of the north-east has inevitably fallen under the BJP-led NEDA umbrella. Even differences and complex politics are worked out within the NEDA framework. Over the years, BJP has made considerable inroads in the north-east. It has been the focal point of RSS work among Adivasis, integration of people from the region across the country by giving them educational and employment opportunities, several landmark connectivity projects by the Centre, landmark deals such as the ‘Framwork Agreement’ with the Naga separatists to resolve long standing issues and extremely solid military relationship with the neighbouring Myanmar, which has effectively clipped the wings of north-east insurgent groups that used to freely create havoc.

The extent of political, security, infrastructural and cultural progress in this region in the last five years has been unprecendented. As a result, the idea of north-east as being a distinct entity within India has completely disappeared. Even the vague construction of ‘north-east’ is fast disappearing. BJP and RSS have made sure they go into distinct religious, cultural and historical realities of each north-eastern state and have brought out the deeper historical impulses that link them with India’s spirit of Sanatan Dharma.

Assam: A Thorough Sweep Yet Again

In Assam, the BJP has established itself as the dominant party since 2014 elections, consolidating itself and coming to power in the state in 2016 assembly elections. In 2019, the BJP bettered its performance. Its allies – Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) – now heavily depend on it for even ethnic Assamese votes.

Out of 14 seats in Assam, the NDA won 9 seats with 36% vote share, which was 2 seats more than its 2014 tally. Congress won 3 seats with 35.4% vote share, while the Muslim-specific AIUDF garnered 7% vote share and 1 seat. BJP itself had contested only 10 seats and garnered a massive 54% on its contested vote share. Its ally, AGP, won no seats and managed a vote share of just 32%, while the BPF lost the only seat it contested. It is evident, therefore, that BJP by itself stands as the strongest political force in Assam.

Vote and seat share in Assam:

Seats contested Seats won Vote share (%) Contested vote share (%) per seat
BJP 10 9 36 54.3
AGP 3 0 8.2 32.4
BPF 1 0 2.5 30.2
Congress 14 3 35.4 35.4
AIUDF 3 1 7.8 33.3

Source: Ahmed, Sharma, & Tripathi (2019)

It is evident that out of all the parties, BJP has the highest – 54.3% – contested vote share per seat, followed by Congress at 35.4%. Congress registered a 6% increase in its vote share from 2014.

In 2014, BJP had won 7 seats with a vote share of 36.9%, while Congress had 3 seats with 30% vote share. In the 2016 assembly elections, BJP had won by winning the maximum number of seats viz. 60 out of 126, with a vote share of 29.8%, while Congress won 26 seats with a 31.3% vote share.

Region-wise vote and seat share in Assam:

Region Seats Congress Seats Share Congress Vote Share % NDA Seats Share NDA Vote Share % AIUDF Seats Share AIUDF Vote Share % Other Seats Share Other Vote Share %
Barak Valley 3 0 26 3 51.5 0 16.5 0 6
Lower Assam 5 1 32.2 2 33.5 1 12.2 1 22
 Upper Assam 6 2 42 4 53.1 0 0 0 4.7

Source: Ahmed, Sharma, & Tripathi (2019)

Both BJP and Congress have garnered their highest vote shares in Upper Assam. The region was the hotbed of protests against BJP’s proposed Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016. The Bill sought to provide haven to religious minorities fleeing Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. It was welcomed by the Bengali Hindu community in Assam, but was met with violent protests by ethnic Assamese communties and tribes. The latter wanted zero tolerance towards immigrants, regardless of their religion and the Bill was seen as flouting the Assam Accord of 1985.

Despite the violent protests in early 2019 and the temporary break up of BJP-AGP alliance, the NDA managed to garner 53.1% vote share in Upper Assam. The region is part of Brahmaputra Valley and is dominated by ethnic Assamese, with sizeable Bengali (both Hindu and Muslim) populations. Despite the strong Assamese sentiment against all forms of immigration, they chose to vote for the BJP, as Congress was seen to be doubly harmful, given the past decades’ experience of the inundation Muslim immigration from Bangladesh.

It would also be pertinent to mention that the protests against the Bill were deliberately over-hyped by the mainstream media with the intent to mislead people. As is the tendency, it has got everything wrong about the BJP in these elections and before that too. A couple of motivated protests – led by some NGOs – were hyped up through visuals to portray a misleading image, even though the ground reality was that BJP enjoys solid support in Assam, among Hindu Assamese as well as Bengalis.

In Barak Valley, dominated by Bengalis, BJP made a clean sweep. Muslim votes got divided between AIUDF and Congress. In Barak Valley, the Bill enjoyed immense support among Bengali Hindus from the outset.

Across Assam, BJP mobilised the support of all social groups and castes, except Muslims. The Muslims strategically congregated behind the Congress. It was also clear that, despite not being in alliance, the AIUDF and the Congress had an understanding so that Muslim votes wouldn’t get divided. The AIUDF did not field any candidates in constituencies like Kaliabor and Nowgong inorder to ensure that Muslim votes went wholesale to the Congress. It just contested elections in 3 Muslim-dominated seats.

Source: Ahmed, Sharma, & Tripathi (2019)

BJP has got the highest vote share among Adivasis, while Congress has got the highest vote share among the Muslims. The support for BJP overrides not just caste and religion, but even, to some extent, ethnic considerations. Around 60% of the Assamese Hindu vote went to the BJP, regardless of controversies surrounding the Citizenship Bill (Ahmed, Sharma, & Tripathi 2019).

Nagaland: Victory with a Thin Margin

The lone Lok Sabha seat in Nagaland was won by BJP-backed NDPP (National Democratic Progressive Party) candidate, Tokheho Yepthomi. The alliance between the BJP and the NDPP is called the People’s Democratic Alliance. The Congress candidate, KL Chishi, was backed by Naga People’s Front (NPF). Congress lost to BJP-backed NDPP by a very thin margin.

While NDPP managed to win the seat by securing 49.73% vote share, the Congress got a vote share of 48.11%. There is a tendency in Nagaland and smaller northeastern states to back the candidate of the ruling party at the Centre, in order to ensure that there is smooth delivery of services. This is one reason why Christian-dominated Nagaland chose the NDPP candidate, despite aversion to the Citizenship Bill, Uniform Civil Code and other ideological planks of the BJP. Moreover, the state also has equal measure of aversion for Muslim infiltrants from Bangladesh, as is the case in Assam.

Another important factor is the Naga Peace Process of 2015 and the resultant Framework Agreement draft. Even though the whole thing is still secret, yet through this process and through the confidence inspired by the central interlocuter, a general rapproachment and familiarity has been generated between the Naga people and the BJP. It is now generally accepted that a solution to the Naga problem is possible only under the NDA, as the previous UPA government was known more for mere talkshops and inaction on ground.

Through the efforts of the Centre, the BJP has managed to win the confidence of various political non-government organizations – except the Church and the missionaries – which play a very important role in influencing voting outcomes in the state.

Years of preparation has reflected in sharp divisions among voters from various communities, showing that through its alliance partner, the BJP has managed to get through to the Naga people. While traditional NPF voters from Angmi tribe voted overwhelmingly for Congress, as the NPF managed to transfer its votes, in case of voters from Ao region, there was a sharp divide, even though it used to be a Congress bastion. Other tribes too were sharply divided, while Mon tribal area may have swung the scales in NDPP’s favour in the final run (Achanger & Jamir, 2019).

Manipur: A Divided Result

In Manipur, where the NDA government is currently in power, the dynamics favoured the incumbent in one seat and the regional opposing party in the other. The two constituencies were Manipur Inner and Manipur Outer. While in Manipur Inner, the BJP candidate defeated the Congress candidate by a thin margin of 17,755 votes, in Manipur Outer, the BJP lost to the Naga People’s Front (NPF) candidate.

In Manipur Outer, while the NPF secured a vote share of 42.3%, BJP came second with a vote share of 33.8%. Congress’s vote share lagged at 17.8%. In Manipur Inner, BJP’s vote share was 34.72%, while Congress’s was 32.3%, while the Communist Party of India came third at 17.6% vote share.

Among the tribes, while NPF’s victory underscores the strengthening of the Naga base in Manipur, tribes like Meiteis (who practice Hinduism and are the majority community) and Kuki-Chin-Mizo groups had their votes largely divided between the BJP and the Congress.

Meghalaya: Similar Dynamics to Nagaland:

Meghalaya is yet another Christian-dominated state, where the BJP is still gaining foot. It is currently in power in the state in alliance with Conrad Sangma’s party, National People’s Party (NPP). Despite this, and realizing that it faces most hostility in this state, it contested both the seats alone, apart from the NPP, in order to not dent the NPP’s chances.

The two constituencies are Shillong and Tura. In Shillong, Congress won with 53.5% vote share, United Democratic Party came second with 34% vote share while BJP was a distant third at 9.8% vote share. In Tura, NPP, represented by Agatha Sangma, came first with 52.2% vote share, Congress followed with 41% vote share, while BJP was a distant third at 5.4% vote share.

The consolation was that BJP’s alliance partner in the state government won in Tura. Even though Nagaland is also Christian-dominated, yet, BJP’s prospects in Nagaland are much better than in Meghalaya, where a lot more ground needs to be covered.

Arunachal Pradesh: A Complete Sweep

There are two Lok Sabha seats in Arunachal Pradesh – Arunachal East and Arunachal West. In both the seats, BJP had a complete sweep with high vote share. In Arunachal East, BJP won by garnering a vote share of 52.4%, while Congress came second at 28.57%. In Arunachal West, BJP’s vote share was even higher at 63%, while Congress fared as a distant second at just 14% vote share. The overall vote share of the BJP was 58.2%, while that of the Congress was 20.7%.

In Arunachal Pradesh, around 29% people are Hindu and 30% follow Christianity. The rest of the people follow a mix of Buddhism and indigenous religions and cultures, which are quite compatible with Hinduism and with which RSS is working. Hindi is widely spoken in the state. There about 26 major tribes and more than 100 sub-tribes in the state and the conflict between RSS and Christian missionaries is perpetual. The only difference is that while Christians have been converting the tribal people, resulting in a 30% rise in Christian population between just 1971 and 2011, RSS has been championing the revival of indigenous cultures and icons, such as the Rangfraa cult, Donyi Polo, Intayism etc. They resemble and fit well with aspects of Hinduism, most prominently Shiva worship, even though the names and images of idols may vary. In the process of all this work, tribals are now resisting Christianity and this process has speeded up since 2014. Cults like Rangfraa lead the charge.

The results of the BJP’s politics and RSS’s cultural change is visible not only in Lok Sabha elections, but also in the assembly elections which were held simultaneously. In these elections, BJP, under the leadership of Pema Khandu, won 41 seats out of 57 seats polled in the 60 member assembly and has formed its elected government in the state. JD(U) came second with 7 seats. National People’s Party (NPP) received 5 seats and Congress had 4. BJP’s overall vote share in the state was 51%, followed by Congress at 16.7% and JD(U) at 9.9%.

Mizoram:

In Mizoram, which has 1 Lok Sabha seat, a candidate of Mizo National Front (MNF) won with 44.9% vote share. The Congress had an alliance with the Zoram People’s Movement, but lost very narrowly. Together they had supported an independent candidate, who won 43% vote share.

BJP had fielded a candidate belonging to the Chakma community, but lost as well, at a vote share of 5.6%. Mizoram has 88% Christian population, while the Chakma Buddhist population is around 9% and 3% are Hindus.

Sikkim:

In Sikkim, there was a tight race. The ruling Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF), led by PK Chamling lost, at a vote share of 44%, while a new entrant, Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM) won with a 47.4% vote share. With this election, there has been a break in SDF’s 25-year rule. As we have seen, immediately after winning, the SKM pledged allegiance to BJP-led North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA).

Tripura:

There are two constituencies in the state viz. Tripura East and Tripura West. In both, BJP had an easy win. In Tripura West, BJP’s vote share was 52%, followed by Congress at 24%. In Tripura East, BJP’s won with a vote share of 46%, followed by Congress with a vote share of 26%.

BJP’s overall vote share in Tripura was 49%, followed by Congress at 25.3% and Communist Party of India (Marxist) at 17.3%.

Results in the Southern States: Progress Made, Potential Exposed

In the southern India, the BJP garnered 29 seats. Telangana yielded positive results for the BJP, with the party winning 4 seats out of 17 and the Chief Minister’s daughter herself losing to a BJP candidate. In Karnataka, the party had a near clean sweep. In 2014, it had garnered 21 seats from the South and had a vote share of 31% on the 67 seats it had contested.

There has been a 2.5% increase in BJP’s vote share in Kerala and its vote share in Telangana touched 19.45% this time. In Karnataka, it was a clean sweep. Tamil Nadu is its Achilles Heel. However, because the southern states are deeply divided along caste lines, the Hindu vote is highly fragmented.

Karnataka: A Neat and Clean Sweep

In Karnataka, BJP swept into 25 out of 28 Lok Sabha seats, completely decimating the Congress-JD(S) combine. In 2014, it had secured 17 seats. Congress’s tally reduced from 9 seats in 2014 to just 1 seat in 2019, while JD(S) secured 1 seat. JD(S) head and former Prime Minister, HD Deve Gowda, lost from Tumakuru to the BJP candidate by 14,500 votes, while Congress’s Mallikarjun Kharge too lost.

BJP’s overall vote share was 51.4% – a rise of 8.4% from 2014. Congress’s vote share declined by 8% from 40% in 2014 to 32% in 2019, while JD(S)’s vote share stood at 9.6% with a 1.3% decline compared to 2014.

Source: Veenadevi & K.L (2019)

It is evident that Vokkaliga – the traditional contested vote bank of Congress and JD(S) – shifted to the BJP this time, while Lingayat have stood solidly by the BJP. The party has also done well among the Adivasis, while other OBC and Dalit votes are almost evenly split. Muslims alone have consolidated behind the alliance.

Telangana: A Big Improvement

The results in Telangana heralded one of the biggest breaks for the BJP in the south, after Karnataka. The party won 4 seats in north Telangana, which is the stronghold of the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) and increased its vote share to 19.5%.

In 2018 assembly elections in Telangana, BJP’s vote share was 7% and it won 1 seat. TRS had a vote share of 47%, Congress had a vote share of 28.4%, AIMIM had a vote share of 2.7% and TDP had a vote share of 3.5%.

In this respect, BJP’s improvement has been significant in 2019. In this election, the Congress won 3 seats, while TRS won 9 seats. BJP, with its 4 seats, is now the principal opposition party from the state in the Lokasabha.

Moreover, TRS’s vote share has come down from 47% in 2018 assembly elections to 41% in 2019 general elections. Congress’s vote share has hardly seen any difference. It has come up from 28.4% in 2018 elections to 29.4% in 2019 elections.

Clearly, then TRS has suffered some 6% loss of vote share, while BJP is the party that has seen a huge win with a nearly 13% increase in vote share in a span of just 6 months from 7% to 1915%.

Hindu consolidation at a local level has worked in the state, besides the ground work done by the RSS, which alone can explain how a party like BJP – having little footprint in Telangana – increased its vote share by five-fold compared to 2014.

Given this scenario and Telangana’s political background, it can effectively form yet another gateway for the BJP in the south, besides Karnataka. Telangana has a history of Muslim appeasement, given its 12% Muslim population. Owaisi’s AIMIM is the dominant Muslim party here, and, both, Congress and TRS have, at different points of time, arm-twisted it. BJP need have no such compulsions and can easily checkmate all three of them viz. Congress, TRS and AIMIM.

BJP has already started working on it, since the anti-AIMIM campaign formed an important part of BJP’s electioneering in the run up to Lok Sabha polls in the state.

In Telangana, KCR, the incumbent Chief Minister, of Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), has systematically followed a policy of minority appeasement since 2014, taking the Hindus for granted. He even promised them 12% quota in government employment and made Urdu the second official language of the state.

During the Lok Sabha campaign, he referred to the Hindus as ‘disgusting’ and made a series of overtures to the Muslims to appease them. He made these anti-Hindu remarks in Karimnagar, which has 21% Muslim population. Unsurprisingly, the BJP won the Karimnagar seat. Remarkably, in another Muslim-dominated seat viz. Nizamabad, his daughter, K. Kavitha, lost to a BJP legislator. The 4 seats that the BJP won, enabling it to make inroads in Telangana, were mostly Muslim-dominated seats, with Muslim population of more than 30%.

Nizamabad itself, from where KCR’s daughter lost, was a Muslim constituency that was expected to be bagged by the TRS alliance. Besides this, the BJP also won in the ST reserved constituency of Adilabad and in Secunderabad and Karimnagar.

This shows how the Hindu consolidation has very strongly worked in certain seats in Telangana for the BJP, coming a long way from the time when it used to be just a junior partner of Naidu’s TDP till 2014 elections. Once it left TDP, its vote share started going up. Its main support base in Telangana came from upper castes, Reddys and OBCs. The SCs went for the Congress, but also contributed to a very slight increase in BJP’s vote share.

Source: Vageeshan (2019)

It is, thus, clear that in Telangana, BJP radically improved its vote share among upper castes from 13% to 41%, among the Reddys from just 7% to 33% and among the OBCs from 9% to 25%.

Source: Vageeshan (2019)

The Congress derived its votes from all sections marginally, but lost a major chunk of Reddy and ST votes. Its Reddy votes seem to have gone to the BJP, while its ST votes have gone to the TRS.

Source: Vageeshan (2019)

Remarkably, the TRS has lost a major chunk of its erstwhile upper caste vote share, which seems to have gone to the BJP and has lost substantial support among Reddys and OBCs. It has received more ST votes from the Congress.

Telangana is an important trend-setter and indicator of BJP’s future potential in southern states. The about turn in BJP’s fortunes came within 6 months of the assembly elections, since KCR’s subtle Muslim appeasement policies and explicit vocal outreach to the minorities could be effectively exposed by the RSS. This helped in making the majority community aware of the politics that KCR was playing. It also shows that the BJP has been able to perform much better solo rather than being a junior partner of some southern party like TDP or TRS. Even in Karnataka, which the BJP swept, the party went solo, banked on RSS’s hard work and trumped the combined secular coalition of Congress and JD (S).

Kerala: BJP Makes Deeper Inroads

In Kerala, the BJP has shown great potential. Its vote share in 2019 actually went up from the 2014 elections. Even though the BJP-led NDA did not win any seat in Kerala, its vote share went up from 10.8% in 2014 and 10.6% in 2016 assembly elections (where it won one seat) to 13% in 2019 elections. That’s nearly 2.5% increase. The fact that Left Front’s vote share dipped from 40.2% in 2014 to 33% in 2019, shows that the BJP has made a dent in the Left’s Hindu voter base.

The Congress-led UDF managed to increase its vote share from 42% in 2014 to 45% in 2019, winning 19 out of 20 seats, leaving the Left with only one seat. Country-wide, Left won only 5 seats, with 4 from Tamil Nadu (in alliance with DMK and Congress) and 1 in Kerala. The Left stares at its worst performance in three decades, especially in Kerala.

In Kerala, BJP had contested 15 seats and its contested vote share was 17%, with the party getting less than 31% vote share in any of the seats contested by it. Its ally, Bharath Dharma Jana Sena, did not win any seat out of the 4 contested and had a contested vote share of 9.5%.

The agitation, especially by Nair upper caste Hindus, against the Left government’s brutal and oppressive enforcement of the Supreme Court order allowing women’s entry into Sabrimala temple, played a part in 2019 elections. But the major benefits of the Hindu displeasure with the Left went to the Congress, even though RSS and Hindu organizations had taken to the streets and led the agitation. The Congress joined later and appeared to have turned the Sabrimala agitation in its favour, thereby increasing its Hindu vote share, while keeping its Christian and Muslim vote share intact.

Source: Ibrahim (2019)

From the above, it is clear that the Hindu vote is extremely fragmented all over Kerala, while the minority vote is extremely concentrated, with the Congress. The data does not show that there is an anti-BJP sentiment in Kerala, but simply shows that division along caste lines has harmed the party’s prospects. In terms of Nair vote, the BJP got 34%, the Congress also got 34%, while the Left got 20% of the Nair vote. In case of other upper castes, the BJP is clearly in the lead, trumping the Congress and the Left, securing 42% of their vote, compared to 31% by Congress and 27% by the Left. The BJP has secured decent, competitive vote share among Ezhavas and other OBCs as well.

Religious sentiment is strong in Kerala. Traditionally also, more than northern states, the south has been more cultural and religious, but it has been riven apart by caste. South Indian parties like DMK, AIADMK, TRS, TDP, Congress and Communists have been able to nurture carefully cultivated caste-based vote banks. Attempts at consolidating a common Hindu consciousness and rising above caste considerations could not be done by the RSS alone, despite its strong presence in Kerala. The political push and backing needed by the BJP has not been pursued actively, since the last few decades – a situation now being changed.

Where it was pursued actively, such as in Telangana, the turnaround was immediate – within six months. In Kerala too, some efforts were put in, albeit unorganized and rudimentary, but the vote share went up. The formidable saffron organization in Karnataka is an exception – so much so, that in the 2019 elections, the BJP toppled and swept even the traditional Congress-JD (S) strongholds like Mysore.

Tamil Nadu: Defeat Without any Silver Lining

However, in Tamil Nadu, the story has been extremely negative for the BJP. The BJP’s alliance partner – and Jayalalitha’s party which used to be a formidable force in Tamil politics – viz. the AIADMK lost 59% of its vote share compared to 2014, securing just 18.4% votes. In 2014, the party had secured 44% votes and won 37 out of 39 seats. Even in the past, such as 1996 and 2004 Lok Sabha polls, when AIADMK did not win even a single seat, it has, even at such low moments, maintained a consistent vote share of 25-30%.

Major political parties in Tamil Nadu Alliance to which they belong Vote share (%) in 2019 election Swing (%) from 2014 election
DMK UPA 32.7 8.8 (+)
Congress UPA 12.7 8.4 (+)
CPI UPA 2.4 1.9 (+)
CPI (M) UPA 2.4 1.9 (+)
VCK UPA 1.18
IUML UPA 1.11
AIADMK NDA 18.48 26.4 (-)
BJP NDA 3.66 1.9 (-)
PMK NDA 5.4 1 (+)

 

In this state, the BJP had contested only 5 seats – Coimbatore, Kanniyakumari, Ramnathapuram, Sivaganga and Thoothukudi. Its contested vote share was 28.5%. Out of these 5 seats, its highest vote share was in Kanniyakumari at 35%.

Relatedly in the Union Territory of Puducherry, Congress bettered its performance massively. Puducherry is the only UT/State where the Congress had a vote share of over 50%. It increased its vote share from 27% in 2014 to 56% in 2019 elections in Puducherry. BJP, on the other hand, had allied with AIADMK and All India NR Congress (AINRC) in Puducherry and supported the NR Congress candidate. However, while in 2014, NR Congress had a vote share of 34.5% in Puducherry, this time it was reduced to 31%.

This election was, thus, its worst. It showed a complete consolidation of the Tamil vote against the AIADMK, with even neutral AIADMK voters deserting the party. Even AIADMK allies took a hit, with DMDK vote share falling from 5.9% to 2% and the PMK managing to just about maintain its old vote share level at 5.4%.

In a striking contrast, the DMK not only managed to increase its vote share by 8% and reached a tally of 32.7%, but even DMK allies like Congress and Left saw a vote share increase. Congress increased its vote share from 4% to 12.7%, while the CPI and CPI (M) secured 2.4% vote share each.

Tamil Nadu has been an outlier in southern India. The death of Jayalalitha in 2016 opened up the space for the revival of extreme anti-national elements. The fragmented and weak government of AIADMK, led by E. Palaniswami and O. Paneerselvam, was no match. It was busy attempting to govern the state in face of severe cyclones – where its handling was exemplary – and in dealing with the sinister rebellion unleashed by TTV Dhinakaran. The internal power struggle within AIADMK went on for not less than 1.5 years.

In the midst of this struggle and the cyclone and Chennai floods, the state government had to deal with the rise of radical jihadist elements as well as extreme Left political activists, who insidiously hijacked numerous protest movements and painted, both, AIADMK and especially Narendra Modi and BJP in extremely negative light. These elements were firmly kept suppressed under Jayalalitha. Notable examples of these events can be found in the anti-Sterlite environmental protests in Thoothukudi and in the earlier ‘Jallikattu’ (a bull taming local festival close to the Tamil people) protests.

Not only were there intelligence reports of how jihadi slogans – for the first time – were raised at both these protests, but even anti-India slogans were raised and there were attempts at jihadi recruitment. Besides this, the anti-Sterlite protests, masquerading in the name of environment, became an occasion for giving full play to anti-national violence and direct attack on security forces.

Through these movements – actively backed by the DMK and the Congress – India as well as Modi as a leader were tarnished. The BJP unit of Tamil Nadu – itself weak and riven by factionalism – was no match against this extremely negative and violent publicity that was deliberately and methodically unleashed against BJP and against Narendra Modi in particular. Even though micro and small businesses in Tamil Nadu were the biggest beneficiaries of PM’s social schemes, such as MUDRA, the message was sent across that demonetization and GST had harmed Tamil Nadu, besides the extreme cultural indoctrination unleashed by anti-national elements. Nothing was done by the local BJP or the embattled AIADMK to fight back against this barrage of unfounded allegations and machinations.

Combined with the hard work put in by Stalin and the force of his personality – since he is the only popular face in the state, after the demise of both Karunanidhi and Jayalalitha and given that the Tamil people thrive on leader worship – the Tamil Lok Sabha contest was easy for him. He painted Rahul Gandhi as a viable PM candidate at the Centre and this resonated in Tamil Nadu, since across the south, except for Karnataka, Modi’s image has not been such a great pull factor, including in Telangana where the BJP won 4 seats.

The result was that MK Stalin – who was never previously be unanimously accepted as Karunanidhi’s heir by his own party – derived immense advantage from this overall atmosphere. He not only consolidated his hold over DMK, which he could never do before, but also won the Lok Sabha seats, although he was slightly hemmed in in the Vidhan Sabha by elections, which took place simultaneously, and, therefore, could not bring down the AIADMK government.

Byelections were held in April in 22 constituencies. They were regarded as a crucial precursor to the assembly elections and the AIADMK focused more on these rather than on Lok Sabha polls. In these elections, Stalin’s DMK won 13 seats with a 45% vote share, while AIADMK won 9 seats with a 38% vote share. Other parties – like Dhinakaran’s AMMK and Kamal Hasan’s MNM – did not win a single seat. MNM’s vote share was 4.6%, while AMMK’s vote share was 5.8%.

On its part, the BJP and its allies posted their worst performance. The BJP lost the Kanyakumari seat – held by its ally, PMK’s Pon Radhakrishnan – by a massive 2 lakh plus margin. It was the only seat gained by the BJP in 2014 elections. Other prominent alliance politicians – such as Thambidurai from Karur and H Raja from Karaikudi – lost to new faces or better players in the opposition, despite being veterans. Karti Chidambaram won from Sivaganga by a good margin, despite being an accused in a series of corruption cases, while Kanimozhi won from Thoothukudi against state BJP chief Tamilisai Soundararajan by a margin of over 3 lakh votes.

The BJP’s vote share in the state also came down to 3.6% in 2019 from 5.5% in 2014. Despite the state having majority Hindu population, the strongly entrenched Dravidian history and the political machinations flowing from it in various fields, makes the state rather recalcitrant to nationalism.

The reason for this seeming ‘wave’ against the BJP in Tamil Nadu – which took an extreme form – was due to a number of factors, as seen above. On the practical footing too, the party was on a weak wicket. The Tamil media was completely and avowedly biased against the BJP. The leading media of the state left no opportunity to blame each and everything that went wrong on Modi and the centre, without any application of mind, even if those wrongs originated during the UPA years. Stalin was eulogized and lionized by the same media. The campaign was concerted.

And the Tamil mindset – which is not independent like that of Kerala – was hijacked by DMK’s outdated pitch of secularism, by the compulsive portraying of Modi by Stalin through choicest words like ‘fascist’, ‘cheater’ and anti-Tamil and by the support offered to him by the media. The Tamils have also been swayed more by money power than most other factors. Recently, the Madras High Court had castigated the intense culture of freebies in the state, while the Election Commission has had to cancel certain assembly and Lok Sabha constituencies elections due to recovery of large amounts of cash.

Thus, in Tamil Nadu, the BJP fared the worst among all southern states. Even in states like Kerala where it did not win any seats, the party saw a marked improvement in its vote share and substantial progress made among certain communities. The same goes for Telangana. Tamil Nadu, however, has been fed with anti-Modi campaign over – not just the past few months – but last five years, with very little outreach by the centre or the state BJP leadership to correct those impressions or to counter Stalin.

Source: Muralidharan (2019)

It is, thus, evident that even at its peak, in 2019, the DMK has not been able to match the AIADMK’s 2014 performance, where it garnered 44% vote. In this election, DMK garnered 32% vote share. A good part of AIADMK votes were spoilt by the division of votes due to the presence of Dhinakaran (whose AMMK ended third in the seats it contested) and by other new parties. Minority consolidation in favour of DMK alliance was another reason. But the dent, although severe, is not insurmountable, as the AIADMK managed to hold onto some of its core base.

Source: Ramajayam (2019)

It is clear that the DMK alliance has won maximum votes across all social groups. Even the Thevar community which used to be a staunch supporter of Jayalalitha got divided in the middle. The Muslims have, as expected, voted overwhelmingly for the DMK alliance.

Andhra Pradesh:

In Andhra Pradesh, Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) had a clean sweep in, both, Lok Sabha and assembly elections. YSRCP won 22 out of 25 Lok Sabha seats and 151 out of 175 assembly seats, while Chandrababu Naidu’s TRS won just 3 Lok Sabha and 23 assembly seats.

Both Congress and BJP did not win even a single seat and had a vote share of less than 1%.

Source: Venkatesu (2019)

It is clear that YSRCP has won major vote shares on the basis of Reddy, SC and ST votes. Upper caste, Kamma and Kapu votes got divided, but tilted more towards the TDP. Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena played a spoiler in Kapu votes. For the first time, Muslims did not vote as a bloc, but were evenly divided between TDP and YSRCP.

Performance in the islands:

Andaman & Nicobar Islands:

In A&N islands, with 1 Lok Sabha seat, both BJP and Congress had almost equal vote shares, but Congress won by a very thin margin. While Congress’s vote share was 45.98%, BJP’s vote share was 45.3%.

Dadra & Nagar Haveli:

It has 1 seat. Here an independent candidate won with 45.4% vote share, followed by BJP at 41% vote share. Congress was a distant third at 4.3% vote share.

Daman & Diu:

It has 1 seat. Here BJP won with 43% vote share, followed by Congress at 31.6% vote share.

Lakshadweep:

In Muslim-majority Lakshadweep, NCP stood out as the winner with 48.6% vote share, followed closely by Congress with 46.8% vote share. JD(U) secured 3% vote, followed by CPI, while BJP was the last with 0.27% vote share.

Conclusion:

That this election was based on nationalism and religious solidarity is borne by country-wide data, which shows that the ‘secular’ Congress – despite half-baked attempts to peddle soft, insincere Hindutva – won seats mainly in those areas where the Hindus were in a minority. Even its ‘veterans’ – like Rahul Gandhi, Digvijaya Singh, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Gehlot, Mallikarjun Kharge etc. – have, in some cases, lost to new faces or novices from the BJP. Outside the Congress, but within the so-called ‘secular’ fold, famous people like HD Deve Gowda and his grandson, Dimple Yadav, K. Kavitha (daughter of KCR of Telangana) etc. have also lost to the BJP.

This election has also proven that Congress has now become a wholly Muslim party, more than even the regional parties who rely on minority vote-banks.

Hindu vote for NDA in 2014 (%) Hindu vote for NDA

in 2019 (%)

Muslim vote for main opposition

to NDA in 2014 (%)

Muslim vote for main opposition to NDA in 2019 (%)
Assam 58 70 41 (Congress), 39 70 (Congress)
(AIUDF)
Bihar 44 65 68 77
Gujarat 64 67 64 70
Karnataka 46 58 68 73
Kerala 16 22 63 65
Madhya
Pradesh 59 60 92 67
Maharashtra 54 62 83 86
Odisha 22 40
Rajasthan 57 63 55 79
Tamil Nadu 19 29 37 (AIADMK), 33 (DMK) 74
Uttar Pradesh 48 60 59 73
West Bengal 21 57 40 (TMC), 31 (Left), 24 (Congress) 70 (TMC)
Delhi 52 66 56 (AAP) 66 (Congress)
Jharkhand 53 64 61 78
Telangana 10 22 60 (Congress) 43 (TRS), 42

Source: Sardesai & Attri (2019)

In almost every state, the Muslim polarization is visible clearly in favour of the Congress, except in Andhra Pradesh, where the Congress was not a significant player and where the Muslim vote got almost equally divided between TDP and YSRCP.

The Congress and other opposition parties are also less preferred by the youth and likely first-time voters.

Age Groups

(years)

Congress

(%)

Congress

Allies (%)

BJP

(%)

BJP

Allies (%)

Others

Groups (%)

18-22 20 5 41 7 27
23-27 18 6 40 7 29
28-35 19 7 39 7 28
36-45 20 7 37 7 29
46-55 20 8 36 7 29
56 and above 19 8 35 7 31

Source: Mishra & Negi (2019)

Thus, BJP has excellent performance among those aged between 18-35 years, across the country.

Yet another takeaway was that BJP has performed better than its allies in the seats that it the states with dominant allies like Punjab, Bihar, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. In particular, in Punjab, where the BJP had contested only 3 seats and won 2 of those (Hoshiarpur and Gurdaspur, while losing Amritsar), the party’s vote share was 45%. In contrast, BJP’s Punjab ally viz. Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) had contested 10 seats with a vote share of just 34.9%.

In Bihar the BJP was clearly ahead of its allies in terms of vote share in the seats it contested, as we have already seen.

In Tamil Nadu, BJP won a vote share of 28.5% on 5 seats it contested. AIADMK, the main partner, contested 21 seats and won a vote share of just 33%. The other two partners were DMDK and PMK who performed marginally. In Tamil Nadu, this was exceptional in every respect and there was a complete drubbing.

However, except for Andhra and Tamil Nadu, the party has seen an improvement in almost all other states, including the remaining southern states. The BJP’s overall victory has rendered the entire discourse of secularism and appeasement useless.

(To be Continued)

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