With the worsening COVID crisis, some are speculating that the BJP could lose the 2024 elections. There is genuine anger on the ground at Prime Minister Modi and the BJP’s handling of the 2021 COVID wave. Though the ramifications of the COVID crisis shouldn’t be ignored, the BJP is still in a better position to win a majority in the 2024 general election than the Indian opposition parties. While Modi’s disapproval rating has risen since the second wave, he still has an approval rating of 63%, compared to Congress President Rahul Gandhi, whose approval rating ranges around 15 % depending on the polls.
However, the BJP’s strong position is about more than Modi’s approval rating - it has a structural advantage over its rival and we’re going to explore why that is in the following four maps.
Figure 1 is a picture of the results of the 1996 Indian general election - the first election where the BJP was the biggest party in the parliament. The interesting thing about the picture is where the orange is and where it isn’t - the orange is spread throughout central and parts of north India whereas the aqua, representing the Congress, is best represented throughout the South.
Figure 2 is a picture of the results in the last general election in India in 2019. A critical thing to note is that between the BJP and the Congress, only one has lost a lot of ground - the Congress. More or less all of the areas that were orange in Figure 1 remain the same in Figure 2. However, many of the areas that were aqua in the above image either turned orange or turned a different color (signifying a different party).
Two other elections worth considering are the ones in 1991 as well as 2009 - the maps for both of them are below.
The 1991 election results (Figure 3) were unique - then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated during the election and the voters supported the Congress by a strong margin. Despite the Congress cleaning up in the South, the BJP’s strongholds in the central and north held fast, but more importantly the BJP was unable to sweep north and central India.
The 2009 general election (Figure 4) was the last election that the Congress and the United Progressive Alliance won. The seeds of the majority were planted in the south but like in the early 1990s, parts of it came from the North and Central regions.
So what relevance does any of this have to 2024? The four maps are telling - the INC and allies cannot win a majority without doing passably well in North India but the BJP doesn’t need to win seats from South India to reach a majority. This matters because the INC (and allies) have been performing poorly in North India for a while. North India has functioned as a majority maker - parties don’t need to win it but they can’t get annihilated there and hope to form a national government.
The problem though is if you look at recent results in Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Maharashtra you see utter annihilation. The 2019 election is very relevant here - in Gujarat, the BJP won every single parliamentary seat of the 26 and in Uttar Pradesh, they won 71 of the 80 seats. In Bihar, their alliance won 39 of 40 seats and in Maharashtra, their alliance won 41 of 48 seats. All of these were huge wins by huge margins and much of the majority came from these regions. The Lok Sabha has 543 seats and to win a majority you need 50 percent plus 1, which is 273. Between these four states, the BJP alliance already had 177 seats - more than half of their nationwide total.
The other reason the past maps are relevant is because they reveal something about the third parties and where their growth came from. These parties are ones that run against the BJP and Congress in some states while allying with them in others/on the national level. Many of them are on the left, politically speaking, and much of their growth since 1991 has come from eating into Congress’s margin. Take another look at those maps and you see bursts of color where aqua was before. The reason these parties are doing well is because they offer traditional Congress voters something extra. For instance, Muslim voters have a place in Asaduddin Owaisi’s party, ethnic Bengalis in the Trinamool Congress, and so on. Third party voters would rather have their special interests represented in the Lok Sabha than hand their vote to Congress, a party whose fortune and credibility have rapidly dwindled since Narendra Modi became Prime Minister in 2014.
There is no parallel problem for the BJP - they don’t have to deal with third parties eating into their margins. Setting aside the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, there is essentially one major Hindutva centered political movement in India and they are able to clean up in elections because of it. A left wing voter in Uttar Pradesh might vote for either the Congress, the Samajwadi Party, or the Bahujan Samajwadi Party whereas a right wing voter only has one real option and this equation repeats itself all over India.
This is the key to why the BJP will not be electorally punished - where will their voters go? The honest answer is that they have no place to go which is why they’ll come home to the BJP in a way other voters will not with the Congress.
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