Advantage BJP? We will soon know!

Lok Sabha elections in India begin

By Dilip Laxman

The Lok Sabha elections in India got under way yesterday April 11. In Phase 1 out of a total of 7 Phases, voting was for 91 constituencies of 18 states and two Union Territories, held from 7 am to 5 pm. The Indian media pointed out that some heavyweight politicians are in the fray in this Phase 1 – like Nitin Gadkari (Nagpur), Kiren Rijiju (Arunachal West), General VK Singh (Ghaziabad) among others.

The elections begin even as the Supreme Court of India one day earlier had rejected the Central Government’s preliminary objections seeking review of its December 14 judgment which gave a clean chit to the Narendra Modi-led government in the controversial Rafale deal. Congress has been quick to cry victory, unsurprisingly, its leader Rahul Gandhi saying that SC has accepted there’s some form of corruption in the deal and that ‘chowkidaar (that is, PM Narendra Modi) has planned the theft’.

On the other hand, the Election Commission of India has stalled the release biopic of Narendra Modi, starring actor Vivek Oberoi, which was due for release on April 11, on the ground that this will disturb the level playing field during the elections, violating the provisions of the ECI’s Model Code of Conduct.

A third event is the actor Shatrughan Sinha, a member of the BJP for 25 years, resigning from it and joining the Congress which within hours has fielded him in Bihar – where he hails from – in Patna Sahib, against BJP stalwart Ravi Shankar Prasad. Sinha heaped praise on Congress president Rahul Gandhi, saying ‘he is a dynamic, tried, tested and successful’ leader, without advancing any evidence for such an averment.

However, it does seem that these apparent setbacks for the BJP will not have any significant impact on the outcome of the elections. The Rafale deal is not uppermost in people’s mind; as far as the biopic is concerned, if we are to go by social media comments, they dismiss the issue of timing, in any case the trailer is available online and will be viewed widely, and it is expected that the biopic will be a success when it is released after the elections.

This perception about the outcome is in line with the views expressed during a round table on ‘News X’ some days ago, which brought together three psephologists of repute to discuss about the polls. (Psephology is a branch of political science which deals with the study and scientific analysis of elections. It uses historical precinct voting data, public opinion polls, campaign finance information and similar statistical data.) All three concurred that their data were consistently showing that it was ‘advantage BJP’, and that the gap between the BJP and Congress will still be substantial though not as large as in 2014.

They estimate that the BJP will either fall just short of a majority or just cross it, obtaining around 200 seats. Of course, just as the Congress expects to make a spectacular comeback, so does the BJP think it will sweep as wide as it did in 2014. But the psephologists have a more measured view, based on hard data rather than wishful thinking, leaving the rhetoric to the political parties.

As in the 2014 elections, they point out that the big differentiator will be Uttar Pradesh which they qualify as very complicated, where the newly-formed ‘Mahagathbandhan’ of opposition parties is pitched against Congress and the BJP. However, they feel that the Congress will be more of a spoiler for the Mahagathbandhan than the BJP, against which there is an anti-incumbency factor in certain constituencies.

They also point out that there are national issues and electoral issues, which impact differently. There was a surge for the BJP after the Pulwama attack and the Balakot response, which their tracker showed at 27%, but it has since come down to about 15%.

National issues are security, need for a strong country and a strong leader which they see in Narendra Modi, and if this be called ‘nationalism’ then so be it. It not only comes out very strongly in their data, but it is also reflected in the BJP’s Manifesto officially called ‘Sankalp Patra’, that was released at the beginning of the week, after the Congress party had released its Manifesto. Protagonists on both sides are having a field day tearing apart their respective manifestos, as was to be expected, but one wonders whether the people have already made up their minds and how much they will be influenced by the manifestos.

Congress is focused on what it calls real issues, such as poverty, price rise, and employment. Its proposed NYAY scheme for farmers leaves many questions unanswered: where is the money going to come from when it is only talking about welfare and redistribution? This is the opposite of the BJP’s approach which is about investment and growth to create jobs in existing and new sectors.

It is acknowledged that the NDA has made a significant dent in lifting millions out of poverty. This may contrast with the opposition’s criticism of its record on employment generation, but the psephologists again pointed out that even here, when the youth were asked about who they thought could provide the solution, 62% felt it was the BJP rather than the Congress at only 28%. In other words, the incumbent may be the problem – but it is also the solution! They are prepared to give the BJP a second chance.

Their overall conclusion is that there may be no anger against Congress but there is no liking either. As far as the BJP goes, there may be some disenchantment but no anger.

So, Advantage BJP? We will soon know!

* Published in print edition on 12 April 2019

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