Countdown to the election season
Will it be a bruising battle in the Hindi heartland? Will jobs and economic issues prevail over identity politics?
Is the road to victory in the Lok Sabha election via the Hindi belt, will it be one national election or one decided State-by-State as national and regional parties stitch together alliances, and will economic issues prevail over identity politics and others?
These were just some of the questions discussed in the session “2019: Which way will the elections go?” moderated by Mukund Padmanabhan, Editor, The Hindu, in Bengaluru.
While the panellists — political activist Yogendra Yadav and political scientists Manisha Priyam and Rahul Verma — agreed more or less that the Hindi belt and the BJP’s showing in these polls will determine who gets to rule Delhi, there were differences in degrees and nuances. Yadav saw the BJP losing at least 100 (40 in Uttar Pradesh alone) of the 226 seats up for grabs in the Hindi belt, and considered it the most significant factor in deciding the election.
“The situation in the 226 seats of the Hindi belt will see the most change, in the remaining 325 seats other than this belt, the changes will cancel each other out as far as the BJP is concerned,” he said.
“Historically, the evidence shows that apart from an exception in 1999 in Rajasthan, the party that wins the Assembly polls (that take right before the Lok Sabha election) in the three States of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh goes on to win the larger number of Lok Sabha seats. We must not take it for granted though as in Rajasthan we see a bounce back for the BJP, not so much in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh,” he said.
Verma flagged high polling and its effect on vote share to seat conversion as an important factor for assessing what might happen. “We don’t have a good understanding of the 2014 election. When we look at just high voter turnouts, we find that in seats where the voter turnout rose by 15 per cent or more, the BJP’s seat conversion to vote share was 96 per cent and where the turnout was the same as last time, the vote share to seat conversion was 34 per cent,” he said.
He said the turnout factor explained what subsequently happened with the by-polls in Gorakhpur, Phulpur and Kairana, where turnouts were low but the BJP managed to maintain its vote share. “I maintain that we are in a BJP-dominated party system and therefore the election will be shaped by how the BJP plays the game. The 2019 election
Political activist Yogendra Yadav (second from left) and political scientists Manisha Priyam (left) and Rahul Verma (right) in conversation with Mukund Padmanabhan, Editor of
The Hindu may have no precedent in terms of past elections,” he said.
The question of whether this would be a personalitycentric election or go State-byState also elicited interesting answers. Priyam maintained that even in 2014, the election was State-by-State.
“The election of 2014 was also about many Indians and the many local compacts that [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi made with his over 500 rallies across the country. It was always a campaign with the PM face, but then in the larger narrative to pitch local issues and colour,” she said.
Yadav said the BJP would prefer it to be one national election. “Modi, as any astute political player, knows that success depends on a national narrative. In the larger narrative, he knows where to pitch and what kind of regional colour is required,” he said.
On the issues that will affect the elections, economic factors, rural distress and jobs were flagged as the most important, though Yadav felt that the government deserved to be voted out on its effect on India’s institutions and secularism. Priyam had an interesting take on how job losses were being internalised and may have an impact on polls.
“The jobs crisis is resulting in breaking of pathways of social mobility, with young people especially in small towns unable to move further up with their lives. With demonetisation too, while in the beginning it engendered enthusiasm, it has resulted in economic distress. What’s being offered in return for all this is the politics of the dominant, through the granting of 10 per cent reservations for economically weaker sections,” she said.
Battle of the ballot