Vote share of national parties actually slipping

By Gilles Verniers, IANS,

A quick look at the vote shares of the many contenders in the 15th Lok Sabha elections tells us quite a different story from the one told about the United Progressive Alliance’s landslide victory. Not only have the national parties not increased their vote shares nationally, it appears that very small local players in many states have played a determining role in the Congress’ victory by splitting the opposition vote.

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The Congress has increased its total vote share by 1.99 percent but the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) vote share has decreased by 3.32 percent. The combined vote share of the two main national parties has actually decreased by 1.33 percent (from 48.69 percent to 47.36 percent). This seriously tempers the claim of the resurgence of national parties to the detriment of regional ones.

The two national parties have sometimes won seats where they have lost votes and lost seats where they have increased their vote share. There is nothing new in this, but it often blurs the reading and understanding of the social and political processes at work behind election results.

The BJP’s vote share has decreased in 21 states, including in states where it has increased its number of seats – Jharkhand, Bihar and Gujarat. The only two states where the BJP has actually increased its vote share are Himachal Pradesh (+5.34 percent) and Karnataka (+6.86 percent).

In terms of vote share, the Congress did better than in 2004 in 16 States, including states where it has performed badly in terms of seats (Bihar, +6.43 percent). In Maharashtra, the Congress lost four percent of its vote share; in Orissa, it bagged four more seats than in 2004 while losing 7.68 percent of the vote share; and in Manipur, it lost a seat despite a whopping 18.08 percent increase in vote share.

The Congress performed particularly well in Punjab (+11.06 percent), Rajasthan (+5.77 percent), Uttar Pradesh (+6.21 percent) and Arunachal Pradesh (+41.15 percent).

However, when one looks more carefully at the results at the constituency level, the political landscape looks more complicated.

In at least three large states, very small and newly created outfits have actually arbitrated the confrontation between large parties to the benefit of the Congress or its allies.

In Andhra Pradesh, Chiranjeevi’s Praja Rajyam Party ruined the chances of Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in 20 constituencies out of 42, by getting an average of 160,000 votes per constituency where it fielded candidates. This can be observed in all coastal Andhra constituencies, traditional strongholds of the TDP as well as in the constituencies of southern Andhra Pradesh.

In Mumbai, with an average score of 126,000 votes per constituency, Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena undermined the BJP and Shiv Sena’s efforts in all six constituencies, where Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) candidates were elected, sometimes with very narrow margins.

In Tamil Nadu, Vijaykant’s DMDK was the trouble factor between the two grand contesting alliances. It cost Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK and her allies at least 14 seats, to the benefit of either the DMK or the Congress.

In other states, regional parties have not been routed by any means. If Mayawati is disappointed by her tally at the Lok Sabha, she can reassure herself with the thought that her candidates were the runners-up in 46 constituencies.

The Lok Janshakti Party did not win a single seat and the Rashtriya Janata Dal won only four, but they still have a significant presence in their stomping ground Bihar, enough to disturb the competition between the power contenders in the state. They can still hope to play pivotal roles in triangular contests.

The distorting effect of India’s first-past-the-post electoral system and the geographical dispersion of votes account for the discrepancies between vote shares and seat results. This system favours cohesive, solid parties as opposed to divided ones.

It is to the credit of the Congress that it has managed to rein in all internal dissensions during the campaign and confront its opponents as one solid bloc. A divided regional opposition and BJP paved its way to success.

All these elements, however, contradict the thesis that the era of domination by regional parties is over. The Congress’ current domination in the Lok Sabha is also a product of India’s fragmented electorate and political system.

(20.05.2009-The author is a Ph.D Candidate in political science at Sciences Po Paris and is based in India. He can be reached at [email protected] )