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5 election myths busted

Five trends that were broken in the 2014 elections

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The massive victory for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by its prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, in the recently concluded shattered many established trends and broke quite a few records. The not only managed to become the first party in 30 years to win a majority on its own, it did so with the highest ever conversion ratio (number of seats won divided by the percentage of votes) of nearly nine, which is more than the ratio achieved by the Congress in 1984. Here are five trends that were broken in the 2014 elections:

BJP is an urban party
The BJP is traditionally seen as a party of upper classes and castes that gets maximum support in urban centres. The party's less-than-par performance in urban constituencies in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections came as a big surprise. However, in the recently concluded elections, the BJP has become a true representative of rural India. Of the 342 predominantly rural constituencies in the country, the party won 178 seats, a quantum jump from the 66 it had in the previous elections. The Congress' rural tally, on the other hand, fell from 116 the previous time to 27 seats.

Sanjay Kumar, director of the Centre for the (CSDS), a think tank, says, "Our surveys show that the BJP got more votes in rural areas and less in urban centres in Uttar Pradesh. On the contrary, parties like the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party won more urban votes but saw massive erosion in their rural support." CSDS surveys have been predicting big wins for the BJP for a long time.

Milan Vaishnav, an associate with South Asia Programme for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, argues, "The BJP understood that the preferences of urban and rural voters have become increasingly blurred in India. The behaviour of rural Indians is increasingly marked by urban characteristics. Economic growth, in particular, has been the single most transformative factor in Indian society, not only in urban segments but also in rural localities." Rural-urban continuum has become possible because, at least in some cases, what was perhaps a rural constituency in 2009 has become an urban constituency by its character and basic amenities, if not by definition.

Political scientists also attribute the rising popularity of the BJP among new social groups as other reason for its successful rural foray. And this brings us to another myth that got smashed this time.

People 'caste' votes
The BJP would not have swept the polls in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, politically two of the most influential states in the country, if it had got the support of its traditional vote bank of upper castes alone. Surveys now show that the BJP under Modi got more Dalits votes than even the BSP and managed almost 50 per cent of the votes. At the same time, the party took its support among upper castes to the highest ever level. Sanjay Kumar, a veteran of many pre- and post-poll surveys since 1995, says, "The BJP's successful rural foray has been made possible by its rising popularity among OBCs and Dalits. These two social groups are more rural than urban." The fact that disparate social groups, sometimes even hostile to each other, have voted for the same party indicates that the hold of caste in deciding electoral outcomes is weakening. "Caste is hardly irrelevant in the Hindi heartland, or in most of the country. Social biases are still very much present in India and they manifest themselves in political choices voters make. However, appeals to caste alone are not enough anymore. The new politics of caste links social justice to a development agenda. Social justice for social justice's sake is increasingly a political tactic of the past in India," argues Vaishnav.

Business is bad
Both the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) tried to make an election issue out of Modi's alleged association with big business. The poor showing by the AAP and the Congress and the stellar performance by the BJP suggests that corporate India is no longer viewed with suspicion as was the case some years ago.

"What is important for the people is good governance. Other issues are increasingly becoming irrelevant," argues Kumar. "The top three issues of the election, as demonstrated by the CSDS post-poll survey, were inflation, economic development and corruption," says Vaishnav. Since India Inc is increasingly seen as a partner in economic development, its association with politicians is not frowned upon.

Swings happen in a band
A positive swing for an established party in excess of 6 per cent has been a rarity in the country's electoral history. The Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress achieved it in 1984. The BJP, too, has seen its vote share rise from 11.4 per cent in 1989 to 20 per cent in 1991, a swing of slightly less than 9 per cent. But that happened when the Ayodhya movement was at its peak. There have been other modest swings in favour of an established party. The BJP, for instance, did manage a positive swing of 5 per cent of votes in the 1998 Lok Sabha elections, when it managed to get 25.59 per cent votes and 182 seats. However, in the 2014 elections, the BJP managed a gravity defying positive swing of more than 12 per cent. Such a massive swing has been made possible by the BJP's stellar performance in states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. In the most populous Uttar Pradesh, the BJP managed a positive swing of 24 per cent as its vote share increased from just under 18 per cent in 2009 to 42.3 per cent in 2014. In Bihar, the party managed an equally impressive positive swing of 15 per cent votes.

Incumbency hurts
Anti-incumbency did hurt the Congress almost everywhere. It impacted the electoral fortunes of the ruling Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh and the Janata Dal (United) in Bihar as well. But pro-incumbency was visible in states like Gujarat, Odisha, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Tripura. It clearly indicates that anti-incumbency alone cannot make or break the chances of a particular party. Lessons from the recently concluded elections are clear: effective governance can negate anti-incumbency to a great extent.

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