Business Standard

BJP's three-variable challenge: What will it drop to ensure victory?

A six per cent increase in the Congress share will probably not get it anywhere, but a similar decline in the BJP's vote share could end its majority, writes T C A Srinivasa-Raghavan

Rahul Gandhi

Rahul Gandhi

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While the fuss over Rahul Gandhi's conviction and the resulting disqualification as an MP is going on, it's worth pondering over the BJP's platform for 2024. As has been obvious for some time, it is very different from what it was in 2014 when it offered development to the people. Nothing more, nothing less. It won a simple majority, the first such for any party since 1984.

Since then, however, it has offered three other things, Hindi, Hindu, and Hindutva. This poses an interesting analytical problem: how many voters will choose just one of these, how many will choose two, and how many will choose all three?

Definitions-wise, Hindu means a general championing of Hindu culture; Hindutva means turning this general championing into an active political agenda using anti-minority rhetoric as a political instrument; and Hindi, which is imposed as a national language. Currently, it's the official language.

In mathematical terms, these three items can be depicted as a system of three variables with three equations. It's not necessary to go into the way the equations are solved. Suffice it to say that a solution exists and can offer a useful guide to voter preferences when confronted with more than one choice — say development — in a party's offering.

Thus, in the five southern states, most people may choose Hindu, while fewer choose Hindutva, and no one chooses Hindi. The same thing would be true in different combinations and states where there will be one item that no one wants.

The challenge for the BJP is to have around 200 constituencies that choose all three. Such constituencies exist only in the Hindi states. In the West, Hindi could well be rejected, while the other two are accepted.

This unstable choice set has a strange effect. To succeed in the 200 constituencies, the party has to step up its campaign around all three things, hoping that at least two will click. It's what's called a percentage game.

But the more intense the campaign becomes, the higher the chance that in several non-Hindi state constituencies, those who would have chosen two items now choose only one. In other words, it weakens the BJP's appeal in the remaining 300-odd constituencies if it becomes too aggressive.

Thus, while all other states reject Hindi, the southern states reject both Hindi and Hindutva. Some or several of the eastern states could reject all three.

Anyway, the short point is this: if the BJP wants to get a simple majority, it will have to use the elimination method employed in solving a three-variable, three-equation system. And that method involves dropping one of the three variables.

So the BJP must decide which of these three to drop — and where. Remember that the margin for error is small. A wrong combination can lead to an unsolved system, that is, getting less than the 273 seats needed for a simple majority.
The problem becomes even more difficult if a fourth variable — bad candidate — is introduced. This can happen when a candidate in some constituency negates his party's platform because he is disliked intensely enough. This happened in Himachal to the BJP and the Akalis and Congress in Punjab. It can happen anywhere, which means the BJP has to be very careful with its messaging and select its candidates very carefully.

One final point. The BJP had just over 39 per cent of the vote share in 2019. The Congress had half that at 19 per cent. A six per cent increase in the Congress share will probably not get it anywhere, but a similar decline in the BJP's vote share could end its majority.

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the writer. They do not reflect the views of or the Business Standard newspaper

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First Published: Mar 27 2023 | 9:26 AM IST

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