Regional Patterns in India’s 2014 General Election
The overriding story of India’s 2014 general election is of course the massive triumph of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its leader Narendra Modi, along with the corresponding defeat of the Indian National Congress (INC). The BJP gained 166 seats in the Lok Sabha (Indian parliament) for a total of 282, while the INC lost 162 for a total of only 44. Yet in regard to the overall vote, the BJP victory does not appear so overwhelming, nor does the gap between the two main parties loom so large: the BJP took only 31 percent of the total vote against the 19.3 percent share of Congress. This discrepancy reflects the collective strength of India’s many regional and minor national parties, along with the fact that the Indian National Congress has few areas of concentrated support. But both the BJP and the INC do gain addition clout from their allied parties. In the nationwide vote, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance took 36.5 percent, whereas the INC-led United Progressive Alliance took 22.2 percent. But regardless of such complexities, if one analyzes the election results for all Indian political parties, the conclusion is clear: the 2014 contest reflects a major swing to the political right.
To illustrate the main geographical patterns in the election, I have posted the Wikipedia map (originally in German) of the results above. The numerical data provided in this post come from the same source. I have also outlined some of the regional results found on this map to create a series of more simplified maps, with stylized boundaries. These maps, unfortunately, are rather crude, due to time constrains. In some cases, I have juxtaposed these maps with maps showing the results of the previous national election (2009).
The main national pattern, clearly evident on the first map posted here, is a new electoral split between greater northwestern India, where the BJP dominated, and the south and east, where regional parties prevailed. The BJP’s current zone of support spans some of the deepest economic and cultural divides in India. It includes many of the country’s most prosperous and socially developed areas as well some of its poorest regions. It also bridges the gap between the Indo-Aryan-speaking north and the Dravidian-speaking south; although the south largely supported regional parties, most of Karnataka opted for the BJP.
The zone of BJP support expanded greatly from 2009 to 2014. Its main new areas of electoral success include the mountainous north (Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir), impoverished and densely populated Uttar Pradesh, prosperous Haryana, and relatively poor and arid Rajasthan. Congress and its allies in the United Progressive Alliance saw major declines in these same areas, but their most spectacular drop was in the southeast. Here regional parties unaffiliated with their alliance did particularly well. In Andhra Pradesh, the INC was undermined in part by the controversies surrounding the creation of the new state of Telangana.
The paucity of districts taken by the Indian National Congress is striking. The only sizable areas in which the party was victorious were the lightly populated and peripheral far northeast and a few mostly rural zones in south-central India. Although southeastern Karnataka constitutes one of the largest remaining Congress strongholds, Bangalore—the regional metropolis and center of India’s high tech industry—surprised some observers by voting for the BJP. The INC’s allies in the United Progressive Alliance also performed poorly, with the Maharashtra-based Indian Nationalist Congress—which had been “expelled from the Indian National Congress … for disputing the right of Italian-born Sonia Gandhi to lead the party”—losing three seats to take only six, and the Bihar-based Rashtriya Janata Dal taking only four. In West Bengal, the All India Trinamool Congress, which broke away from the INC in 1989, triumphed handily, but it also dropped its connection with the broader United Progressive Alliance two years ago.
India’s Third Front alliance, dominated by parties of the far left, also suffered a sharp loss in the election of 2014. This coalition saw a significant loss of representation in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, and Tamil Nadu. India’s two major communist parties triumphed only in the small state of Tripura in the far northeast and in a few scattered districts of Kerala and West Bengal. Marxism’s electoral decline has been steep; as recently as the 2004 contest, most districts in West Bengal and Kerala supported communist parties. Nationally, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) dropped seven seats and retained only nine, whereas the Communist Party of India lost three seats and kept only one. Several other parties in the Third Front alliance saw even larger declines. The Uttar Pradesh-based Samajwadi Party dropped 18 seats and kept only five, and the Bihar-based Janata Dal (United) Party lost 18 seats and retained only two. (Curiously, Janata Dal [United] is a secularist, socialist party, yet it had previously been in an alliance with the BJP, which it dropped “in protest against the elevation of Narendra Modi.”) One party in the Third Front, Odissa-based Biju Janata Dal, gained both seats and votes. But this social-democratic party joined the Third Front only in 2009, having previously been affiliated with the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. In India, political parties and especially party alliances do not always follow clear ideological lines.
Several parties allied with the BJP in the National Democratic Alliance also gained representation. Maharashtra-based Shiv Sena, a hard-core Hindu Nationalist party, added seven seats for a total of 18, and the populist Andhra Pradesh-based Telugu Desam Party gained 10 for a total of 16. In Bihar, the Lok Janshakti Party—which is officially described as secularist and socialist—went from zero seats to six. In Punjab, the Sikh-oriented Shiromani Akali Dal held even at four seats, although its share of the popular vote dropped.
Several central portions of Punjab, on the other hand, supported the new anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party. In India overall, this party performed much worse than had been expected in late 2013, when its leader, Arvind Kejriwal, was elected chief minister of Delhi. Kejriwal, however, stepped down several months after his victory due to his frustration with the lack of progress against graft, a move that was evidently costly to his party. Nationally, Aam Aadmi took only two percent of the vote.
Several non-aligned regionalist parties did extremely well. The centrist, Tamil Nadu-based All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam gained 28 seats for a total of 37. In the emerging state of Telangana in the south-center, the center-right Telangana Rashtra Samithi went from two seats to 11. In southern and northeastern Andhra Pradesh, the new YSR Congress Party, which recently broke from both Congress and the United Progressive Alliance, gained nine seats.
Two major regional parties crashed. In Tamil Nadu, the democratic-socialist Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam went from 18 seats to none, taking only 9.6 million votes as opposed to the 18 million that went to the more conservative All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam Party. In Uttar Pradesh and environs, theBahujan Samaj Party lost all 21 of its seats. Despite this gargantuan drop, the party still took 23 million votes—four percent of the total—putting it in third place in the popular count. Such a discrepancy between votes and seats reflects in part the huge population of the central Ganges Valley. In 2009, Bahujan Samaj had taken ten per cent of the vote nationwide. This party gains its strength primarily from the Dalit (“untouchable,” formerly) community and the so-called Other Backwards Castes (OBC). The fact that the BJP’s leader, Narendra Modi, is himself a member of an OBC may have helped siphon off some support from Bahujan Samaj Party.
Modi’s membership in an OBC, however, has been the subject of controversy. As was reported in DNA, Congress Party representatives recently claimed that:
Narendra Modi doesn’t belong to any backward caste, but was in fact born into an upper caste “Vaishya” family, that is given title of “Modh”, for being super rich, like Mod Brahmin and Modh Bania. Alleging Modi was a “fake OBC”, former Gujarat Assembly opposition leader Shaktisinh Gohil armed with documents said Modi belonged to a Vaishya sub-caste the “Modh Ghanchi”, a microscopic minority found only in Gujarat. “He, in fact, belongs to the upper caste since he comes from a prosperous business community,” said Gohil.
Modi’s proponents, as well as some of his local opponents, disagree. As reported in RediffNews:
The moot question is — is Modi an OBC?
“Yes!” says Achyut Yagnik, co-author of The Shaping of Modern Gujarat and a staunch critic of Modi.
Yagnik, an Ahmedabad-based thinker and social activist, says, “The Modh Ghanchi community is part of the Other Backward Classes in Gujarat. They are NOT upper castes.”
It will be interesting to see if Modi’s caste positions continues to be discussed.
The discussion on India’s 2012 election will continue with additional posts later this week. Maps showing the success of the major regional parties, along with state boundaries, will be posted.