Congress and its partners are missing a big point in the 2024 strategy

Even as the Congress and other parties opposing the BJP engage in meaningful efforts to form unity to reduce the split of the opposition vote, it is an interesting question – how likely it is that in several parliamentary constituencies where the Congress supports a regional party, the Congress vote does not carry over. To the regional party but rather to the Bharatiya Janata Party?

Not very likely an intuitive response, given the sharp historical polarization between voters of the two parties, which has become toxic after 2014. Narendar Pani, dean of the School of Social Sciences at Bengaluru’s National Institute for Advanced Studies (NIAS), would disagree with some vehemence.

Dr. Bani is the lead author of a recent, first-of-its-kind study by NIAS of how Indian voters voted in the recent past. It is categorical that a statistically significant share of the Congress electorate is likely to choose to vote for the BJP rather than a regional party.

As Dr. Bani said: “We have to keep in mind that there are two conflicts that occur in national elections – the ruling party versus the opposition and the national versus the local. Much analysis of coalition politics tends to assume that parties have a loyal transferable share of the vote. Alliances are then a matter of Simple to add vote shares. But if allegiance to national versus local thinking, coalitions that mix national and regional parties can result in the votes of the national party shifting in the coalition to the opposing national party, not a regional party.”

At the heart of Dr. Bani’s warning to Congress is the accepted axiom in Indian politics that the Indian voter tends to vote with a national mindset in the ‘bada’ parliamentary vote but votes with a more domestic framework in the ‘chhota vote’ assembly elections. If you then add the tendency of the ‘nationalist’ vote to anchor behind the national party dominating the national imagination, a mentality that has worked for the Congress in the past and for the BJP in the recent general elections, you can begin to understand the challenge for the Congress as it participates wholeheartedly in the Patna conferences. and bangalore.

Based on Election Commission data for the last 10 elections, the NIAS study assessed how the First Past Elections System (FPTP) of the country’s national and provincial parties performed in the post-1984 general elections. It takes the 1984 general elections as a starting point because it was the first election contested by the BJP Janata.

The first in-depth temporal study to examine the advantages and disadvantages of the FPTP system for national and regional parties, the study uses a statistical model to plot the relationship between votes polled and seats won on an S-curve for all national and provincial parties. Parties have been in general elections since 1984 to determine the point at which votes cast begin to give more than one share of seats.

The study concludes from the pattern of elections since 1984 that the FPTP system showed a clear bias towards the two national parties, the BJP and the Congress, which are the only parties with a share of 20% or more of the vote in the maximum number of votes. States and Union Territories. The spread of their votes across constituencies allowed the two national parties to reach this point earlier, compared to the regional parties, where the disproportion between their share of the vote and their share of seats began to appear. The two aforementioned voter mentalities helped these parties.

What about regional parties? Initially, the NIAS study says, having a large number of regional parties is seen to have benefited the national parties because they split the vote. But, the study noted, with the increase in strength of regional parties, they have become the main local opposition party and even the ruling party in assembly elections (for example, Trinamool Congress in Bengal or Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh), and in fact they have become the other political pole in their states against National Party (obviously Tamil Nadu is a major exception here, with Dravidian parties dominating), they have reduced the FPTP’s bias towards national parties.

Moreover, they also gained from the bias inherent in the FPTP system from uniformity of votes. The study concluded: “The potential for local parties to grow to the point where they become beneficiaries of the FPTP system ensures that there is no significant movement in the country against the FPTP electoral system, although the system is still generally favored by national parties.”

Punjab is perhaps the state that currently promises the most interesting interaction between ‘national’ and ‘local’ voting. The Bharatiya Janata Party appointed Sunil Jacquard as the state president. Jacquard was a member of Congress until that day, and was even a serious contender for the post of Chief Minister when Amarinder Singh was forced to step down less than two years ago, being disqualified mainly because he was a Hindu. Implicit in Jacquard’s appointment was the BJP’s hope of harnessing the “national” vote.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) currently ruling the state, dances on a nifty axis, harvests local sentiment while positioning itself as a national party elsewhere and, in the opposition’s continued unity efforts, will try to lay claim to being the political pole in the state. The Congress will accept it only at its peril, knowing clearly that an alliance with the AAP is likely to send the “national” vote to the BJP, even if the latter is to revive its alliance with Akalis.

This disproportionate bonus to the party that came first in India’s FPTP system is, of course, at the heart of the opposition’s ongoing efforts to battle the BJP in the 2024 general elections. In the 2019 elections, the BJP won 300 seats on 37% of the votes polled. .

If the opposition were to guarantee only one candidate in 2024 from an opposition party against the BJP, then the opposition candidate would theoretically start with 63% of the vote in the bank, assuming no change in voter preference and a smooth transfer of all opposition votes. for this candidate. Admittedly, both assumptions are unrealistic, the second more so than the first, but you understand why the BJP’s opposition parties are so tense towards achieving the goal of complete unity of the opposition.

Pole’s opposition party, the Congress, seems rejuvenated after Karnataka and the Bharat Jodhu Yatra, yet it is keenly aware that general elections in India have always been semi-presidential. This study by Bengaluru-based scientists will give Congress some other frontrunners to contend with.

(Ajay Kumar is a senior journalist. He is a former managing editor, Business Standard and a former executive editor, The Economic Times.)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.

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