BJP, 2019, And The Durability Of The ‘Modi Factor’

Is the floating swing vote that Modi pulled towards the BJP in 2014 moving away from the party now?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses an election rally in Chhattisgarh, on Nov, 16, 2018. (Photograph: PTI)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses an election rally in Chhattisgarh, on Nov, 16, 2018. (Photograph: PTI)

The Indian National Congress has made significant inroads in the three Hindi heartland states defeating the Bharatiya Janata Party in its den. These states account for 65 Lok Sabha seats out of which BJP won 62 in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The historical trend shows that whichever party wins these state elections goes on to win the maximum seats in the Lok Sabha election that is held within three-four months of the assembly mandate. BJP’s tally is expected to reduce by half, on the basis of a simple extrapolation of the state results. The results have made the 2019 contest wide open with no clear favourites.

Did The Modi Factor Work, Or Fail In 2018?

The boost the BJP gets from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s personal political capital—which took the party past the finish line in elections over the last few years—has often been referred to as the ‘Modi factor’. There’s been plenty of debate after the results about the impact Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s campaigning had in these elections. Did the Modi factor work or fail? Opinion is divided.

  • People who are saying that Modi’s push failed, point to the party losing power in all three major states. They argue that rural or agricultural distress—resulting from radical measures like the Goods and Services Tax and demonetisation—is one of the main reasons for this defeat. They see the impact of this being so large that even popular Chief Ministers like Raman Singh and Shivraj Singh Chouhan had to bear the brunt.
  • People who believe the Modi factor is intact argue that the party put up a tough fight in two out of three states and the resultant marginally hung assembly. But for Modi, both MP and Rajasthan could have met the same fate as Chhattisgarh, they argue.
  • Even critics of Modi acknowledge that he turned the party’s fortunes around in Gujarat, without which Congress could have sneaked in. In Karnataka nobody gave BJP any chance, but it was Modi’s rallies which created a swing of 2-3 percent in the party’s favour propelling it to single largest party status.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with then-Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and BJP President Amit Shah, in Bhopal, on Sep. 25, 2018. (Photograph: PTI)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with then-Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and BJP President Amit Shah, in Bhopal, on Sep. 25, 2018. (Photograph: PTI)
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Defining The ‘Modi Factor’

The way to put a number to this is to measure his ability to attract voters outside the party’s core vote bank and influence them to vote for BJP. In 2014 Lok Sabha elections, 27 percent of those who supported BJP said in a CSDS survey that they would not have voted for BJP if Modi was not the prime ministerial candidate.

This was highest in Rajasthan and the lowest in Chhattisgarh.

The Modi factor fetched the BJP 4.6 crore votes out of the 17 crore-odd votes it received in 2014.

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The Modi Factor’s 2018 Scorecard

Elections are not won or lost basis a single factor. These are a host of issues which decide the outcome including the complex interplay among them. We attempt to analyse whether Modi’s influence worked or not in the state elections 2018 using three metrics.

1. Rallies Conducted Versus Seats Won

Modi covered 197 seats through his rallies in these 3 states, roughly 40 percent of total seats. BJP had won 134 of these seats in 2013 (around 70 percent), which got reduced to 65 in 2018 (33 percent).

The party lost more than half of these seats in 2018.

In terms of the strike rate—seats won divided by seats where he held rallies—Modi seems to have performed poorer than other leaders.

2. BJP Vote Share: 2013 Versus 2014 Versus 2018

BJP’s vote share in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in these three states received a big boost due to Narendra Modi’s candidacy. The party’s vote share increased by 8-10 percent in these states in that round.

In the 2018 state elections, BJP’s vote share has declined significantly – by 14-17 percent from the 2014 Lok Sabha levels.

The decline in vote shares is higher than the increase from 2013 to 2014 due to the Modi boost. This signifies not only a washout of the Modi factor in these states but also high anti-incumbency against the chief ministers.

3. Performance In Urban Seats

The urban voter has been a big supporter of the BJP. In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the party’s vote share in urban seats was 42 percent, in semi-urban seats at 32 percent and in rural seats at 30 percent. BJP won 84 percent of the urban seats it contested, but its success rate in rural seats was lower, at 63 percent.

BJP’s lead over Congress was the widest in urban constituencies at 21.3 percent. The party made the biggest gains among middle and upper/upper-middle class voters.

In the urban assembly seats in three states, BJP’s tally has declined from 88 in the 2013 election to 45 this year – a near-50 percent drop.
BJP workers take part in a bike rally. (Photograph: PTI)
BJP workers take part in a bike rally. (Photograph: PTI)
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On the other hand, Congress’ tally improved from 10 to 47. Price rise, demonetisation, GST, job crisis are the likely factors responsible for this rout. As early as June 2018, the author had pointed out in a previous BloombergQuint column that the BJP needs to worry about growing urban apathy.

  • In Chhattisgarh, BJP lost all but one of the four seats in Raipur, except one, as well as the Korba and Bhilai Nagar seats, all of which it had won in 2013.
  • In MP, BJP lost the three seats it held in Bhopal city, three out of four Jabalpur seats and one out of five Indore seats, all considered strongholds for the party.
  • In Rajasthan, it lost one of the two Bikaner city seats, the Jodhpur seat, and nine seats in Jaipur.

Risks For BJP In 2019

As the 2014 CSDS survey indicated, 27 percent of BJP’s voters had supported the party because of Modi. These are likely to be mostly urban/educated/liberal voters. This amounts to 4.6 crore votes. BJP was ahead of Congress by 6.5 crore votes in the Lok Sabha elections.

4.6 crore votes account for 70 percent of the BJP’s 2014 victory margin.

In these three states, BJP got 90 lakh extra votes due to the Modi factor in 2014. These do not belong to the anchor voting segments of BJP. They are less likely to be influenced by issues like the Ram temple, cow and caste politics, and more by development, jobs, and Sarva Dharma Sama Bhava. While the fall in Modi’s popularity ratings also indicate a dent, he still, however, enjoys a handsome lead over Rahul Gandhi. Does he have a new trick up his sleeve to repeat the victory of 2014 in 2019?

Amitabh Tiwari is a political consultant advising political parties, and a former corporate and investment banker.

The views expressed here are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of BloombergQuint or its editorial team.