The Bold Voice of J&K

Instant analysis versus fact-based comment

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A Surya Prakash

The recent round of by-election has given the Bharatiya Janata Party a bit of a jolt and all its opponents something to cheer about. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s opponents are gloating over the so-called disappearance of the ‘Modi wave’, whereas members of the BJP find it difficult to comprehend how such a strong pro-Modi sentiment last May could ebb so quickly.
There are people in both camps who perceive the results as flowing out of one pan-Indian electoral sentiment. This is a mistake because uniform voter sentiment across the country has become rare in the last three decades. In 1984, Rajiv Gandhi won a massive mandate of over 400 seats in the Lok Sabha election held months after Indira Gandhi’s assassination. Thereafter, it has taken 30 years for a single party to secure a clear majority in the Lok Sabha. But, even in these elections, there were several regional/local variations in electors’ responses. For example, in the Lok Sabha poll after Indira Gandhi’s assassination, the Congress managed to win just six of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in Andhra Pradesh. The remaining went to the Telugu Desam and its allies. Similarly, while Modi and the BJP registered unprecedented success in northern and central India in May 2014, there was no semblance of a wave in its favour in big States like West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
Therefore, it is unwise to assume that there is an over-arching national voter sentiment in every election. On the other hand, there could be reasonable explanations for the wild fluctuations one notices in the mood of voters from State-to-State, if one saw the results in a national election or a round of by-election as the aggregate of opinions given by voters in 29 distinct electoral colleges in the context in which an election is held. In other words, even if the electors in a majority of the States and Union Territories have a common preference as in 1984 and 2014, it would be better to assume that this is a case of many electoral communities thinking alike, rather than assuming that it is the response of one consolidated national electorate. Further, even within an electoral community, it is important to place the decision of electors in the context in which an election is held. Only such an approach will enable analysts to explain the volte-face of electors in elections held within months of each other. For example, in the Lok Sabha election held in December 1984, the Congress bagged 24 of the 28 seats in Karnataka. The remaining four went to the Janata Party, which headed a coalition that ruled the State at that time. Following the disappointing performance of his party, Ramakrishna Hegde, the Chief Minister of the State, tendered his resignation and recommended dissolution of the State Assembly and fresh elections. Although it was a parliamentary election, Hegde said the results indicated that he had lost the mandate of the people, which he had won in the previous year. The State Assembly was dissolved and an election was held to elect a new State Assembly three months hence, in March 1985. In this election, the voters swung back in favour of Hegde and gave the Janata party 139 seats in the 224-member State Assembly. The Congress secured just 65 seats. In other words, the voters preferred different parties and leaders for governance at federal and State levels. When this happened, no one said that Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who had registered a handsome victory just some months ago, had lost the support of the people of the State or that the ‘Rajiv wave’ had evaporated. Instead, the March 1985 verdict of the people of Karnataka was judged correctly as a positive mandate for Hegde to rule the State. The results indicated that the people of the State were almost chiding Hedge for misinterpreting their electoral decision in the preceding Lok Sabha poll.
Several political developments over the years are responsible for plunging the country into a vicious and continuous cycle of elections at the national level and in the States. The first general election after Independence was held in the country in 1952. The elections to the Lok Sabha and the State Assemblies were synchronised. This system of simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies was followed in 1957, 1962 and 1967. But this was broken by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi when she sought dissolution of the Lok Sabha and a fresh parliamentary poll one year ahead of time in 1971. This decision of Indira Gandhi disrupted the predictable five-year cycle for nation-wide elections to elect a new Parliament and new Assemblies. As a result, State Assemblies went to polls separately in 1972 and thereafter, nobody could put humpty dumpty together again! But, this was not the only reason for disruption of the system of simultaneous elections to Parliament and State Assemblies. The next factor was political instability in the States. From the late 1960s the Congress’s popularity began to wane and the people elected many hotch-potch coalitions of parties opposed to the Congress.

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