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How Modi-Shah Can Be Beaten

By Shekhar Gupta
March 22, 2022 09:46 IST
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To beat BJP, you either deny them a critical mass of Hindu vote or build a regional leader and party strong enough to protect their turf, observes Shekhar Gupta.

IMAGE: Bharatiya Janata Party supremo and Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi being garlanded by BJP National President Jagat Prakash Nadda, Home Minister Amit Anilchandra Shah, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari following the party's triumph in assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Manipur, Uttarakhand and Goa, March 10, 2022. Photograph: Rahul Singh/ANI Photo

The BJP, since its rise under Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, has been an election-winning cavalry. But it has also lost some.

With its sweep in Uttar Pradesh and three other states now, the air is overloaded with gyan from the entire pundit class on why and how the BJP wins.

It is important, and interesting therefore, to step away and examine when, how and why it loses. And lose it does.

If in any doubt, check out how much of India the BJP controlled at its peak in early 2018, 2019, and now.

In terms of area, it is now about 44 per cent, accounting for about 49.6 per cent of the population.

The 2018 winter loss in the three heartland states -- Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh -- was the Modi-Shah BJP's first, and last, defeat by the Congress.

Karnataka, the same year, was a messy story as the BJP topped the tally but didn't cross the halfway mark and initially conceded the state to a short-lived Congress-JD-S coalition.

We do not count Punjab 2017 or 2022 because the BJP is marginal there.

Since its second national sweep in 2019, the BJP has also lost big time in West Bengal to the TMC, and decisively to the Congress-JMM-RJD coalition in Jharkhand, where it was the incumbent.

Two other BJP setbacks are qualified. In Haryana it fell short of a majority soon after sweeping all Lok Sabha seats with humongous margins, and lost Maharashtra after winning it because the stalwart ally Shiv Sena walked away.

In the Modi-Shah era, the basic BJP playbook is clear. Get 50 per cent of the Hindu vote and win. Check out Uttar Pradesh, for example.

Yogi Adityanath may have made an indiscrete remark about this being a battle of 80 versus 20, but it was at worst a Freudian slip. He was speaking the truth.

In UP, the Muslim vote is just over 19 per cent.

So it follows that if BJP discounts the Muslim vote it targets only the 80 per cent Hindus.

In the final tally, if the party with allies polled around 44 per cent of the vote, it is evident that it collected more than 55 per cent of the Hindu vote. That is good enough for a landslide.

Of course, we are presuming that the Muslim vote for the BJP, if any, would be insignificant.

This 80:20 formula works with local variations, but only in the Hindi heartland and the three big west coast states -- Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Karnataka.

In the Lok Sabha election in Uttar Pradesh in 2019, the BJP with allies polled 52 per cent of all votes.

Again, discounting the Muslims this would be about 67 per cent or almost two in three of all Hindu votes.

That's the reason it was able to annihilate the SP-BSP alliance which, on paper, was unbeatable.

What happens where this equation doesn't exist?

Take West Bengal. The BJP invested more time, energy, and resources in winning the state than in any other except Uttar Pradesh.

The CAA commotion set the stage for a super-polarised election.

The BJP was eyeing another first conquest of yet a major state. The opposite happened. Mamata Banerjee's TMC trounced it.

How and why did the BJP lose here?

Especially as in the 2019 Lok Sabha election it had annexed 18 of the 42 seats, was ascendant, and, then of course, threw in the campaigners, funds, and the 'agencies'.

If we just look at the vote counts, the BJP polled about the same nearly 40 per cent in the 2021 assembly elections and 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Yet this did not translate into a comparable number of seats in the assembly.

Because the TMC also went up, from 39.59 to 47.94 per cent.

What changed within two years? First of all, after the destruction in 2019, the Left-Congress combine lost almost all its remaining voters.

But more importantly, unlike UP, West Bengal does not offer the BJP an 80:20 equation. It is more like 67:33.

A mere 50 per cent of the Hindu vote cannot get it past the halfway mark.

At 38.59 per cent of the total vote, it netted much more than 50, more likely about 57 per cent of the Hindu vote.

But in a 67:33 equation, it would have needed close to 65.

That was denied as Mamata was able to retain the loyalty of her women voters.

Gender, in this case, defeated Hindu consolidation.

That is the first lesson then.

If you want to beat the Modi-Shah BJP, you have to still win a sufficient number of Hindu votes to deny it that critical 50-plus percentage.

If you can't, as in UP, Bihar, and Assam, you are wiped out.

That is why the parties of Akhilesh Yadav and Lalu Prasad, built on a Muslim-Yadav core, can no longer win.

Unless they are able to bring in other strong and large caste groups from within the Hindus, they do not have a chance.

Unless you fight the BJP for the Hindu vote, you have no chance.

Or, like Mamata, find an answer through gender.

In Uttar Pradesh, it worked in reverse.

All reliable exit poll data indicates that many more women voted for the BJP than they did for the Samajwadi Party.

Maybe Priyanka Gandhi had an interesting idea, appealing to young women with her catchy 'ladki hoon, lad sakti hoon' campaign. But her party was in no position to exploit it.

Something like that might have made some difference for the Samajwadi Party. But it lacked the imagination for something so innovative, hat-ke.

The conclusion, therefore, is that for any chance in hell to beat the Modi-Shah BJP, you must deny them a sufficient number of Hindu votes.

Don't take just the Muslims and one loyal caste to this battle.

Mere party combinations cannot defeat the BJP.

The Congress-SP alliance was swept away in the UP assembly polls in 2017, and so were the alliances SP-BSP in UP, Congress-NCP in Maharashtra, and Congress-JD-S in Karnataka in Lok Sabha 2019.

Jharkhand 2019 is the one exception where an alliance -- Jharkhand Mukti Morcha-Congress-RJD -- won.

But please note that the BJP had run a particularly listless government under Raghubar Das and the experiment of handing over the state to a non-tribal had caused resentment.

About 15 per cent of the state's electorate is Muslim, and the 85:15 fight, going by Yogi's standard, became more like 60:40 as about 25 per cent of the voters are tribal.

Evidently it is the loss of the tribal vote that left the BJP only about 2 per cent behind the winning coalition.

The state is back with a tribal chief minister in Hemant Soren.

We are not making Delhi 2015 and 2020 part of this analysis because it is a city state with sui generis politics and in the Lok Sabha elections here in 2014 and 2019, the BJP had a sweep.

That phenomenon, the voters making a distinction between a Lok Sabha and an assembly election, is evident elsewhere too, notably in Odisha.

In 2019, the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections were held on the same day.

In the Lok Sabha, the BJP won eight of the 21 seats with 35.44 per cent of the vote, just 4 per cent behind Naveen Patnaik's Biju Janata Dal.

For the assembly, on the same count, the BJP stopped at 32.9 per cent and was smashed by the BJD at 44.7 per cent.

We're also staying clear of the Rajasthan-MP-Chhattisgarh results of 2018 because the BJP was facing anti-incumbency (in MP and Chhattisgarh it was in power for three terms at that).

And the only one it lost decisively was Chhattisgarh, the smallest of the three.

Three lessons then. To beat the BJP, you either deny them the critical mass of the Hindu vote, or build a regional leader and party strong enough to protect their turf.

And third, the best of all, have a regional, ethnic and linguistic fortress so strong that the Hindus vote primarily as Tamils or Malayalis or Telugus.

This will be put to the test in the next Telangana elections.

But, in the big picture, here is evidence to show how the BJP can be beaten if you get your politics right.

Note: Election data sourced from Trivedi Centre for Political Data, Ashoka University.

By Special Arrangement with The Print

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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Shekhar Gupta
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