Note: Yogendra Yadav’s response to this piece is appended below.
Yogendra Yadav’s intervention through his article and video on The Wire to control the damage from “the psychological warfare” unleashed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after the assembly election results are well-intentioned but misleading, both on facts and history.
All of his four arguments to substantiate his claim – that the “BJP’s victory is not so big, and Congress fall is not so deep” – suffer from selective facts and subjective interpretation.
Some of the responses to the election results from the progressive camp are as surprising as the results. Some scholars like Pushparaj Deshpande are calling for self-censorship in publicly criticising Congress over its lacunae and acting as social evangelicals among the traditional vote base of the Congress and providing the last mile connectivity that the Congress lacks.
Others like Yadav are ignoring the political and ideological inefficacy of the Congress as an electoral opposition to the BJP. Both these approaches might provide false comfort to the Congress and the secular camp in the short term, however, they help the onward march of the Hindutva juggernaut. This is why Yadav’s reading of the election results demands close scrutiny. Let us dissect them one by one.
Did the Congress gain 9 lakh more votes, or 50 lakh less than the BJP?
In his bid to boost the morale of the Congress and those opposed to Hindutva politics, Yadav observes that the total number of votes that the Congress polled against the BJP in the four states should bring solace. All the votes the Congress procured in the four states, namely Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Telangana, worked out to be 4.9 crore whereas the BJP got only 4.81 crore. Hence the analysis that despite Congress losing three states, its vote share is higher by 9 lakh than the BJP. Thus, the conclusion is that people still prefer Congress though it lost power.
This is a mathematically correct but politically incorrect conclusion. It is for a simple reason that it includes Telangana in its overall vote calculation along with the three Hindi states. In Telangana, the Congress’s fight was primarily against the Bharat Rasthra Samithi (BRS), not the BJP. The inclusion of Telangana in the overall calculation completely glosses over the dismal performance of Congress in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh.
If we exclude Telangana, the number of votes the Congress obtained in the three Hindi states is 3,98,42, 115 while the BJP polled 4,48, 75, 952.
This means the BJP procured 50 lakh votes more than the Congress in these three states. However, if we include Telangana, the picture changes and hence provides false comfort.
If you compare the same with the 2018 elections, the Congress’s predicament becomes more stark. In the previous election, the BJP obtained 3.41 crore votes from these three states and Congress 3.57 crore votes. Thus compared to 2018, the BJP’s tally rose by 1 crore. The Congress could increase its tally by only 47 lakh.
The Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) survey and the earlier Axis survey suggest that most of these new BJP voters happen to be from the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and even Scheduled Tribes (STs). This means the Congress’s social base is eroding, further giving way to the BJP. This is a dangerous portent and would never be acknowledged if one takes comfort in the misleading figure of a 9 lakh vote lead.
Hence, clubbing Telangana with the three heartland states and concluding that the Congress got 9 lakh more votes than the BJP will prevent the former from identifying the steep slide due to its ideological compromise with Hindutva in these states.
Even in Telangana, Yadav seems to be enamoured by the resurgence of the Congress vote share from 28% in the 2018 election to 39.4% in 2023. Though this resurgence is positive for the Congress, it did not deter the double-digit growth rate of the BJP in the state.
This factor should not be missed, because it leads to false comfort that the South has closed its door to the BJP. In Telangana, the BJP procured 6.9% votes and 14.43 lakh votes in the 2018 elections. But in 2023, it doubled to 13.90% with 32.51 lakh votes. It has not only increased its seat share from one to eight but also stood second in more than 18 constituencies where it deployed nefarious tactics of communal polarisation. Thus, the growth rate of the BJP has doubled and its vote share is already a third of the victorious Congress, which is a dangerous portent.
Even in Karnataka, it has a consolidated vote share of 36% in spite of its electoral defeat. One should also not close one’s eyes to the noise it is making in Dravidian Tamil Nadu, and the growing number of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) shakhas in communist Kerala.
Is the vote share of Congress sufficient to stage a comeback?
Another strange logic that Yadav offers is that since the difference in vote share between the BJP and Congress is hardly 2% to 4%, one need not worry much about the loss of power. Since the Congress has reattained a vote share of 40%, it would be easy to stage a comeback.
Again it is a mathematically correct but politically incorrect assessment of Congress’s situation in these three states. All of them are more or less bipolar states, with scarce influence of a third actor. These elections have shown that even the Dalit, Adivasi, and OBC social bases of smaller parties have been encroached upon by the BJP. In such a situation, stagnation of vote share is an indication that it is not only an electoral decline but a political decline.
The analyses of vote shares of the BJP and Congress in the past five elections in these three states, barring Chhattisgarh in 2018, show that the BJP’s vote share is growing whereas the Congress’s vote share is either stagnating or declining with one or two exceptions.
Thus, in Rajasthan, the BJP has an average of 39.88%, with a high of 45.17% in 2013. Whereas the Congress shows an average of 37.14%, with a high of 40.64% in 2018.
In Madhya Pradesh, the BJP’s average is 42.96%, with a high of 48.45% in 2023. The Congress shows an average of 36.42%, with a high of 41.35% in 2018. In Chhattisgarh, the BJP has an average of 40.10%, with a high of 46.27% in 2023.
Overall in bipolar elections, the Congress tends to lose its social base to the BJP, which is obvious in these elections as well.
Thus, even though theoretically a 40% vote share is enough to stage a comeback, the increasing loss of its social base to the BJP makes it impractical. The reason for this lies in the opportunist, Hindutva, and neoliberal politics of the BJP.
Do these results have no impact on 2024?
According to Yadav, in 2003, even though the BJP won in the very same states, it lost the 2004 Lok Sabha, and while it lost these states in 2018, it won the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Hence one cannot extrapolate these results to have a bearing on the Lok Sabha elections. Again it is a logically correct statement, but a historically and politically problematic conclusion.
After the advent of Hindutva and the communal polarisation of society and its intensification during the Modi regime, the RSS-BJP has cultivated an unchallenged Hindutva appeal among the Hindu electorate cutting across caste, community, class, gender, and region.
The RSS-BJP machinery has been creating false anxiety about the growing threat to the nation and Dharma which could only be thwarted by a virat purush like Modi.
Thus, of late, the elections have not become transactional affairs between the voter and the party, but they are becoming ideological, especially between the BJP voters and the party. Thus, whatever may be the results in the state elections, at least from 2013, the people of these three states, and those in the Hindi belt in general, have overwhelmingly elected the BJP both in 2014 and 2019.
These results will definitely have an impact on the neighbouring Hindi states, which together account for 240 Lok Sabha seats.
It is not ‘Modi magic’ but the colossal political failure of the Congress and the opposition in offering themselves as a credible alternative. Hence ridiculing this sad phenomenon as ‘impossible magic’ is neither a serious analysis nor a serious critique.
Will the BJP lose 19 seats in Lok Sabha if the same pattern repeats in 2024?
According to Yadav, if the same pattern of voting is repeated in Lok Sabha elections, the BJP would lose 19 seats and Congress would gain 22 seats. For such a thing to happen, the Congress should ensure that it repeats the same performance in 2024.
Take for example the 2019 elections. Rajasthan has 25 Lok Sabha seats, Congress got more votes and seats in the 2018 assembly elections, but could not win even one seat there. All 25 went to the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). In Chhattisgarh, where the Congress got 10% more votes than the BJP in the 2018 assembly elections, it could win only two Lok Sabha seats – the BJP got the remaining nine. In Madhya Pradesh, the Congress won only one and the rest 28 were won by the BJP.
Mere extrapolation of votes provides only mathematical solutions.
The history and politics of these states demand introspection and rupture with the past by the Congress to stage a comeback. But, the Congress party has not shown any inclination or a rupture from its soft Hindutva and neoliberal politics either in its campaign or policies.
In this situation, Congress looks like a party with the same fibre as the BJP but with a different colour. Without a radical transformation of Congress politically, ideologically and organisationally, leave alone defeating the BJP, the survival of the Congress itself would become difficult.
Not warning the party and nation about this possibility would be a disservice to both.
I, as a social activist engaged in anti-fascist battles in Karnataka, have always shared Yadav’s dreams respectfully, though not his shifting political strategies. But this analysis took me by surprise and disbelief.
As Gramsci said, “Pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will” is the need of the hour in these times of gloom.
Shivasundar is an activist and a freelance journalist based in Bangalore.
Yogendra Yadav’s response:
I agree with most of the substantive points made by Mr Shivasundar. So there isn’t much of a ‘debate’ between us. If there is a difference in emphasis, it is because he may have missed the whole point of my video (which was translated from Hindi and converted into a write-up).
I was responding to the widespread propaganda that the BJP has drummed up with the help of darbari media: that the hat-trick in the three North Indian states is bound to lead to a hat-trick in the Lok Sabha election, that 2024 is now a closed contest, that the BJP’s victory is inevitable.
All the facts and figures I presented exposed the falsity of this propaganda. My point is that this is not yet a closed contest, that the gap in votes is not impossible to overcome, that if the opposition manages to hold on to the votes that it got even in this defeat this would set the BJP back, that the Lok Sabha election can be different from Vidhan Sabha outcomes. Therefore 2024 is not a done deal yet. I hope Mr Shivasundar doesn’t disagree.
I have nowhere suggested that this is going to be easy, let alone inevitable. Of course, this would require introspection, realignment and hard work on the ground over the next few months. But that is the subject matter of another video.