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India’s Ridiculously Long Election May Actually Have Worked Against Modi

Sanjay Kumar's analysis estimating the vote share of different parties has very interesting revelations.
Narendra Modi meditating in Kanniyakumari. His cameraperson cannot be seen in the frame. Photo: X/@BJP4India

There is hard evidence to suggest that stretching the Lok Sabha elections over seven phases and 77 days has given a big advantage to the opposition. Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, who presumably nudged the Election Commission to prolong the process, would never have anticipated this.

Kumar’s analysis estimating the vote share of different parties has very interesting revelations. Lokniti co-director Sanjay Kumar said on India Today TV that in the first week of April, his analysis showed that the BJP was going to exceed the vote share of 37% it got in the 2019 elections.

However, as Lokniti kept doing surveys after every phase of the elections, it found there was a late swing of 5 to 6 percentage point votes away from the BJP. It appears that at the sixth phase of the elections the BJP may have slipped closer to its  2014 Lok Sabha vote share of 31%.

How did this late swing of 5 to 6 percentage points vote away from the BJP happen?

Kumar has an interesting explanation for it though it may not seem entirely satisfactory. For such a substantial swing cannot possibly be attributed to one single factor.

Kumar says that in early April the Lokniti survey showed the BJP vote share exceeding its 2019 tally of 37% because many “reluctant voters” of BJP had decided to stick with the party for want of a viable alternative.

But in the subsequent weeks, Kumar reckons, the party’s campaign of “400-paar” for NDA and 370 plus for BJP began to scare voters as they started apprehending that Modi could alter the constitution with such a brute majority. The Congress and other opposition leaders took this campaign deep into the hinterland and the fear among Dalits and poorer OBCs got heightened as the elections progressed through April and May.

By now Modi realised the damage caused by the BJP’s 400-paar campaign and he began dialling down on it. But his damage control came too late as the fear had already taken root.

Kumar says this could be the main reason why there was a late swing of votes away from the BJP. Lokniti does surveys for The Hindu and other media platforms.

However, Lokniti does not do seat conversion from vote shares.  It has had a reasonable record of predicting vote shares of different parties in the past.

Conversion from vote share to seats can be tricky. Even if the BJP’s vote share in 2024 is closer to what it got in 2014 (i.e. 31%) it is difficult to predict the number seats it will win. In 2014, the party got 282 seats. But this does not mean it would get a similar number if its vote share this time is closer to the 2014 figure.

For instance, the BJP is likely to get more votes in the South and East but it may drop vote share in the North and West. What impact this would have on seat conversion is anybody’s guess. What is important is that Lokniti anticipates the BJP’s vote share will fall from its 2019 figure of 37% and be closer to the 2014 figure of 31%. That itself opens up many possibilities.

Speaking to The Wire, political economist Parkala Prabhakar says that when there is a sharp fall in vote share, it can’t be predicted where the bottom will be. He reckons the BJP’s vote share could even fall below the 2014 mark and go down closer to what the party polled when Atal Bihari Vajpayee formed the government in 1998.

Parakala says Modi is a shrewd politician and he probably figured his 2019 vote share was slipping. That might have prompted him to turn his campaign sharply communal so that he could ring-fence his core Hindutva constituency.

The results on June 4 will really tell us the real story of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

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