Elections 2009: Interpreting the Results

This is the first in a series of four posts which will try and address four questions: what happened in the elections, what did the BJP do wrong, what did the Congress do right, and what should the BJP do next? I wrote out this series on Sunday morning, before reading the newspapers. So, some of this thinking may be quite raw. Nevertheless, I think I should share it here – and see if you agree with it or not. Expect a BJP angle in the analysis. I am not privy to any internal thinking. These are my own views. 

One way to look at the Election Results is that the BJP did well in 7 states, not so well in some others, disastrously in one, and was not present in four others where the Congress and its allies cleaned up.

  • States in which the BJP did well: Karnataka the big winner, Chattisgarh and Jharkhand, Gujarat and MP (with setbacks in both compared to expectations), Bihar riding the coattails of Nitish Kumar and HP. In all states, the BJP is in power, and the vote can be seen as pro-incumbency.
  • States in which the BJP did not do well: UP (fourth in state; Rahul Gandhi magic at work, Muslim vote moving from SP to Congress), Maharashtra (MNS factor in Mumbai), the northern states of Delhi (reinforcement of the December message), Punjab, Haryana and Uttaranchal, Orissa and Assam. In some cases, the alliance did not work effectively for the BJP.
  • State in which BJP did disastrously: Rajasthan (leadership issues, infighting; the message sent by voters last December was not heard)
  • States in which the BJP did not exist which delivered 100+ seats to the UPA (the difference in the final tally): West Bengal and Kerala (the anti-Left, anti-incumbency vote went to the Congress/UPA since there was no other alternative), Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh (where to a certain extent newcomers like Vijayakanth and Chiranjeevi absorbed some of the anti-incumbency; the BJP did not have alliance in these states and wasn’t a credible option on its own).

It is probably fair to assume that a significant portion of the younger first-time voters voted for the Congress. BJP’s overall vote base has not really increased.

BJP did very badly – again – in most urban places. It won nothing in Delhi and Mumbai.

One interesting facet of this election is that the BJP and Congress together won 320 seats. Perhaps, the tide is swinging back to the national parties – wherever they are present. UP was a good example.

As Vinod Mehta put it on TV, the country voted for the Centre, with the extremes of the Right and the Left hurt badly. Again, the point is not do generalisation (since the BJP did do well in many states), but to take the key point that people in India prefer a middle-of-the-road approach. Even in the States the BJP did well, the focus was on a centre right development agenda.