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.

20 thoughts on “Elections 2009: Interpreting the Results

  1. First thing Congress did right was pre-poll alliance, Not making compromise with SP was the biggest gamble & it paid handsomely. They were contesting as many as seats possible and achieved its 200+ target.
    For BJP, it has failed again coz of no presence in South,
    Rajasthan, U.P., Delhi &
    Mumbai they have lost ground. Alliance not bringing enough seats to their kitty. Unless there is miracle in leadership, pan India presence, youth leadership, I dont see BJP coming to power in 2014 also.
    Stage is set for Rahul Gandhi, Milind Deora, Sachin Pilot, Jyotindra Scindia to rule the nation for next 10 years.

    Prashant Solanki

  2. We have heard some television pundits saying that “people of India” voted for stability. People didn’t want a khichadi govt. People of India believed that by voting for UPA/Congress there was a bigger chance of a stable govt. All the states where Congress did unexpectedly were the attributed to this reasoning.
    So wrong !
    Do “people of India” possess telepathy ? How else could people vote in collusion ? There can’t be a national wave without a nation wide issue. And there was no single issue for which people voted. Each state presents a different picture.
    The vote was neither for Advani nor for the dynasty. It was for a sum total of how people perceived the respective state govts. The vote was more federal in nature. At the end everything that congress did appears right and everything that BJP did appears wrong. It’s hard to find out the real reasons. In that context your post does make a lot of sense. Looking forward to the solutions you propose.

  3. Rajesh,

    I feel that being right and being popular sometimes may have serious trade offs. The most important factors like Nuke Deal, economic mismanagement, goof ups on national security did not matter at all for the common public. BJP did everything right is raising right issues with right magnitude, it failed to translate into votes because of the sheer insensitivity of the public and media.

    While this victory is attributed to the perceived decency of Mr. Manmohan Singh, everyone ignores that his decency is actually subservience to a higher authority.

    The fact is even after 50+ years of sheer incompetent governance Congress is still seen as the natural winner, parties like BJP can win only when public sentiment is against congress though not necessarily with BJP.

    We talk about acceptability, secularism, youth in politics and at every point the public has a favorable opinion of Congress though underlying reality is very much different.

    I would say that people have got the government that they deserve while you and I think that they deserved something better.

    I recently read “Ayan Rand’s Atlas Shrugged” which was write in 1940s imagining America of 2000, And I am surprised to see how much the plot of the book resembles current Indian politics.

    Sometimes I feel that it is good that Congress comes in power everywhere because it will certainly lead to a catastrophic destruction, and only from such destruction we can hope to see a more rational and better system arising.

  4. As I go through several posts of BJP supporters, many still fail to understand weak and strong debate costed them dearly, and entire nation whacked them in the face, but they would love to dwell in denial, almost similar to 2004 debacle.

    Elections come and go, any party has to sit back, introspect and fix the shortcomings, there is no shortcuts to power, however BJP seems to live denial.

    Oh no, some people now voice hardline stand would do wonders, I’m pretty sure, a hard stand of Hindutva would lead the party to extinction. Hindutva would survive with or without BJP.

  5. Well, the vote is against the smaller regional parties who have held previous governments to ransom for various demands.

    I think BJP has lost heavily because unlike Congress, it does not have any visible Youth Leaders to demonstrate long-term potential. BJP needs to work towards aligning its strategy to youth of the country and to diversify its own agenda to include nationalist issues.

  6. Rajesh – despite my own bias towards BJP, I think BJP needs a story – it doesn’t have one. Over last 15 years or so, it has stood for change and transparency – something that quite suddenly got usurped by Rahul Gandhi. L.K.Advani suddenly looks jaded. The party doesnt project young leaders, and has little to talk about apart from congress’ shortcomings (dynastic and weak prime minister.)

    Honestly, I dont think there is a true “right” in India – its all in the center. True “left” got a clear verdict to shut up! I do not think policy differences are substantial enough between BJP and Congress (this was also very evident by the extent of overlap in their manifesto.) BJP will need something more substantial to define itself.

    So, why BJP?

  7. saboo,

    People in Tamil Nadu were almost fed up with the Tamil Nadu government over power cuts and price rise and yet the UPA managed more seats this election, despite losing key alliance partners like the Communists and Ramdas.


    Perhaps the BJP needs to REIMAGINEER itself in the country’s imagination. While there was no obvious wave, I guess most people just played safe, given the other two imagined options, the presumed right BJP on one side and the ragtag on the other.

    And I beg to differ on the question of decency vs subservience.

    Multiple power centres are natural to many power arrangements, it is just that Manmohan played his given role of governance without venturing into the political, which might look unusual in the Indian context because we are used to all or nothing power centralisation.

    Well Ayn Rand’s opinions can be polarising … and encourage imagined scenarios which are unreal.


    Manmohan is also old and but for the media buzz there arent any young congress leaders around, what we have is young so to say babalog. That cannot be the reason.

    The real reason may be that todays youth may be reluctant to be associated with the retro sounding ideas of the BJP’s cultural agenda, they may find the open culture of the Congress more modern and less threatening. Congress is the girl you can take home to Mamma.

    For the BJP to remain a potent political force they need to have the courage to drop the Hindutva agenda completely and publicly. They did mute that agenda this election, how much time will it take them to silence it. They might lose a lot of hard core cadres, but they will gain the support of the people many of them, like say Rajesh, are raring to vote for them for the right reasons, good and imaginative governance.

    The principle of separation of Church and State is essential to any functional democracy, whereever and whenever they have melded, the result has inevitably been fascism and ruin, which is something the common man fears.

    Yes, the centrist agenda is good for a country that sees unity in diversity and there is little need to move away from it unless situations demand otherwise.

  8. What is needed is cold blooded introspection on the results.It did’t happen in 2004 and don’t think it will happen in 2009.
    I still remember Vajpayee pleading with BJP to concentrate on Maharashtra when they lost in 2004,the old man knew the game and how it needs to be played.Unfortunately I haven’t seen any other leader in BJP with that kind of vision emerge.
    Am still trying to understand why that’s the case ? Is BJP not providing the platform and environment for such leaders to develop.I am seeing so many talented people getting attracted to BJP but somehow I don’t see any new fresh face emerge.

  9. I agree on the hindutva stuff – they gotta let that go, rather than say that “hindutva is not religion, its nationalism”, or the last one I heard “hindutva is development”. Personally, that was wanting to vote for BJP in the booth, but hesitant to be a friend of BJP.

  10. Alok could not have said it better.

    The moment the BJP can drop Hindutva, (it need not be a knee jerk reaction, but a considered one and say after a year or so) then it will find that the ordinary voter would have little compuctions about being visibly associated with the BJP.

    Right now in this modern world the ideas of the RSS (at least the ones that gain media led publicity) remain an embarrasment to a sane educated voter.

    As the voter demographic moves away from illiteracy to educated middle class +URBANISED voters such embarrasment is bound to increase in times to come.

    I am sure that this emotion of embarrasment must have been felt by many of Rajesh’s professional friends too as he made his pre election choices clear. How could you – must have been the popular refrain. I believe even I said so.

    It is for the BJP to decide whether they will be a political party or a social engineering party and that moment is now, when more and more educated young people see right in the party’s governance visions for India.

    This moment calls for political courage of a rare order and one has to wait and see if the current BJP leadership can rise up to it or choose to hide under the RSS’s coat tails, in which case it would have failed to convert a crisis into an opportunity.

    The moment the party takes that decision, then it becomes a legitimate and welcome candidate to fill the political vacuum that arises from the lack of a pan Indian challenger to the Congress.

    Till then, and as long as it clings to the RSS’s coat tails, this party is going to be an embarrasment for whoever tends to associate with it, whatever be its election victories.

    This loss presents the BJP with a rare opportunity to be free of its hidebound political masters and forge a new vision that is in line with a new and emerging India.

    Sans such a vision and all encompassing appeal, the BJP will be forced to become a party of state wise aggregates, to use Jaitley’s words. Whenever a national wave comes, the BJP is bound to lose as it did recently.

    Mark my words, if the BJP fails to fill that position soon, someone else can and it could be from one of the politically aware readers that read and contribute to such blogs.

    Or from one of the candidiates who are more than willing to translate their professional success to political success. Such a move could perhaps originate from Rajesh himself and I am sure that supporters will come and coalesce around that new order.

    The success of Chiranjeevi and Vijaykanth if but on a small scale tells us that people are waiting for a good pan Indian alternative to the Congress behemoth and its smaller but rabid opponents and will switch if such a option be available.

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