A Matter Of Margins – Looking Back To Look At 2024 Elections

by Venu Gopal Narayanan - Aug 24, 2022 04:47 PM +05:30 IST
A Matter Of Margins – Looking Back To Look At 2024 ElectionsBJP and Congress flags (Representative Image) (Raj K Raj/Hindustan Times via Getty Images and Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)  
Snapshot
  • Before 2014, anywhere between 150 to 200 Lok Sabha seats were won or lost by victory margins of around 5 per cent or less.

    But since the sixteenth general election, the days of winning mandates by narrow margins are over.

Until 2014, the fate of the nation used to be largely decided by 5 per cent of the vote share. Anywhere between 150 to 200 Lok Sabha seats were won or lost by victory margins of around 5 per cent or less.

That was where the bloc identity vote would come into play, to tip the balance in favour of the secular parties.

Vote bankers would force wins by strategically employing caste in some seats, and religion in others, as a decisive trump card, even if such dedicated vote bases didn’t amount to more than 10-odd per cent in a constituency.

That’s how evenly the vote was split amongst the rest of the electorate.

But the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) majestic sweep in 2014, under Narendra Modi, established a new electoral paradigm at the national level – it made the communal vote essentially irrelevant.

Here are the victory margins of the past three general elections, by party, and tranche:

Table 1: Victory margins by tranche – BJP, Congress, and ‘Others’
Table 1: Victory margins by tranche – BJP, Congress, and ‘Others’

The extent of shift in voting patterns becomes vividly apparent when we analyse the sharp reduction in close fights between 2009 and 2014, and the continuation of that trend into the 2019 general elections:

Table 2: Shift in tranches between general elections
Table 2: Shift in tranches between general elections

The above table shows how victory margins by tranche changed between 2009 and 2014, and between 2014 and 2019. For example, in the 5-10 per cent margin, the BJP won 14 more seats in 2014 than it did in 2009.

Readers may note how the average margins shift progressively from slender to thumping ones, predominantly in favour of the BJP, and to the Congress’s detriment.

Victory margins of the past three general elections, by party, and tranche
Victory margins of the past three general elections, by party, and tranche

Multiple inferences can be drawn from this analysis. They have significant implications on how the 2024 general elections may play out.

This exercise becomes all the more necessary, now that Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has dumped the BJP, and is being touted by mainstream media as a magnetic centre around which a meaningful opposition might coalesce. (Why that can’t happen will be explained in a forthcoming piece.)

In 2009, 343 seats were won or lost by a margin of less than 10 per cent. In 2014, this figure fell sharply to 190, and stayed the same, at 186, in 2019.

Naturally, then, the number of big wins has gone up in the last two general elections. The principal beneficiary has been the BJP.

In 2014, their victory margin was over 20 per cent in 119 seats. This went up to 151 in 2019.

In contrast, and as a mark of just how phenomenal their 2014 surge was, the party managed a similar victory margin in only nine seats in 2009.

The ’Others’, too, have been registering a larger number of thumping wins since 2009. This segment, although comprising of non-Congress, non-BJP, regional parties in the main, also includes BJP allies.

The implications are two-fold: that regional parties have been successful in strengthening their vote bases, and that efficient vote transfer is taking place between the BJP and its allies.

But the total number is much less: it was 27 seats in 2009, 41 in 2014, and 54 in 2019.

The inference is significant: that, even if the extremely successful BJP-led coalition of 2019 comes apart at the seams by 2024 (it has, to some extent, with the departure of the Akali Dal in The Punjab, and Nitish Kumar in Bihar), the impact will be muted at the national level.

The reason is that if, on the one hand, the BJP takes multiple hits on account of fraying alliances in some states, those former allies too, would be hit, unless they are able to somehow cover up the absence of the BJP’s support by tying up with new friends.

One action negates the other to some extent.

But for the most part, this margin-analysis reveals that the BJP has won big on its own steam, at the cost of the Congress.

As a result, opposition parties will have to force a far greater vote swing away from the BJP, in anywhere between 150-200 seats (see tables), in seats where the Congress was the primary entity till as recently as 2014, if they are to try and pull the BJP below the halfway mark.

That’s a tough ask on date, since the non-Congress opposition is yet to fill the space vacated by the Congress (as seen in the recent assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh), and because the BJP is still growing in most states.

And the interesting thing is that increasing bipolarity, by increasing the index of opposition unity, would not have a major impact, since the BJP’s large number of high victory margins are independent of opposing coalitions.

A good example to dispel speculative correlations between margins and bipolarity is Karnataka 2019, where the BJP swept the state with an average win margin of 14 per cent, even though the index of opposition unity was close to 100.

Indeed, of the 25 seats they won in the state, only four were by small margins; in the rest, the average victory margin was close to 20 per cent, and over 30 per cent in some cases.

Thus, in conclusion, we see that hastily cobbling together ersatz opposition alliances would only have a limited effect at the national level, in reining in the BJP. It will not hinder the party from doing well once again in 2024.

This means that if the opposition seeks to secure a popular mandate, they will have to attract votes directly from the BJP, in bulk, in the range of 10-15 per cent, in close to a hundred seats. And the chances of that happening seem low at present.

The days of winning mandates by narrow margins are over.

Also Read: Bihar: How Chirag Paswan sank Nitish Kumar in 2020 and what that means today

Venu Gopal Narayanan is an independent upstream petroleum consultant who focuses on energy, geopolitics, current affairs and electoral arithmetic. He tweets at @ideorogue.
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