No Wave – That’s The Key To Understanding Election 2019
Barring a few exceptions, the reach of technology and intense dissemination of centralized socio-cultural and political messages via social media on smart phones have rightly or wrongly provided every voter a sense of political articulation, leading to a set of central narratives getting endorsed or rejected.
The pace of contemporary social change has made reading election results difficult. No one could have guessed the outcome of the 2014 Lok Sabha election by studying the voting patterns of 2009 and 2004 general elections. Similarly, the 2018 verdict in Tripura in favour of the BJP – a party that got just 1.5% vote share in the 2013 assembly election -- defied the assumption that past elections could be a guide to predicting ensuing electoral outcomes.
In this backdrop, the debate whether the 2019 general election will be a repeat of the narratives and factors that determined the 2014 polls or not needs to be located in its proper context. First, when we talk about the veracity of the “Modi wave” in 2019, we have to understand what we mean by an ‘electoral wave’. At the most elementary level, an election is said to have a wave in favour of a party when a significant section of the core voters of another party shift to the party whose wave is believed to inform the election. For instance, in 2014, core vote banks of other parties -- like Yadavs and Jatav-Chamar Dalits in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, Marathas in Maharastra, Jats in western UP and Haryana, etc. -- shifted in reasonable numbers towards the BJP, thereby endorsing the Modi-wave argument.
Come 2019, and a visit to the ground in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar offers clues to the shift in the last five years. One, the core voters of the SP and RJD, the Yadavs, have completely shifted to the opposition alliance in both Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Similarly, there is hardly any dent in the BSP’s Jatav-Chamar Dalit votes in favour of the BJP, unlike in 2014. Similarly, a significant section of Jats, especially in the Meerut-Muzaffarnagar region of western UP and also in Haryana, are reported to have voted against the BJP.
As per the ground reports, the NCP has won back traction among the populous Maratha voters, who voted for the BJP in 2014, in Maharashtra.
Hence, 2019 is certainly unrelated to 2014. Though the Modi factor is a significant electoral feature in the ongoing elections, its relevance is confined to the core BJP supporters, like upper caste and lower OBCs in Uttar Pradesh. The factor is relevant in the sense that the largely weaker profile of BJP candidates is being overlooked by the party’s hardened supporters in the name of voting for Modi. However, Modi-detractors are equally intense and articulate in defending the opposition alliance.
This wavelessness of the 2019 election has a bearing on electoral narratives too. As the election lacks a thematic unity, one witnesses a fractured narrative too. The issues of nationalism, bold leadership and supposed catapulting of India to the international arena are factors confined to the BJP’s supporters, while the agenda of agrarian distress, joblessness, stray cattle destroying crops and inflation are the issues that the core support base of the opposition is championing.
Significantly, 2019 also offers important lessons that call for a shift in electoral studies. Now it is difficult to find the category of a ‘floating voter’. Barring a few exceptions, the reach of technology and intense dissemination of centralized socio-cultural and political messages via social media on smart phones have rightly or wrongly provided every voter a sense of political articulation, leading to a set of central narratives getting endorsed or rejected.
Thus, the core features informing the 2019 Lok Sabha election happen to be the wavelessness of the election, a fractured narrative and finally the decline of the category of floating voters. A combination of these three factors leads one to the reasonable inference that the verdict, too, would be fractured.
Similarly, a fractured mandate at this juncture may be a good omen for Indian democracy, as it offers richness to the people’s collective aspirations. Besides, there’s no empirical evidence to suggest that coalition governments have been less decisive than a government with a clear mandate. Hence, the 2019 elections will in all likelihood be a normal election fulfilling all parameters of democratic desirability.