Delhi 2015 Election: The mysterious story of BJP debacle

The Delhi 2015 Election results have left everyone dumbfounded. All opinon & exit polls were shown the exit door after AAP won 67 seats and decimated BJP to a mere 3 seats. (There is no point even considering Congress in the analysis here because it had given up hopes even before the election campaign).

The most common reasoning for this debacle discussed in social media is that “The voters have deserted BJP due to the party’s arrogance”. i.e Just an year ago, due to Modi wave, BJP had won all 7 Lok Sabha seats with 46% voteshare. But in 2015, the voteshare has come down to just 32% because “voters want to teach arrogant Modi a lesson”. The seculars are of the opinion that BJP lost because of the controversial statements of its leaders and communal activities like Ghar Wapsi.

A creatively framed chart has now become viral in social media which consolidates all kinds of reasoning depending on who is analyzing it.
Could any or some or all of the reasons be true? Let’s go a little more in depth to find out what has really happened.

We had discussed about different types of elections (Assembly & Lok Sabha) and the thought process behind voting for parties/leaders during such elections in the following article:

Interestingly, Delhi seems to have consistent pattern in its approach towards different types of elections: Irrespective of whether there is a wave or not, Delhi gives higher voteshare to BJP during Lok Sabha (LS) election. The following table shows the statistics of absolute votes & voteshare of BJP in Delhi over the last 5 LS elections.
As we can notice, the absolute votes (Party Votes) have gradually increased and the voteshare has been between 40 to 50 percent (2009 being an exception).

Let’s look at the same table for assembly elections.
In the case of assembly elections as well, the absolute votes (Party Votes) have gradually increased, but the voteshare has been relatively lesser compared to that of the previous table. It shows that BJP voteshare during assembly election is usually between 30-35% (whereas for LS elections, they exceed 40% and even go upto 50%).

Coming back to the question of comparing 2015 assembly election with 2014 LS election, it does not make sense because as we see from the above statistics, Delhi has a tendency to vote overwhelmingly for BJP during LS election. 2015 assembly election must be compared with the previous assembly elections. Also, it is to be noted that when compared to the 2013 assembly election, BJP actually managed to pull almost 3 lakh additional voters in 2015. (However, the voteshare reduced by 1% because the population of Delhi had increased slightly more than the additional voters BJP could rope in). However, we can conclude that the 32% voteshare in 2015 assembly election seems to be in line with the existing pattern of 30-35%.

The next popular reasoning in editorials & social media (especially among secular elite) is that some of the controversial statements by BJP leaders and “communal” activites (like Ghar Wapsi) might not have gone down well with public due to which BJP was “punished”. While it cannot be denied that such statements create unnecessary controversy (I thoroughly condemn such controversial statements) and might have some probability of affecting the electorate, history shows that people are actually least bothered about it. For the purpose of analyis & comparison, let’s consider the case of 2002 riots under Gujarat CM Modi. It was believed that the 2002 riots had dented BJP’s image all over the country, and many still think that it had led to the party’s defeat in the 2004 Lok Sabha election. With 24×7 news channels (most of which are based on Delhi) continuously showing graphics & visuals along with anti-BJP & anti-Modi propaganda, it was believed to have deep impact on people’s minds and their perception about BJP. Even Vajpayee blamed Modi & 2002 riots for the 2004 LS defeat.

In Delhi, there was an assembly election just an year after the 2002 Gujarat riots. In a way, this was a real perception test for BJP in Delhi to find out if a communal riot of such large scale & visibility (due to 24×7 media) could affect its prospects. Surprisingly, it made no serious impact. The vote share, as usual was around 35% (previously in 1998, it had 34% voteshare).

With this background in mind, let’s now evaluate the run-up to 2015 election. There were no major communal riots after Modi became PM. Neither were there any scams under his rule. The only communal/controversial events were the statements like “Hindus must have 4 children” and the “Ghar Wapsi” programmes. Now the big question: If the 2002 riots under BJP CM had no serious impact on Delhi BJP voteshare, would stray statements make serious impact? Highly unlikely. So, the reasoning of “Controversial statements & Ghar Wapsi defeated BJP” might not be a major factor for BJP’s dismissal.

Lets consolidate our findings till now:
BJP’s voteshare this time has been in line with the past assembly elections.
Controversial statements might not have really caused much impact. Then what explains BJP’s drubbing in Delhi? The answer to it lies in the concept called “Vote splitting”, which had actually been BJP’s lifeline ever since its inception but failed miserably this time in Delhi.

The history of BJP actually dates back to the early 1950s when it was called “Jan Sangh”, a right wing party which had to struggle for decades before making a mark.


Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee (Right) during Jan Sangh days

Movements like the Nav-Nirman andolan had given it the much needed fillip during 1970s:

In 1980, after Jan Sangh was dismantled and reorganized as BJP to portray itself as a relatively milder & more liberal version of Jan Sangh, it had to again begin afresh with a new brandname & outlook. Unfortunately, despite serious efforts, BJP was growing its voteshare very slowly during the 1980s. While in its previous avatar, (Jan Sangh), it was accustomed to winning upto 100 Lok Sabha seats in the 1970s (It had won 94 seats in 1977 due to the strong anti-Congress sentiment), the same management, under the new name (BJP) had to contend itself with just single digit (BJP won only 2 seats in 1984 despite having 8% voteshare). Patience was running out and the party had to chalk out strategies to effectively convert vote percentage into seats. With Advani taking over the reigns of BJP in mid 1980s, the 2 major things he focussed on were:
1) To hold on to the existing voteshare & grow it gradually
2) At the same time, strategize to convert the limited resource (& voteshare) into real seats.

Point (1) was about ground work, which could be done with the help of the highly disciplined RSS cadres and Point (2) required strategic thinking. Advani & his think-tank team identified constituencies where BJP could set itself to absorb their target votebank and allow rest of the parties to fight the rest of the votebank among themselves which would result in vote-split, in turn helping BJP win that constituency seat. Also, Rajiv Gandhi indirectly helped Advani to grow BJP as explained in this article:

To understand the concept of vote-splitting, let’s consider a simple illustration:
Suppose a constituency has 100 seats and 2 parties called Congress & Janata Dal which are neck to neck, each usually winning around 50 seats. Depending on who would get more than 50 in that particular election, that party would go on to win the constituency. Let’s assume that out of the 50 Congress voters, 15 might actually be potential votebank for BJP and among the 50 Janata Dal voters, 25 might be the potential votebank for BJP. So, when BJP enters the constituency and fights an election, it gets 15+25 = 40, whereas Congress ends up with 35 & Janata Dal with 25. i.e BJP wins. And if BJP manages to hold on to its 40 votes even in the next election, then Congress & Janata Dal must fight for the remaining 60 votes. As long as these 60 votes get evenly split between those 2 parties, BJP will continue to win the constituency seat.

With this strategy of cutting into opponents votes and using vote-splitting among opponents to its advantage, BJP managed to get 86 LS seats in 1989 with only 11% voteshare (from just 2 seats in 1984 with 8% voteshare) and Advani was hailed as not just a hero but a strategist who could milk maximum seats even from minimum voteshare.
News link:

Apart from growing gradually, this is the technique BJP has been using for the last 2 decades to convert smaller voteshare into large number of seats. In fact, in the 2014 LS election, BJP (Modi) won 282 seats (clear majority) with just 31% of the voteshare, due to the masterplanning of Amit Shah who had strategically worked on swing seats where vote-splits could benefit BJP.

Coming back to the topic of Delhi. With the knowledge of above explained concepts, we will now be able to understand why BJP lost miserably despite retaining its voteshare. In every election, BJP would get its 30-35% loyal voteshare and the rest of the parties would fight among themselves for getting a pie of the remaning 65% votebank. Within this 65% votebank, there were again sub-divisions like Muslim votebank which was the stronghold of Congress. Dalit votebank which was held by BSP, Sikh votebank which was held by SAD and so on. This is where AAP cleverly engineered a coup of sorts and caught everyone unaware. After the 49 day resignation followed by humiliating defeat in 2014 LS, Kejriwal decided to cut off himself from every other state and started solely concentrating on Delhi where he would still have a chance to regain the CM post. Over the next few months, Kejriwal played some really interesting caste equations by creating new & separate cells for each caste/religion and appease them to win them over.

For example, here is a detailed analysis of how Kejriwal resorted to minority appesement throughout 2014 to consolidate that votebank even to the extent of releasing a separate manifesto (road-map) for Indian Muslims:

News links: [1], [2], [3], [4]

While each vote-bank (Muslim, Sikh, Dalit etc) was being engineered and appeased by Kejriwal, as the election day neared, the guardians of the respective votebanks who were anti-Modi, but they were happy to bless Kejriwal to take away their votebanks if that could help in fighting against Modi (as they say “An enemy’s enemy is your friend”), and even campaigned for AAP.

Tweet links:

And with just 2 days to go for the election, some of the top Muslim clerics issued statements requesting their followers to vote for AAP, thereby completely transferring their allegiance from Congress to AAP. Although AAP rejected the support of Bukhari, it did not reject Maulana Rashidi’s support. Moreover, in a later statement, Bukhari went on record and said that it was actually AAP which approached him and hence he lent his support. Whether one must believe AAP’s version of the story or the Bukhari’s, is certainly debatable, but the fact remains that Bukhari had already issued a fatwa asking Muslims to vote for AAP.
Tweet links:

In a way, AAP had turned into a platform where all the non-BJP forces kept their ideological differences aside to stay united against Modi, due to which most of the votes were transferred from Congress, BSP & Others into AAP, while BJP still held on to its 32% solid voteshare. The result was that in the absence of vote-splitting, BJP was decimated in terms of seats.

A quick glance into the pie-charts of party voteshare shows how AAP grew at the cost of Congress & BSP and hence it would not be wrong if one says AAP is the new Congress.
Now comes the big question: What is the future of BJP? As we noticed from the above statistics, BJP has a solid votebank of around 1/3rd of the electorate (32-35%) which has always been loyal to the party during all assembly elections irrespective of whether is a wave or not. The same party, during Lok Sabha elections, manages to get 40-50% voteshare easily. The very fact that around 45% have been voting for BJP means they are actually fine with the party despite it being perceived as one of the most “communal” parties and detested by seculars.

So, there is some mystery here that BJP must quickly analyze and solve: 45-50% consistently in Lok Sabha but 35% consistently in Assembly. Why is there a difference of 10-15%? Why is it that out of the 45% voters who support BJP at the centre, 10% of them do not want BJP at Delhi? Is it because this 10% thinks BJP is good for national level but not for state level? This is something BJP must find out.

Eventually, if BJP manages to grow its existing solid 35% voteshare into 40-45% solid voteshare, then the party need not worry in future because in the system of “first past the post”, no matter how strong the pro-wave or anti-wave is, if a party can always manage to hold on to its 40-45% voteshare, it will win in the long run.

Now comes the strategic question: How should BJP increase its existing voteshare? Should it resort to minority appeasements & freebies to improve its voteshare now? That would be suicidal and against the party’s ideology itself. Doing so would not only make it susceptible for a volatile votebank (Any vote a party gets due to freebies is bound to be volatile because it might switch to another party if that can offer better freebies next time, just like how the votebank from Congress switched to AAP). Also, doing so might cost its existing votebank, which has strongly stood behind BJP because it believes that BJP does not indulge in minority appeasement.

If BJP pronounces Batla house encounter as fake, just to please the minorities, then it might severely lose its existing voteshare. However, at the same time, if BJP indulges in majority appeasement like promising jobs specifically to Hindus, building Hindu temples etc, then it might affect the centrists (mostly the middle class urban voters)  who also form a significant part of the existing 35% voteshare of BJP. So, the best compromise is to do something which benefits all. i.e Sabka sath, sabka vikas. Development & Good governance. The existing votebank would be happy with such an ideology & showing results of development activities will lure more (especially youngsters) and hence help the party cross 40% mark.

Having said that, the very first thing they must do now is to, as discussed above, find out from those 10-15% Delhi voters why they have been consistently voting for BJP at centre but not at state for the last 20 years.

Congratulations to AAP for achieving such a thundering victory. Hoping for timely delivery of the promises.
All the best.

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