If the “unprecedented” alliance between the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) is to succeed in the Lok Sabha elections, voters need to buck the trend of voting differently in State and national elections.
On paper, the combined vote share of the alliance in the recent Assembly polls threatens the dominant Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in most parliamentary seats. However, Assembly constituency-wise polling numbers from recent elections point to a significant chunk of voters shifting their allegiance in the year’s gap between State and parliamentary polls. These “lost votes” seem to be heading to the BJP, rather than the coalition partners.
BJP loses fewer votes
This changing voter behaviour is clear in the tabulation of areas where parties lost votes (a loss of more than 2,000 votes is considered to be significant) between a parliamentary election (2009, 2014) and the preceding Assembly election (2008, 2013).
The saffron party has lost votes in just 60 Assembly constituencies — or 13% of the total segments — between national elections and State elections. Three-fourths of these constituencies were held by BJP MLAs. These “lost votes” were primarily in south Karnataka and the Hyderabad Karnataka region, where the Congress and JD(S) have the upper hand. In the other areas, the BJP managed to retain and build on its voter base even is if it lost the previous year’s Assembly election.
While the Congress improved its tally in the 2008 and 2013 Assembly elections, in the succeeding Lok Sabha elections, it lost votes in 189 Assembly constituencies (or 42% of the total segments that form parliamentary constituencies). Nearly six in 10 of these seats were held by Congress MLAs — which suggests that a large number of voters chose a non-INC candidate in the parliamentary polls.
For instance, in 2014, the Congress lost more than 9.15 lakh votes in Assembly constituencies where its MLA candidate had won just a year ago, while in 2009 its vote share reduced by 6.6 lakh votes in these areas. It lost votes in constituencies such as Davangere, Ballari, Bidar and the coastal/Malnad areas — where it has not won an MP seat in years. The party managed to retain votes only in its “parliamentary bastions” of Kalaburagi, Kolar, Chickballapur, and Chamarajanagar.
The JD(S)’s decline into a sub-regional party is evident in its “lost votes” tallying more than 42 lakh in 224 constituencies (or 50% of the segments) since 2009. Not surprisingly, more than three-quarters of these votes were in areas outside the Cauvery basin where the party is generally a marginal player.
Similar trends can be seen in the 2004 elections, which were held concurrently and where the performances of the three main parties can be compared in totality for the first time.
Narendra Pani, professor at the School of Social Sciences, National Institute of Advanced Studies, said the trend of voting differently in Assembly and Lok Sabha elections has been seen in the State since the 1980s. “There may be a sense of voter maturity that can recognise viable State parties from national parties. The Congress and the JD(S) may be considered viable State parties, but the BJP is considered a viable national alternative. The Congress only manages to retain its votes through leaders such as Mallikarjun Kharge and others who have a hold over their constituencies,” he said.
Where do these “lost votes” from the JD(S) and smaller parties or Independents go? The answer, it seems, is the BJP. In 2014, the BJP gained a staggering 36 lakh votes in seats where the its MLA candidate had lost a year before.
Meanwhile, the Congress gained a relatively meagre 16 lakh votes in seats where its MLA candidate did not win. In 2009, the BJP gained 15.31 lakh votes in such segments, while the Congress gained only 11 lakh votes.
“It seems like the BJP has the edge, but there are many local factors behind this. Caste consolidation, for instance, works often for the BJP. It was observed that anger against [former Chief Minister] Siddaramaiah’s politics saw Vokkaligas and even some from the Dalit community rally against the Congress in the previous Lok Sabha elections,” said Narayana A, associate professor with the School of Policy and Governance, Azim Premji University.
What this means for the JD(S)-Congress alliance — whose strength lies in vote transfer — is difficult to predict, he added. “There are two levels for transfer of votes. The first is the party worker, and there is already discontent here with the alliance. Even in the Mandya bypolls, we saw Congress workers vote for the BJP rather than a JD(S) candidate. But as for the general public, it is difficult to gauge how they will vote,” he said.
Pani said the success of the alliance depends on local leaders. “If the local leader is committed, then votes will come along with them to the alliance candidate. It depends on trust and chemistry between the local candidate and the leaders from the two parties,” he said.