India’s Unpredictable Elections

India’s Unpredictable Elections
The final phase (seventh) of voting in India comes to an end this Sunday May 19. The outcome is unpredictable. It is anyone’s “guess” on which party or alliance will win. It is a guess because opinions delivered (uttered) by academics, experts and news reporters (to this writer) between the first phase of voting (April 11) and now is not supported by hard data from field surveys. Polls give an indication of which party wins a seat. This writer, himself a pollster, traveled in several parts of India to solicit opinions on how people are voting and to gather their views on the outcome.
This writer feels the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will win the most seats and form the government. But it is difficult to determine the proximate number of seats the BJP and the opposition Congress Party will win. Both major parties are contesting the elections with alliance partners – the BJP and its allies are known as the National Democratic Alliance or NDA while the Congress and its allies are known as the United Progressive Alliance or UPA. The NDA will win a lot more seats than the UPA perhaps two to one. However, the NDA (BJP, in particular) will lose seats and the Congress and UPA will gain seats. The losses for BJP and gains for Congress will not be significant enough to prevent the BJP/NDA to form the government.
 
In traveling around India querying the view of academicians, journalists and ‘learned’ people on the likely outcome of the elections, they largely parroted the polls’ findings that they read or heard about in the media just before the first phase of voting. The polls put the BJP and the NDA well ahead of the Congress and UPA. But polls in India are not known to be reliable. And few academic respondents provided evidence of their views – of actual surveys conducted on voters to obtain a trend on voting. None of them went out in the fields as I did to obtain voters views. The overwhelming views of those I interviewed is that the BJP/NDA will form the government.
Aside from soliciting views of so called intellects, experts, reporters, and other learned people, l also interviewed voters on how they would vote. Almost everyone I interviewed in the urban areas said BJP/NDA will win and they will actually vote BJP/NDA partner. Middle class and upper caste voters are voting BJP. However, when one goes to “the slums” or lower class neighborhoods and in the rural areas, voter preferences change. The lower castes and slum dwellers are divided in their votes. The BJP gets only a fraction (less than 20%) of their support. Muslims are united against the BJP; only a very small percentage is voting BJP. The preference of female Muslims is not known; the BJP has tried to grant them equality. If female Muslims break for BJP, quite unlikely given that they have received instructions from clerics to vote for a candidate that has the best prospect to defeat the BJP candidate. The lower castes and the Muslims make up almost 70% of the electorate. No one knows for sure how the lower castes will vote – will they vote en bloc for the SP (Yadavs) and BSP (Dalits) alliance in Uttar Pradesh state? The two castes have had a history of antagonism and ill feelings towards each other and never quite got along; they were engaged in physical violence against one another. One thing is clear, the Dalits will vote BSP where there is a Dalit candidate. But whether the Dalits will vote SP for a Yadav candidate is not certain. Similarly, it is not certain that Yadavs will vote en bloc for a Dalit candidate. This election is the first test for such a lower caste alliance in a general election. If the BJP gets 20% of the lower castes, Yadavs and Dalits, a number that is highly unlikely, it will sweep the elections as it did in 2014. This cannot be ruled out and in fact around 15% Dalits and Yadavs did indicate they will vote for BJP. The constituency where BJP gets such numbers will determine whether it can retain seats in UP. This writer projects BJP will lose a minimum 15 seats in UP but could reduce its losses if Muslims stay away from the polls or if Dalits don’t support Yadav candidates.
 
Photo : Dr. Vishnu Bisram
 
There is some element of anti-incumbency in India. This means BJP will suffer losses not only in UP but in other states as well. Also, there is caste alliance working against the electoral prospects of the BJP. The Dalits (that we call Chamars among the girmitya diaspora of the Caribbean, etc.) and the Yadavs have formed an alliance in Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state. The two lower castes are represented by BSP and SP respectively and are led by Mayawati-ji and Akilesh Yada-ji respectively. A similar alliance is formed in Bihar and in a few other states (like Madya Pradesh and Rajasthan) between the Chamars and the Congress Party. This caste alliance and the understanding with between the Congress and other parties representing lower castes poses a serious challenge to BJP and would cause it to lose several seats and for Congress to pick up seats. But the BJP party is also expected to make gains in seats in state it never did well.
In the 2014 elections, Congress won only 44 seats and the BJP 282 out of 543. The Congress is projected by this writer to win up to 25 seats more making gains from the BJP in states like Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Madya Pradesh, and Chattisgarh. The BJP/NDA, in addition to losing seats in these states, will lose seats in Uttar Pradesh to the BSP-SP alliance. This writer projects that the BJP will lose around 15-20 seats in UP where it won 73 seats in 2014.  While losing seats to anti-incumbency and the various alliances allied against it, the BJP will make gains in West Bengal, Odisha, and a few other states. The party could pick up anywhere between 15 and 20 seats. This will reduce its overall losses.  The final projection is BJP is expected to win between 250 and 275 seats and the NDA up to 40 seats for a total of anywhere between 275 and 315. In addition, the BJP will get outside support from the MPs in Telangana and in Andhra Pradesh and in Tamil Nadu. In Telangana, of 17 seats, the popular KCR led TRS party is projected to win almost all – based on interviews with voters. In Andhra Pradesh, the opposition party led by Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSR party will win most of the 25 seats dealing a serious blow to incumbent Chandrababu Naidoo’s TDP. Andhra Pradesh is also having legislative elections. Naidoo will lose his Chief Minister’s position based on projections of this writers after conversations with actual voters. In Tamil Nadu, the AIADMK and its partners will lose seats. The DMK is projected to make gains. The DMK supports Congress while the AIADMK supports BJP.
 
To form a government, 273 seats are required. So clearly, going by the numbers projected by this writer and the views of pre-election pollsters, the BJP is projected to retain office and Modi given a second term. But the number of seats the party or alliance will win is unpredictable. Even if the BJP/NDA comes up short, outside allies will make up the numbers.  The UPA and a third front is not likely to have the numbers to form a coalition government as they did in 2004-2009.