Why Did A Few States Completely Miss the Narendra Modi Wave?
The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance’s victory in the Lok Sabha elections was even more remarkable than the 2014 win as it covered an even larger expanse across the country. The Narendra Modi wave swept not just the Hindi heartland and BJP strongholds like Gujarat and Maharashtra, but also Karnataka, Assam and Tripura. The BJP also expanded in West Bengal, Odisha and even parts of Telangana.
However, there are a handful of states and union territories – accounting for close to 100 seats – that seem to have withstood the Modi wave. In Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Meghalaya and Puducherry, the NDA could secure just five seats out of 100. On the other hand, the UPA did well winning 67 seats in these states.
Many have argued that this might have been a result of regional factors and not necessarily a vote against the BJP. However, this doesn’t seem to have been the case. There seems to have been a clear anger against the Modi government in these states.
Modi Govt’s Unpopularity
According to the Lokniti-CSDS post poll survey results published in The Hindu, 39 percent respondents in Tamil Nadu said they are “extremely dissatisfied” with the Modi government, 23 percent said they are “somewhat dissatisfied”, 22 percent said they are “somewhat satisfied” and only eight percent said they are “fully satisfied”. The Net Satisfaction Rating comes to -32 percentage points.
In Kerala, the anger against the Modi government seems to have been marginally lesser than Tamil Nadu. 10 percent respondents said they are fully satisfied with the Modi government, 24 percent said they are somewhat satisfied, 23 percent said they are somewhat dissatisfied and 39 percent said they are fully dissatisfied. The Modi government’s Net Approval Rating is -28 percentage points.
While the CSDS hasn’t released post-poll survey data on satisfaction with the Modi government in Andhra Pradesh and Punjab, their pre-poll survey showed a negative rating of -29 percentage points in Punjab and -5 percentage points in Andhra Pradesh.
CSDS hasn’t provided detailed results for Meghalaya either but an article published based on the survey in The Hindu reveals that PM Modi and BJP are hugely unpopular in the state.
“In the (CSDS) survey, when respondents were asked if they particularly disliked any party, four-fifths of those who said they did, took the name of the BJP. Half of all respondents were also against giving the Narendra Modi government another chance,” the article said.
Some have suggested that the BJP’s poor performance in Kerala, Punjab and Meghalaya could be due to the high population of Muslims, Christians and Sikhs in these states and in Tamil Nadu due to the dominance of anti-Brahminical Dravidian nationalism. While this might have contributed to the BJP’s losses, it can’t be the only explanation. There are several state-specific issues that may have played a role.
Given a choice to list multiple issues, over 70 percent respondents in the CSDS survey in Tamil Nadu listed the following issues as being “Very Important”:
- Pollachi sexual abuse case
- Thoothukudi firing
- Gaja cyclone relief and rehabilitation
- Eight-lane highway project
- Farmer suicides
- Hydrocarbon problem
While almost all these issues concern the state government, two issues – NEET and farmer suicides – may have contributed to the resentment against the central government.
The war within BJP ally AIADMK after the death of J Jayalalithaa also harmed the alliance. According to the CSDS post-poll survey, 30 percent respondents in the state said that neither the Palaniswami-Panneerselvam faction nor TTV Dhinakaran’s AMMK represent the “true AIADMK” of Jayalalithaa. Among AIADMK voters, the situation is even worse. Thirty-four percent said that neither faction is the true AIADMK, while 28 percent chose the Palaniswami-Panneerselvam faction and 21 percent picked the AMMK. The confusion is highest among the Thevar community, which used to be the AIADMK’s core base but this time split three-way between the NDA, AMMK and DMK-led alliance.
On the other hand, Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims and Gounders voted overwhelmingly for the DMK-led alliance, according to the CSDS survey.
The other factor that worked in the UPA’s favour is the meteoric rise of Rahul Gandhi’s popularity in the state, quite in contrast to his fortunes in North, West and East India.
In Kerala, the BJP raised the Sabarimala issue, supporting the campaign against the entry of women between 10 to 50 years of age. Even though nearly half the respondents in the survey said they are opposed to the entry of women and 57 percent said they are disappointed with the LDF government’s handling of the issue, the benefit seems to have gone to the Congress and not the BJP. The party came third in Pathanamthitta where Sabarimala is located and where most of the protests took place.
Contrary to the assumption that Congress got support only from minorities, the party got a substantial chunk of Hindu votes.
The support of minorities and Upper Castes helped the Congress-led UDF win 19 out of 20 seats in the state.
Interestingly, the CSDS survey says that Rahul Gandhi was more popular than PM Modi among not just Muslim and Christian voters, but Hindu voters as well.
In Meghalaya, besides the dislike for the BJP much of the dissatisfaction against the Modi government seems to stem from the Citizenship Amendment Bill.
According to the CSDS post-poll survey, 64 percent of the people who are aware of the Bill “fully opposed” it. Clearly, there were fears among the locals that the Bill would lead to the settlement of Hindu refugees from Bangladesh in Meghalaya.
The poor performance in Meghalaya is symptomatic of the lack of trust towards the BJP among the Christians in the North East. Besides drawing a blank in Meghalaya, the party also fared poorly in Mizoram and the Outer Manipur seat. as well. In Outer Manipur, there appears to have been Naga consolidation in favour of the Naga People’s Front.
According to the CSDS survey, the win “underlines Naga tribes transcending their individual tribe identities in favour of the larger Naga identity....The NPF seems to have swept the Tangkhul vote”.
Manipur was one of the few states where Rahul Gandhi was more popular than PM Modi. According to the CSDS post-poll survey, only 17 percent wanted Narendra Modi back as prime minister whereas 33 percent picked preference for Rahul Gandhi.
“Only two-fifths of the respondents said they were satisfied with the performance of the Modi government with over half being dissatisfied,” the survey revealed.
In Punjab, the Congress won eight out of 13 seats, a gain of five from 2014. The SAD-BJP combine won four, a loss of two from 2014. The main loser was the Aam Aadmi Party, whose tally fell from four to just one.
Despite a clear advantage for the Congress, the state witnessed a fragmentation of voters. Three trends were visible:
- Hindu voters who had backed the Congress in the 2017 Assembly elections decisively shifted back to the BJP in the two Hindu-dominated constituencies Gurdaspur and Hoshiarpur.
- On the other hand, there appears to have been a general discontent against the SAD-BJP combine among Sikh voters. According to Lokniti-CSDS pre-poll survey, Sikh voters’ dislike for Modi is highest among all communities with 68 percent Sikhs saying that Modi shouldn’t win a second term against only 21 percent who supported his re-election. As a result, the Congress managed to win a Panthic seat like Khadoor Sahib that it hadn’t won since 1991. It also won the Faridkot seat which was the epicentre of the protests against the desecration and police firing incidents of 2015. It is because of the anger among Sikhs that SAD’s Harsimrat Kaur Badal struggled to win her seat Bathinda and managed to sneak through by a small margin.
- The third trend that was visible is the revival of the BSP in the state. The party was fighting as part of the Punjab Democratic Alliance and secured 20 percent votes in Jalandhar, 13 percent votes in Hoshiarpur and 13.5 percent votes in Anandpur Sahib. Its gains mainly came at the expense of the Congress’ Dalit votes and it may have caused the party’s defeat in Hoshiarpur.
But an overarching trend in the state is the low popularity of Prime Minister Modi (except among urban Upper Caste Hindus) and no takers for his national security pitch. According to the CVoter tracker, only 1.1 percent voters in Punjab picked terrorism as the main issue, the lowest among all the states, while 51.6 percent picked unemployment, the highest in the country.
Besides these states, the BJP fared poorly in Andhra Pradesh as well. It’s vote share fell from 7.2 percent in 2014 to less than 1 percent in 2019. This was largely due to the anger against the party on the special status issue, which was raised by both the TDP and the YSRCP. Even though the BJP drew solace from the TDP’s loss given the party’s open antipathy to the BJP, its own support base shrunk tremendously in the state.
These handful of states show that despite a massive Modi-wave, there are significant pockets across the country where the PM is unpopular and the BJP fared poorly. The fear of a strong centre or majoritarian rule is highest in these states. As Modi begins his second term, taking these states and communities along would be a major challenge for him.