BJP 2019, Congress 1984: A Similar Wave & Pockets of Resistance

Just like the BJP has swept entire states in 2019, a similar sweep played out in 1984.

Updated
Elections
3 min read
Just like the BJP has swept entire states in 2019, a similar sweep played out in 1984.
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A country's elections often tell a similar story. In 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has secured a historic mandate, securing 303 seats on its own and its alliance, National Democratic Alliance (NDA) securing 353 seats. It's a saffron sweep, with the BJP taking entire states like Himachal Pradesh and Haryana. But it's not an unprecedented sweep.

Just like the BJP has swept entire states in 2019, a similar sweep played out in 1984. With Lok Sabha elections being declared after the assassination of the then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Congress secured 404 out of 514 seats. When delayed elections took place in Assam and Punjab in 1985, Congress added a further 10 seats to its tally. It was a Congress sweep, with the BJP only getting 2 seats.

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But in both 1984 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the resistance to the "tsunami" of the national parties were in similar states. But with strong regional sentiment reigning supreme in these states, the states which were insulated from both 'waves' are also mapped out similarly. Let's take a look.

1984 Lok Sabha Elections

In 1984, general elections took place in December, a month after PM Indira Gandhi was assassinated at her residence in Delhi. Rajiv Gandhi was appointed Prime Minister in her place soon after, and the general elections were his first big test in politics. Congress (I) swept up every state. According to an India Today report dated 28 February 1985, "the 1984 election result virtually closed the issue of unity (of the country) with the huge mandate given to one party". Similar to 2019 elections, the core issue at the center of the 1984 election was "widespread anxiety over the unity" ostensibly in the aftermath of riots in Delhi after Gandhi's assassination.

The map below details the percentage of seats which Congress (I) secured in every state in 1984. Of course, some states which are recognised in 2019 like Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand did not exist in 1984. For the purposes of analysis, these states have been considered to be a part of the older states. A glance at the map suggests a Congress dominance, but a closer look reveals Andhra Pradesh (and now Telangana) where Congress secured only about 14 percent of the seats. In fact, the Telegu Desam Party (TDP) became the second largest party in the elections with 30 seats.

Another region which resisted the Congress wave was eastern India, specifically West Bengal and Assam. In West Bengal, CPM won 18 seats in the state; a reminder of Left's dominance in the 80s. Congress on the other hand, won 16 seats in the state.

Assam went to polls later than the rest of the country in 1984 elections, due to unrest in the state. And that disillusionment with the national party reflected in the results, with the Congress securing 28% of seats in the state. After Indira Gandhi's assassination, riots against Sikhs ravaged Delhi and parts of Punjab. Remnants of anger against Congress for Operation Bluestar could also be a factor in why Congress only won 46% of seats in the state. Similarly, southern states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu also resisted the Congress wave.

2019 Lok Sabha Elections

In an article dated 28 February 1985 in India Today, an observation about the Congress and BJP voter finds resonance today. "The Congress voter tends to vote more for the party than the candidate while supporters of the opposition parties, especially the BJP vote more for the candidate than the party." In 2019, it seems that the majority of the vote cast for the BJP was for one man: Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But some states still seemed immune to the "Modi magic". Especially in the southern states. Much like 1984, regional politics in Tamil Nadu and Kerala have made it difficult for a national party like the BJP to make inroads. In fact, in both Tamil Nadu and Kerala, BJP didn't win a single seat. The map below details the percentage of seats which the BJP secured in every state in the 2019 elections.

Both 1984 and 2019 general elections are significant results; they signify a large majority for a single party; some would argue, a single personality. What does such a majority herald for the country? Will it lead to a more united politics or one which is more fragmented?

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