Why I Call Maha, Haryana Polls ‘Juggernaut-Stoppers’: 6 Takeaways

Right or wrong, our electorate is feudal and sentimental about strong/son-of-the-soil politicians.

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I know that adjectives like “milestone”, “game changer” and “watershed” are frequently used after polls that throw up contrarian, unexpected results. But even adjusting for this caveat, I would call the October 2019 mini national elections a “juggernaut stopper”. Here are my six takeaways:


1. The ‘Modi Delta’ Is a Fantastic 12, Perhaps Even 15, Percentage Points!

The BJP scores a considerably higher vote share when Prime Minister Modi is on the ballot (ie, when the voter is seeking to give him a direct mandate), which falls away dramatically when he is canvassing for votes for his party in state elections. Collating the differential between the last two Lok Sabha polls and 14 Assembly elections (including Maharashtra and Haryana in 2014 and the week gone by), the “Modi Delta” is closer to 12, perhaps even 15, percentage points.

If the BJP gets 35 percent in a state poll, it could score close to 47-50 percent in a national election where Prime Minister Modi is on the ballot. This almost-predictable dichotomy is unprecedented in any electoral democracy.

Click on the player below to listen to the podcast.

2. Congress’ Defeatism Is Misplaced

The surprise bounce by the Congress+allies across the country must convince the grand old party that its post-2019 defeatism is utterly unwarranted. Its 20 percent national vote share is a “healthy minima” on which it can build a strategy of political revival. It enjoys a natural resonance with an electorate which is looking for an alternative, especially among the disenfranchised/poor in vast spaces of north, west and central India.

Of course, this also means that regional titans – be it Amarinder Singh or Ashok Gehlot or Kamalnath or Bhupinder Hooda or ally Sharad Pawar – are empowered, without being fettered by the “Delhi leadership”.

3. MLAs vs MPs: Strength in Numbers?

Often, we look at a party’s count in the Lok Sabha to measure its strength. But a far more elemental metric is the number of MLAs in its kitty. Remember, an MP, on an average, represents over two million citizens, while an MLA is accountable to about a tenth, ie, two lakh people. Therefore, an MLA’s clout with his constituents is far more intimate and forceful.

The UPA+Opposition parties have been adding to their arsenal of MLAs with ever-increasing velocity over the last twelve months, especially after the Punjab, Gujarat, MP, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Haryana and other by-elections. 

At a rough count, this could be about 200+ MLAs, or an accretion of over 25 percent to their earlier numerical strength.

4. Cultural Nationalism/Jingoism Is Dwindling Across the Political Space

Clearly, neither the Balakot strikes nor the jingoistic appeal of killing Article 370 – or indeed the graphic threat of chucking illegal immigrants into the Bay of Bengal – moved the needle with an electorate obsessed with unemployment and dwindling economic prospects. So, any narrative based on these political issues is a lose-lose proposition in non-national elections.

If the rulers harp on these themes, they look remote and dodgy. And if the Opposition tries to counter them, it risks ratcheting up emotions and distracting from bread-and-butter issues.

5. Turncoats Can’t Fool All the Voters All the Time

Guess who were the real political mascots of last week’s polls? No, not Devendra Fadnavis or Manohar Lal Khattar but three relatively nondescript local politicos called Udayanraje Bhosle (ex-MP, NCP), Alpesh Thakor (ex-MLA, Gujarat Congress), Dhavalsinh Zala (ex-MLA, Gujarat Congress) and a clutch of other turncoats who jumped ship to either the BJP or Shiv Sena, hoping to ride the curry train. But a wise electorate stopped them dead in their tracks.

6. Jail Means Instant Political Stardom

Finally, the Modi government must recall the folly of the Shah Commission in 1977/78, which almost single-handedly resurrected a hopelessly defeated Indira Gandhi’s political career. Right or wrong, our electorate is feudal and sentimental about strong/son-of-the-soil politicians. And if it senses that they are being “unfairly” hounded or “selectively” punished, their sympathy hormones begin to work overtime.

Just see what happened to Sharad Pawar after he was booked by the Enforcement Directorate days before the Marathas voted – Pawar’s political stature swelled in might. In Haryana, the dogged Hooda, who was seen fending off a concerted attack from several central “agencies”, acquired the halo of a “true Jat” – one who fearlessly takes on his tormentors.

The lesson is clear: an overuse of the “agencies” is a double-edged, often losing, endeavor. Rein ‘em in.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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