It was around noon by when I had covered nearly 07 polling booths in rural Saurashtra and the picture was looking stark for the BJP. I was travelling with our ground team on that fateful election day and was targeting the Rajkot-Junagadh belt while other members of the team had spread out to different parts of Saurashtra and South Gujarat. As we started tallying the numbers, it was increasingly looking like BJP’s Waterloo moment.
This was in 2012 December. Saurashtra had seen one of the worst drought years in recent memory. Although the Modi government had handled the drought scientifically to provide some creative relief to farmers, the anger was palpable. I had then, recently released my paper known as the “Drought Electoral Theory” which had formulated that almost all governments fail to get re-elected in an election following a drought year (the 2004 Vajpayee loss was one of the biggest examples of this). I was perhaps witnessing the unfolding of my own thesis in polling booth after polling booth of Saurashtra.
What was adding spice to this anti-incumbency current was the so-called “Patel anger” which was manifesting itself in the form of support to Keshubhai Patel’s GPP. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to state that at around noon on the 13 December 2012, Congress and GPP were both together out voting the BJP at the ratio of 2:1 across Saurashtra, although the race looked equal in South Gujarat.
At around 1:00 PM, we reached Jetpur town only to find the polling stations in the local school virtually empty. It had an eerie feeling to it; as if it was all over now, done and dusted. The fate of the nation and perhaps that of Indian civilization was hanging in those polling booths. If the then Gujarat CM, Narendrabhai Damodardas Modi were to be defeated, any chance of him ascending to the leadership of BJP and then capturing the imagination of India could at best be described as practically non-existent. After a ‘decade of decay’, India simply did not have the strength to face another term of UPA raj.
An old Swayam Sevak standing outside the polling station gave me an enigmatic smile when I asked him why the polling station looked so empty. “Have some patience, you will see (sic)” he assured me. And then it happened! What I have since termed as ‘the miracle of Jetpur’. At first, it began with a trickle and then it turned into a hurricane of women attired in colourful Jetpur clothing walking into the polling stations. Literally, hundreds and hundreds of them who had completed their daily chores had now come to express their franchise in the form of gratitude towards Narendra Bhai.
By 3:30 PM, the data picture had changed completely. The BJP had been rescued by the Gujarati women. That election saw the highest ever women turnout in Gujarat’s electoral history as 70% women electorate came out to vote. Narendra Bhai not only went on to win the 2012 Gujarat elections overcoming the “Drought Electoral Theory” for the first time in India but also the national election in 2014. And the rest, as is often said, is history. Since then, Modi’s bonding with the women electorate has only grown stronger with each passing year.
During and after the recent Gujarat 2017 elections, reams and reams of papers have been written analyzing a million vague concepts like the Hardik Patel factor, reservations, rural anger and what have you. As is always the case with Lutyens’ maze of falsehood and lies, the truth lies elsewhere – in the data intelligence of voting patterns.
Firstly, neither Gujarat nor HP were close contests as is being made out. In fact, both were landslide victories for BJP as the party maintained a whopping lead of 07-08% while getting almost 01 out of 02 votes polled in both the states. The only problem that BJP faced in Gujarat is that of bad seat conversion ratios. A simple analysis will tell us that women were the root cause of this bad conversion ratio for BJP.
Generally, Congress party’s seat conversion is directly proportionate to the margin of gender variance. Greater the gap between male and female turnout, better is the Congress party’s performance. As we can clearly see, in Surat and Bharuch districts of Gujarat and in Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh where women turnout is either equal to their male counterparts or even higher (as seen in HP), BJP’s seat conversion ratios are exemplary whereas in Rajkot, Junagadh and Jamnagar where male voter turnout is far higher than women, Congress party’s seat conversion ratio improves dramatically.
From these numbers, we can give a precise reverse trajectory. Had even 03 lakh extra women turned out to vote in Gujarat (especially in phase 1), BJP would have probably ended up converting another 15 seats to its kitty. With just over 05 lakh extra women turnout, BJP could have easily surpassed the 125-seat mark in the state. Thus, data proves that the single biggest reason for BJP’s bad seat conversion ratios was that the women vote was just below the threshold level. It must be remembered here that 42% of Congress MLAs or 32 of Congress and Congress supported candidates have won this time in Gujarat with a margin of less than 05% votes. Even more importantly, with a mean distribution of 1.7 lakh extra women votes to itself (assuming equal male participation), BJP could have won at least 15-20 extra seats as our predictive models have clearly projected a 54-39 tilt in favour of BJP as far as the women voting pattern goes. (i.e.) Out of every 100 women votes, 54 go for BJP and 39 for Congress in Gujarat.
Hence, we can say with confidence that had BJP consulted 5Forty3 Datalabs at the beginning of the Gujarat campaign, one of the first measures that would have been implemented was to empower 01 lakh women across Gujarat at an average of two women per polling booth. Network mapping and monitoring these one lakh women using MAPi could have potentially led to far greater female participation in the 2017 election enabling greater seat conversions.
This gender variance in voting patterns is not limited to Gujarat alone. In fact, women are at the heart of BJP’s dramatic ascendancy of the last 04 years across India’s political landscape. Women voters are not only the torchbearers of the post-caste electorate but also the core element of the USHV (United Spectrum of Hindu Votes) phenomenon. The reason behind Modi’s appeal to Indian women is indeed multi-dimensional in nature. Let us try and analyze this, layer by layer:
1] A Woman and a Hindu voter: Women are generally more devout Hindus than men and are now demographically identifying themselves with the NaMo-led BJP more than ever before. For instance, cow protectionism which so angers the TV studio crowd finds immense support among most Hindu women cutting across caste and age barriers. What is also aiding this behavioural change is that most younger women find solidarity with other women rising above the caste silos which gives them a unique political segmentation.
2] BJP is represented by maximum women forces rather than mere faces: From Sushma Swaraj to Nirmala Seetaraman to Smriti Irani, BJP is the one political party that has maximum articulate women symbolizing the party’s culture of gender inclusivity. On the other side of the fence, Congress party has very few women icons beyond Sonia Gandhi who has anyway become a recluse, while most regional parties have given only token representation for women notwithstanding the Mamata Banerjee rhetoric.
3] The Modi govt. policy impact has been highly positive on women: One of the biggest unheralded revolutions in India has been the Jan Dhan Yojana which has introduced banking to close to 30 crores Indians for the very first time. 16.32 Crores beneficiaries of this banking drive have been women who probably account for the bulk of the 73000 Crores savings in the Jan Dhan accounts. It is these women who are able to save small amounts of money beyond the prying eyes of their husband and family that are going out in hordes to vote for Modi. Similar has been the impact of the free LPG cooking gas provided by the Ujjwala Yojana. In fact, as per the multiple surveys done across 05 different geographies, we have found that almost 02 out of 03 women directly admit that this Yojana will have some impact on their voting choices.
4] Women understand “change” better than men: Generally, men are more impatient about change. Most rural or suburban women on the other hand, having witnessed the struggle to bring about incremental changes in their lives also tend to identify with the Prime Minister’s efforts at bringing about fundamental changes to a large behemoth like India by measures like Demonetization, GST, DBT etc.
5] The Modi appeal: Narendra Modi is seen as this leader with impeccable “character” credentials who is tangibly incorruptible despite having a macho appeal. Indian women have historically tended to trust powerful alpha men who are also of spotless character and unlike western women, Indian women respect a “Sanyasi” who has sacrificed his family life which is what sharpens the Modi appeal.
Women will therefore, be the key to 2019 elections. If Congress and the opposition want to put up a strong fight in the LS election, it will have to disincentivise women voters during elections. On the other hand, if BJP harbors any dreams of getting close to 50% vote-share (which is the only fail-proof way of defeating a combined opposition onslaught as seen in Gujarat), it will have to ensure that women outvote men.