It is quite likely that 2019 will be remembered as the beginning of the end of feudal politics in India marked by dynastic succession being the norm in the electoral arena. As Santhosh Ji, the National Organizing General Secretary of the BJP has famously remarked recently, “DNA cannot be the reason for giving party tickets, political credit for the service of the nation is not a transferrable commodity within a family”, this may well become the defining feature of politics in India.
We have already seen how the Gowda grandsons were struggling in the family pocket borough of Old-Mysore region in Karnataka. We have also seen how Laul Yadav’s sons are unable to maintain the grip on the family business in Bihar after their father’s imprisonment. Most importantly, we are seeing how both Rahul and Priyanka are getting such little traction among the voters who in the past would have simply been overwhelmed by the aura of the Gandhi surname and voted for the hand symbol in large numbers. India has changed fundamentally; 2019 symbolizes that change.
There was another third generation dynast in the form of Parth Pawar, the grandnephew of Maratha strongman, Sharad Pawar, and the son of former Deputy Chief Minister, Ajit Dada Pawar, in fray on Monday last in the part-urban-part-rural Lok Sabha seat of Maval. The NCP and the senior Pawar who had earlier publicly refused to give ticket to another person from the family eventually nominated Parth as the party candidate from here with the explanation that, NCP is trying to win a Shiv Sena seat and therefore needs the Pawar brand-name to register a victory.
No doubt, Parth and the NCP had run a tight campaign with massive allocation of resources here. Yet, the overall voter turnout actually fell by a percentage point rather than rising due to such a high profile contest which has surprised many NCP local leaders who were earlier claiming there would be a popular surge leading to a huge increase in the voter turnout. The same NCP leaders who were claiming at least “65% turnout” only last week were now scampering around with explanations about “why certain areas did not perform as per expectations”.
Our trackers on Monday showed an edge to Shiv Sena in this seat with the urbanized Pimpri-Chinchwad belt showing almost an equal split and the more rural Raigad belt giving Shiv Sena the leads. Therefore, among the two Pawars in contest in the state, only Supriya Sule, the sitting MP daughter of Sharad Pawar may register a win from the family pocket borough of Baramati, while the other Pawar could bite the dust. It must be remembered here that even Supriya had barely managed to win last time and hasn’t shown strong leads in our trackers last week
The other two Sena strongholds of this region, Shirur and Shirdi have once again shown inclination to NDA, but the margins will definitely see a big reduction as both the seats had been won last time by 3 and 2 lakh votes respectively. In a way, this is the dichotomy of Maharashtra elections this time around. In many sub-regions we are seeing that Shiv Sena has faced a lot of localized anti-incumbency but has managed to overcome that because of the Modi factor; ironically, the party had spent the last 5 years abusing the same Modi on whom they are now relying so much to get them out of the woods. Let us take the Shirdi example. Here the sitting Shiv Sena MP is quite wildly unpopular, but it is the Modi factor and the recent shifting of Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil (the leader of the opposition in Maharashtra assembly and a five-time MLA of Shirdi) from the Congress to the BJP that gave the Sena a lifeline in the Lok Sabha elections on Monday.
As our live trackers have already shown on Monday, the 8 seats of Mumbai are virtually a no contest this time around, just like 2014. This is again an important element in BJP’s sustainable electoral model, for it is in these powerful urban strongholds that BJP had failed badly in 2004 and 2009 which had been at the heart of the party’s overall national decline – same was true of Delhi, as BJP had lost 6 out of 7 in 2009 and all 7 in 2014. Therefore, psephologically, these two big metropolitan cities are important indicators of an impending swing. If at any given point of time, BJP suffers Lok Sabha losses here, then one can expect the party to do badly in other parts of India too. Conversely, if BJP sweeps these two cities, then one can expect the party to do extremely well across India. There are actual underlying demographic reasons for this too – these two of the largest cities of India are home to migrants from almost every part of India representing all the caste, linguistic and ethnic backgrounds. As my Guru Ji, in the 90’s would say, “all you have to do is a deep, third level poll in Mumbai and Delhi and you can reasonably predict how India will vote” (it may not be quite true in 2019 as the complexities of India have changed a lot, but the basic premise still holds).
In the tribal northern districts of Nandurbar and Dhule, where BJP had surprised all the political observers by not just winning, but winning by a huge margin in 2014, this time the going has been a bit tough for the party. In Nadurbar, for instance, the 26-year-old Dr. Heena Gavit had defeated a 9-term sitting MP of the Congress party by a margin of over one lakh votes. She has done some stellar work in the constituency in the last 5 years but there are external factors of caste clashes and turf war which are hurting her this time. Similarly, in Dhule, union minister Subhash Bamre facing another 3rd generation dynast in the form of Kapil Patil, has been fighting a lot of internal rebellion within the BJP and Sena. Overall, of the 17 seats that went to polls on Monday in Maharashtra, MAPi – Micro Analytics Projections (INTELLIGENCE) – trackers have allocated 14 to the BJP, while 3 have been classified as “tossups”. In 2014, BJP had swept this phase by winning all the 17 seat and there is a distinct possibility of that feat being repeated again on May 23rd.
There is a slightly different picture in the neighboring Madhya Pradesh which saw the highest voter turnout increase so far in the 2019 elections in any state. Voting in MP increased by 10 percentage points secularly among almost all the LS seats. Usually, turnouts do not mean anything from a psephological point of view, because it is not the turnouts, but the turnout differentials between various sub-groups that matters. Yet, when turnouts increase or decrease by a big number, we have to sit up and take notice, simply because turnout modelling will have to reflect these changes.
The Jabalpur division which went to polls on Monday has been a BJP stronghold for nearly two decades now despite being home to the Kamalnath pocket borough of Chhindwara. Yet, this time, as Kamalnath is seen as the son of the soil being the CM of the state, there is a bit of churning in this part of the state as Congress has formed the government here after the December assembly elections. Unlike neighboring Rajasthan, which also went to polls on Monday, where there was a palpable Modi wave leading to a big sweep by the saffron party, Madhya Pradesh looked like a battle that was more evenly poised.
The tribal areas of Mahakoshal have been one pocket in India that have slowly shifted towards Congress from being strongly with Modi in 2014. There are various local reasons for these demographic shifts, but suffice it to say that the Modi wave that is visible elsewhere is quite subdued here. Of course, the other parts of this region show a strong contrast with similar levels of enthusiasm for giving Modi another chance.
Take the case of Faggan Singh Kulaste, arguably one of the tallest tribal leaders of BJP in the state. He has lost a large part of support among his own tribal populace, even as he has gained the support of other communities in the Mandla LS seat. In spite of the fact that Congress has fielded an outsider, the party has managed to do reasonably well in this seat because of large tribal support here.
What is helping the BJP though are large margins that it has enjoyed in the past – indeed, this is what helped BJP in the assembly elections too, for the Congress party despite gaining momentum could not defeat the lotus outright because of larger margins with even larger base effect. Consequently, MAPi – Micro Analytics Projections (INTELLIGENCE) – trackers have classified 3 seats for the BJP, one of for Congress and 2 as “tossups” for the 6 seats that have already voted in Madhya Pradesh.
About two odd hour’s drive from Bhubaneswar is Kendrapara (via Cuttack) which saw a high profile contest between Jay Panda of the BJP as he famously joined the saffron family recently after being in BJD for more than two decades and the Odia heartthrob, Anubhav Mohanty whose film Biju Babu’s posters are all over Kendrapara (election commission’s ways are strange indeed when it comes to implementing the MCC – model code of conduct).
Almost everybody you meet in Kendrapara agrees that Jay Panda’s performance has been quite exemplary, but you also hear murmurs about this being the “Karma Bhoomi” of Biju Patnaik, the former CM of the state and a stalwart anti-Congress leader on whose name the Biju Janata Dal has been built by his son and current chief minister, Naveen Patnaik. There are quite a few youngsters who are enamored by BJD’s movie star candidate, Anubhav Mohanty, but it is anybody’s guess as to how much of this star attraction will convert into votes, especially as the state doesn’t have a strong film-based sub-nationalism undercurrent of the kind seen in the neighboring Telangana and Andhra. For instance, Mohanty’s biggest career hit, “Prem Kumar Salesman of the Year” earned a total box office collection of about 10.5 crore rupees which is what an average Telugu or Tamil movie earn in a day.
Jay Panda’s exit from the BJD, on the other hand, has had a structural impact in this part of the state as it has led to large scale desertion of BJD cadre not just in Kendrapara, but even in the neighboring Jagatsinghpur LS seat. Scores of former ZP members, corporators and other local leaders of the BJD were all now seen to be wearing saffron on their sleeves. The impact was seen in assembly elections too, as we witnessed a lot of BJD candidates highly worried of the saffron surge of the last 3-4 weeks in all the four assembly segments of Jagatsinghpur district which was now witnessing a direct contest with the Congress being reduced to a distant third.
The story is similar in Jajpur. Here BJP had virtually doubled its vote-share in the Panchayat polls a couple of years ago from 14% to 30%. This surge has only increased in the last year or so with BJP being the strongest on the eve of the 2019 election season. BJD compounded its misery by not only denying ticket to its sitting MP, but also to two powerful sitting MLAs which has resulted in large scale desertion of the party cadre here. In this milieu, BJP’s old war horse Ameiya Malik was getting a huge traction among voters as he was seen as a man who has always helped people when they needed it the most.
MAPi trackers in Odisha have put all these three seats, Jajpur, Jagatsinghpur and Kendrapara in the saffron column after Monday’s elections. Overall, out of the 6 seats that voted on Monday, BJP is ahead in 4, while BJD was ahead in 1 and one seat was classified as “tossup” – Congress, as expected is ending up being the loser in Odisha, not just in the national elections, but also in the assembly polling.
In the other eastern state of Bengal, this was a phase where Mamata and TMC’s strongholds began polling. It must be remembered here that the state ruling party had faced strong headwinds in the first 3 phases in Bengal, but we did expect that once the election moves down south, TMC would start to gain in strength. After Monday’s polling, MAPi trackers have allocated only 2 seats to BJP – Asansol was surprisingly not one of them as full data came by, it has now been put in the tossup category. TMC is now leading in 4 seats in this phase, even as two seats have been put-up in the “tossup” column – Asansol being a surprise one as already mentioned and the second being Baharampur where Congress stalwart Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury could be in trouble this time.
The three states of Rajasthan (which was tracked live on Monday), Bihar and Jharkhand saw near sweeps in the fourth phase on Monday. Of the 21 seats in these 3 states, only 4 seats saw some contest while the remaining 17 voted out and out saffron as per both pre-poll as well as post-poll data along with MAPi trackers.
What we have seen till now after four phases in state after state across all the zones, with perhaps the only exception being the southern zone, where BJP may receive a zero in both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, is a new wave of saffron surge. Some may call it the governance wave or the success of the social welfare schemes of the central government. Some others may term it as the wave of resurgent muscular nationalism after the Balakot airstrikes. A few others may even blame it on opposition disunity giving BJP the edge by default. Finally, there also a few media-liberal worthies who believe that India has been fooled by mass WhatsApp forwards and a high-octane campaign by the ruling party because of a big resource gap that the opposition suffers from. All of these theses are half-truths at best. The overwhelming desire of a large majority of Indians is to give “Modi another chance”, for even his staunchest opponents privately concede that “India has rarely seen such a towering Prime Minister”.