“There are a group of caste Hindu voters (meaning upper castes) in all the five assembly segments who will always vote for Congress, no matter what” Ram Ashrey Singh, known as Pandit Ji among his friends and followers, had summed it up to me in Gauriganj on the day that Amethi had voted in 2014. “Your polls cannot capture these silent voters, they will give Rahul Gandhi at least 15k vote lead in each assembly segment” he had prophetically intoned on that hot summer afternoon.
Our poll had indeed shown that Rahul Gandhi was trailing in Amethi, but on counting day, I recalled Pandit Ji’s gyaan when the Gandhi scion won by a meagre 12% margin. For most Amethi voters, especially upper caste and middle class sections, their identity is derived from being Rahul Gandhi’s constituents and they won’t let go of that so easily. This is an old concept of 80’s India where a VIP constituency would invariably elect the same person again and again and he or she would end up as powerful ministers which would further propagate their invincibility. A lot of these citadels began to fall in the 90’s as Congress began to decline further, but a few have still remained. Baramati in Maharashtra, Amethi and Rae Bareli in Uttar Pradesh, Hassan in Karnataka are but a few examples.
This time too, raw data from the ground suggests a close and intense race between Rahul Gandhi and Smriti Irani. But our models are smarter now than five years ago as MAPi – Micro Analytics Projections (INTELLIGENCE) – uses specialized algorithms for these kind of contests which offsets some of the leads taken by the BJP by redistributing incumbency advantage votes among polling booths favorable to Rahul Gandhi. MAPi has therefore currently classified Amethi as a weak lead seat for the Congress party. What are the chances of Smriti Irani still upsetting the Gandhi applecart? Our models calculate around 32% probability – which is not bad at all, for there is close to 1 in 3 chance of there being an upset in this high-profile seat.
Rae Bareli should be a straightforward win for Sonia Gandhi. This could have become tighter only if SP-BSP had put up a strong candidate to divide the vote; in a straight contest, Sonia’s victory was always on the cards. Lucknow too was a no contest for Home Minister Rajnath Singh, especially now that Rita Bahuguna Joshi is part of the BJP and her family still has some old legacy pockets in the constituency who have remained loyal through thick and thin. Rest of the UP too voted pretty much along the 2014 lines and Saffron surge was visible everywhere, but we will come with a detailed analysis later in the week.
For almost a year now, we have identified this belt of central and western India as the problem zone for the BJP in 2019. After the Congress-JDS came to power last year in the southern state of Karnataka, we had added even this state to that list. These five states starting from Karnataka down south and then going clockwise through Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan and finally culminating in Madhya Pradesh contribute 156 Parliamentarians. Of these 156 seats, BJP is contesting 131 seats while 25 other seats have been allocated to NDA allies – mainly Shiv Sena which is contesting 23 seats.
After today’s fifth phase almost all these states have now voted, except for Madhya Pradesh wherein 16 seats are yet to vote, but we now know the broad trends of this state’s voting patterns. After five phases what is clear is that instead of being a problem geography, this electoral zone of 5 states is proving to be the engine that is driving the return of Modi in 2019. This is a remarkable story of turnaround that we have been analyzing since morning. BJP has done in the 2019 elections what has rarely been done anywhere with such precision. The party has managed to convert a problem into an opportunity. For arguments sake, let us hypothesize as to what would have happened if BJP would have managed to scrape through to form governments in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. By now, simmering localized discontent would have spilled over to the Lok Sabha elections and combined with multi-level anti-incumbency, it could have potentially damaged BJP in half of these seats. Instead, by letting the localized discontent steam out in the assembly elections, BJP has actually managed to build a pro-incumbency atmosphere in these states.
In Karnataka, for instance, had BJP formed the state government last year, the simmering discontent among the Gowda populace in Old-Mysore would have turned against the BJP and not given the party such a huge traction as it has now got. Similarly, the Jat voters of Rajasthan who now feel let down by Congress are turning towards saffron in hordes. In Gujarat too, a section of Patel voters and business community voters who already feel they have expressed their anger in the assembly elections have now returned back to elect Modi as PM again.
In a way, the last one year’s steaming off of voter anger among a certain section of USHV – United Spectrum of Hindu Voters – has come as a blessing in disguise for Modi and BJP. Of the 131 seats that BJP was in contest in these 5 states, MAPi – Micro Analytics Projections (INTELLIGENCE) – trackers have now (after 5 phases of voting) classified 110 as leaning towards BJP and 11 as leaning towards opposition candidates which leaves 10 seats in the tossup category. In essence, the base case scenario for BJP in this zone is 110 seats now and that tally can go up by another potential 10 seats at best. Even if BJP manages to win only half the number of tossups, it would get a seemingly extraordinary tally of 115 out of 131 seats that it has contested in these 5 states – or a success rate of nearly 88%.
In today’s polling in Rajasthan, BJP continued to dominate. By the end of the day, our live tracker has allocated only two seats as tossups while giving the other 10 seats to the BJP (including Nagaur which is an NDA seat technically). Sikar is one of the tossups in our tracker and here Baba Ramdev’s role could end up being the deciding factor as he has a wide network of followers in this district which is home to a sizeable number of Yadav voters. How effective has the Baba’s canvassing for his friend and BJP’s sitting MP Sumedanand Saraswati remains to be seen – it was widely believed that Baba had ensured his victory in 2014.
In Madhya Pradesh too, preliminary analysis of data till 6 PM suggests that BJP’s performance was better than last Monday when a section of tribal vote had deserted the party and also Kamalnath’s writ ran large in his backyard. BJP may have lost some of the vote here, but since it enjoyed huge margins in 2014, it should not impact the eventual result. We will do a further analysis of all the data along with turnout differential modelling as we had done in the previous phase to arrive at the final tally.
The real surprise though continues to be Bengal. We must remember here that TMC had swept all the 7 seats in this phase last time around. This time too, there were deeply intimidating tactics deployed by the TMC goon network. For instance, our teams from interior regions of Arambagh reported that in many villages voters were intimidated by TMC workers in a systematic way which led to a big surge in votes for the state ruling party in the afternoon. Arambagh is almost completely rural constituency and therefore difficult to monitor even for the central forces, this is where the huge network advantage that Mamata enjoys makes all the difference.
Yet, MAPi has classified two seats in this round as leaning towards BJP (will be further updated after full data becomes available). Two other seats have been classified as “tossups” whereas 3 seats have been allocated to TMC. We believe even this kind of a result would be a huge setback for Mamata and a great victory for the BJP as it is inching closer to the 15-seat mark in the state. 15 Bengali MPs in saffron robes would change the politics here forever. This should also enthuse BJP to target these last two Left leaning states of Bengal and Kerala as potential BJP states by 2025 which would truly bury the Left ideology in India.
On the evening of the fifth phase, data has more-or-less confirmed the trends of the first 4 phases which means that Modi’s return with a bigger mandate is very much on the cards. At places, the saffron margins may come down and in some other regions, BJP has made newer inroads. The bottomline is that Modi looks unstoppable this summer and that will lead to a lot of heartburn in Delhi circles.
[We will be coming up with detailed analysis of this phase later in the week as we get full turnout data and all the modelling is completed.]