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In India, people are always found quoting anecdotes from their maids, taxi drivers, autowallahs et al. regarding the political wind blowing in the country. Often we are left wondering as to how such random anecdotes can hold any significance in a country of 1.25 billion people, for surely there should be an equal number of people who must be saying the exact opposite thing? Yet, there is innate wisdom in these random voices that we hear from time to time as this author has discovered in his various travels across this country. Indeed, if we dig the literature of the late 70s and the JP movement, we find that reams and reams of newspaper columns, books, analysis pieces, etc. have all used these localized voices to understand the impact of the JP movement against a deeply entrenched Congress establishment.

Of course, a lot of water has flown in the Yamuna since then and these days we have powerful tools like poll surveys with controlled sample sizes, which invariably fail time and again. 5Forty3 decided to glorify the anecdotal format of poll survey by creating a mathematical model out of chaos.

  1. The first step in that process was to create a level of sophistication in data collection in order to avoid the almost impossible task of reaching out to all the voices of different people in the ground. The best way to do that is to get information from those who listen to these voices in the ground – local journalists, political workers, activists etc. – and collate them together.
  2. The second step was to get specific inputs on MP seats of a particular state from these data collection points. For this we created a list of MPs of that particular state or region along with the 2009 vote tally of each party and requested specific inputs for 2014.
  3. The third step was to allocate weightage and create a mathematical model to remove whipsaws to arrive at the final set of numbers.

We started what is possibly the largest exercise and greatest electoral experiment of our times with an ambition of achieving a target of 1000+ respondents, but were able to achieve only about 70% of that as we got responses from 726 nodes from 22 states across India! (In the North East, we got responses only from Assam and also we didn’t get any responses from Goa). This exercise was conducted in two phases; phase 1, from November 8th to November 27th, for the 4 states of MP, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Delhi along with the state elections. The second phase from December 12th to January 6th (2014) across the rest of India (adequate care was taken not to include armchair pundits of the Twitter variety who keep throwing numbers every passing day and instead localized voices were given preference).

Roughly 50% of the responses were recorded through telephonic interviews (more than 600MB of recorded conversational responses), which goes on to show how the ubiquitous mobile phone has become the most important tool of information collection from the remotest parts of India. About 25% of the responses were received through emails and 15% through the snail-mail. Only about 10% of the respondents were contacted directly in person for a detailed interview. Although a fairly large sample size was achieved, it was skewed along different zones of India. For instance, we got a whopping 66 responses from Uttar Pradesh, but only 3 from states like Orissa and Kerala.

This exercise was not limited to neutral voices of journalists or activists, but also frank assessments from partisan voices too, spanning the entire political spectrum though; for instance a lifelong Sharad Pawar acolyte and NCP leader from Kolhapur, a sitting Congress MLA from Karnataka, an ex MLA of SP from West UP and a young BJP leader from UP closely related to a former CM were all part of this exercise.

The mathematical model was based on these four fundamental principles;

  • Each tick for a particular party for a particular MP seat gets points which cancel each other out when different responses vary in preferences for the said MP seat
  • Neutral voices generally get higher points than party workers and activists with political leanings.
  • In particular cases, neutral voices get higher weightage than those having particular political leanings; for instance, if a BJP leaning respondent allocates a particular MP seat to BJP then that would get 1 point, but if a local journalist also allocates that particular MP seat to BJP, then it would fetch 3 points.
  • Thumb rule of opposition voices getting higher values. For instance, in particular cases where a BJP worker allocates a particular MP seat to say Samajwadi Party, that fetches a 5 point advantage to SP in that seat.

A large number of responses have indicated that these preferences would change based on candidate selection, so at best these can be termed as “preliminary responses” based on political parties (also received fairly large number of responses which suggest particular candidates for particular political parties in particular MP seats).  We have also made certain presumptions before conducting this exercise which may change eventually; for ex: BSY’s KJP has been included as part of the BJP in Karnataka, RJD & LJP have been included as part of UPA in Bihar & Jharkhand and MNS is considered as part of NDA in Maharashtra.

Based on these 726 responses from 22 states of India, 5Forty3 has further divided the 3 zones of the electoral map of India into 7 territories. These are our first round of projections for India along these 7 territories for 2014 and we hope to expand the scope and size of this exercise in the run-up to the general elections, provided we can afford to allocate the resources and time.

East India

Starting this seat projection exercise from the East which is divided into two territories, 1 & 2 – while 1 includes the seven sisters of North East, 2 is made up of the two big states of East, West Bengal and Orissa. The one common thread binding all the states of East India is political status-quo, for governments rarely ever get changed in decades.

Territory 1:

Apart from Assam, 5Forty3 hasn’t received any inputs from the other North-Eastern states, but the projections are based on mainly past performances of the parties; for instance, in the 2 MP seats of Tripura, CPM has consistently won by huge margins (the margins of 2009 ranged from 1.5 lakhs to 3 lakhs), which are unlikely to be reversed even in 2014. There are also a few battleground seats like Arunachal West, where the BJP had lost 2009 just by a few hundred votes. The lone NDA seat comes from NPP (Naga People’s Front) which it has won by a whopping 5 lakh votes in 2009. If NCP of Sangma joins the NDA, then the tally may increase substantially.

The three seats that BJP is expected to win come from Assam where there seems to be a polarized atmosphere due to the long standing Bangladeshi refugee issue. AGP as part of NDA is not expected to perform well and is ahead in just one seat. The fourth front is mainly made up of AUDF here, and there are 10 battleground seats.

Territory 2:

The Fourth Front of Trinamool Congress is expected to sweep West Bengal by a big margin as per all inputs from the state, wherein barring a few seats the Left Front may not put up a fight against Mamata Didi. Congress is facing near decimation in WB and may cease to exist in the state after the 2014 polls. In the neighboring Orissa though the situation is changing slightly; there seems to be a new mobilization of Adivasi and Dalit votes in this state in favor of the Congress which is seen as a continuing experiment from Bastar and Sarguja of the neighboring Chhattisgarh, where Congress performed surprisingly well in the just concluded assembly elections. If the initial reports from the ground and various inputs received are any indication then the Patnaik government of BJD is heading for a difficult election ahead. Largely due to the Orissa conundrum there are 19 battleground MP seats in this otherwise straightforward territory.

Southern Hemisphere

Territory 3 is made up of the four southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The common thread among these states are regional fiefdoms of different political formations and multi-cornered fights almost everywhere. Territory 4 is relatively stable with Karnataka and Goa having a direct fight between Congress & BJP and Maharashtra witnessing a battle between UPA and NDA.

Territory 3:

Just like Mamata Didi in WB, Amma is sweeping TN and the only political force that might actually stop her from winning all the seats is not the DMK led alliance or Congress but a possible NDA alliance of BJP, PMK, MDMK and the Kongu parties. If Captain Vijayakant joins the NDA then it could be even more formidable in more than a dozen seats. In AP everything is in a flux, but two factors will determine the eventual outcome; 1) Congress’s ability to create Telanagana before the end of the present Lok Sabha and then to leverage the issue in the elections favorably and 2) The proposed TDP-BJP alliance and its ability to become the dominant narrative to push an emerging Jagan to the corner. As of today a vast number of seats in this state are in the battleground category. In Kerala, as per all our inputs, the left-front is ahead as of now, but surprisingly BJP, if it performs well here, may end up helping the Congress alliance by dividing Hindu votes

Territory 4:

In Maharashtra NDA’s performance is directly proportional to local level compromises with MNS and inversely proportional to local level understandings with Sharad Pawar, for it is a well-known fact that both SS and BJP do have tactical understanding with Pawar and other powerful leaders of Congress and NCP in this state. As of today BJP-SS is ahead in the race. Karnataka, the one state where Congress was supposed to pick-up a rich haul of MPs is slowly but surely slipping out of the party’s hands and Siddramaiah is proving to be the Akhilesh Yadav of South India in terms of inculcating anti-incumbency at such a breakneck speed. BJP’s performance in the state depends on how hard BSY campaigns.

Heartland Zone:

It is divided into three Territories.

Territory 5:

It is essentially the East Punjab region where the contest is mostly between UPA-Congress and NDA-BJP. This was possibly the weakest link of BJP’s North Indian armada, but is fast turning into a happy hunting ground due to the unfolding political alignments of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. In Haryana the Jat vote is so heavily favoring the BJP that the party has decided to not form an alliance with the Chauthalas. In Punjab, Congress party is totally divided and may draw a naught this time. In Himachal Pradesh, with big corruption allegations against Virbhadra Singh, BJP is regaining the upper hand.

Territory 6:

As of today, BJP is the party to beat in Uttar Pradesh and even local SP and BSP leaders have given it far more seats than their own parties in our surveys. The big challenge now for the party is to get the local candidates right and to avoid internal sabotages. The one worrying aspect for BJP is that the local unit seems to be too busy in organizing Modi public rallies and not concentrating on polling booth level membership drive. SP seems to be out of race as of now and the contest is mainly between BJP and BSP. The one imponderable X factor in UP could be the alliance that Congress may formulate in the coming days.

In Bihar, the RJD-LJP-Congress alliance will be the leading force in a three-way fight and JDU may lose a large chunk of its vote-share. In Jharkhand, it is an extremely fragmented polity and BJP may benefit in a multi-cornered fight. Whereas in Uttarakhand, like elsewhere in the heartland, Congress is on back-foot.

Territory 7:

Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh make up this last territory totally dominated by the BJP which is poised to limit the Congress to a single digit tally in these 92 MP seats. All other political forces including BSP and AAP are not in contention in this region and in a direct fight BJP is prevailing over Congress.

Summary:

  • The real story of 2014 could be Congress, for all the wrong reasons. It is facing a historic decimation and a double digit MP seats haul looks like a very real possibility
  • BJP’s lead over Congress is huge as of now (135-59) and the only way that BJP can be stopped in 2014 is by a huge “secular” alliance (which looks unlikely).
  • Of the 180 Battleground seats, BJP is a strong contender in about 120 and is therefore poised to cross the 200 mark, whereas Congress is a strong contender only in about 50 odd seats which has put the party in a very vulnerable position
  • Although a dangerously fractured mandate is still possible, the third and fourth fronts are severely handicapped in North India which has made it BJP’s election to lose.

Broom Impact 2014

These days one of the favorite topics of debate in the TV studios is the impact of AAP on the LS polls. Many columnists have written astounding articles on how AAP would win a large number of urban LS seats and have even alluded to the possibility of Kejriwal being the next Prime Minister. This author himself gets inundated everyday on Twitter with questions about the possible impact of AAP on the next general elections. Thus an attempt has to be made to analyze this phenomenon, despite of electoral improbabilities (if you would have noticed, the 5Forty3 projections above have allocated 1 MP seat in all of 543 to AAP).

One possible theory doing the rounds among the armchair election analysts of Dilli is that AAP will have enough firepower in large number of urban seats to upset the Modi applecart of 2014. This theory has found so much of currency that a fairly large number of Congress enthusiasts and strategists also seem to be betting on this heavily. Is it really possible for AAP to do to India in 2014 what it did to Delhi in 2013? Before trying to answer that question in electoral terms, first let us examine the 6 obstacles that Kejriwal and co face in the run up to 2014;

  1. By aligning with the Congress party, Kejriwal stands in danger of foregoing the raison d’etre of AAP – the anti-corruption platform on which it was built and got all the nascent support. This issue may be swept under the carpet by an obliging Dilli media for the time being, but voter intelligence is always one step ahead of political punditry as has been proven for hundreds of times in the past.
  2. Lack of a governance model: The one glaring gap in the AAP armoury is the lack of a governance model, for they are very good at agitational politics but simply lack the skills to govern. This governance gap will become more and more apparent with each passing day as the greenhorn MLAs and Ministers of AAP try to rule the city state of Delhi
  3. Kejriwal’s inherent lack of ability to sustain any activity: This is a unique Kejriwal trait, for he is always seen to move on from one agenda to the next without bothering to fulfil the original promise. Ideally, AAP should have tried to give a model government to Delhi for the next 5 years and then tried to emerge as a national alternative, but they simply seem to lack the will to fight a long hauled battle and want to quickly move on to the next big thing.
  4. Media is a double edged sword: This has been proven again and again in the last 2 weeks when even picking a residence for CM and ministers ended up in a big tamasha. If this tamasha continues for any longer then Dilliwalas can forget whatever little governance they were expecting from a supposedly common man’s government.
  5. Too many contradictions: As such civil society groupings are essentially amorphous in nature, they create too many contradictions, especially now that AAP is trying to build a federated structure of civil society all over the place. For instance, a Prashant Bhushan advocating Kashmir policy could prove to be a death knell for a party that depends on urban middle class votes as its core constituency
  6. Unsustainable Volunteerism: Finding volunteers for a movement is a one-off event and can rarely be sustained for longer periods of time. What happened in Delhi elections cannot be repeated again with similar participation by volunteers – this was also witnessed in how the Anna Hazare movement fizzled out in late 2011.

If AAP and Kejriwal manage to break the shackles and still manage to sustain themselves up to May 2014 by crossing these 6 obstacles then they can possibly try and contest in a few of the urban pockets of India. Now let us try and analyze what probable impact would AAP have in such a scenario. This impact scenario can be divided into two parts;

A] In and around Delhi-NCR: Going by the assembly election result, AAP can be a strong contender in 3 LS seats – New Delhi, Chandni Chowk and East Delhi, but will the voters have same faith in the party for national elections is a moot question. Even otherwise, winning assembly elections with low margins on localized issues of corruption and governance is far easier than trying to position yourself as a national alternative. The one positive aspect could be that a hitherto doubtful fence-sitting voter may have more incentive now for a real alternative.

One aspect that has been less discussed is that AAP’s performance drastically deteriorates as the geography of a constituency increases – a typical malaise of lack of workers and cadre who can sustain a political campaign in a wider geography. Thus most of AAP’s wins in Delhi assembly were limited to smaller inner constituencies whereas in the peripheral areas of Delhi it struggled. This is why AAP will find it even more difficult to perform in the adjoining areas of Haryana and West-UP as has been suggested by the easy analysis of various commentators.

In both Haryana and West-UP, the Jat vote plays a crucial deciding role and AAP will not find it easy to break into this with its broom act of anti-corruption crusade. Additionally, there is a communally polarized atmosphere in Western Uttar Pradesh in the wake of Muzaffarnagar riots and the AAP brand of politics will have very few takers in this region (the suggestion that Muslim voters may tilt towards AAP to defeat BJP is nothing but hilarious).

For instance, Let us consider Ghaziabad LS seat which apart from being home to Arvind Kejriwal is also among the two MP constituencies along with Noida where AAP is supposed to have some traction in the May general elections. Of the 5 assembly segments that make up Ghaziabad, 2 are situated deep into Uttar Pradesh and three are adjoining the Delhi-NCR region – Ghaziabad, Loni and Sahibabad. For all practical purposes, AAP has to win at least two of these three assembly segments to have any realistic chance of putting up a fight in Ghaziabad, for it may find it difficult to make inroads in the other 2 assembly segments. Now consider this, Seelampur and Shadara are two assembly segments of Delhi that are right next to Loni assembly segment of Ghaziabad and in both these seats AAP either finished a distant 3rd or 4th.

So let alone making inroads into west-UP or Haryana, AAP may find it difficult to even put up a fight in the LS seats adjoining NCR. It will be an uphill task to bring in voters and convince them to vote for AAP in a national election because voters typically don’t like to waste their votes. At best AAP can try to amalgamate the non-dominant votes that are accrued by smaller parties and independents (In fact, AAP cut into BSP Vote-Share the most in Delhi assembly elections because it was easier to convince those voters than mainstream voters).

B] Rest of India: In the Heartland zone, outside Delhi-NCR, AAP is a nonstarter as it is unlikely to have any impact even in the urban centres of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh or Uttar Pradesh where caste-equations and well-entrenched political affiliations won’t be broken in a hurry. The other major impact of AAP is supposed to be in Southern Hemisphere – more specifically in the urban centres of Maharashtra (mainly Mumbai-Pune region) and Bangalore, for AAP can hardly have any effect on Dravidian politics of Tamil Nadu or on the Telangana imbroglio of Hyderabad.

Let us take the case of Mumbai; the two big names of AAP in Mumbai are in North Mumbai where Mayank Gandhi is expected to contest and South Mumbai where Meera Sanyal will be the AAP candidate. The fact of the matter is that in both these seats the Shiv-Sena-BJP vote will remain intact and will be broken only by MNS as seen in 2009. For instance if Mayank Gandhi manages to get an unlikely 75 thousand votes, then almost all of that vote would have come from Sanjay Nirupam’s (Congress) kitty of migrant North Indian labours, thereby helping BJP indirectly (Congress had barely managed to win this seat by less than 6k votes in 2009 despite MNS securing 1.5 lakh votes). Similar would be the case of Bangalore where Congress is hoping to win some seats this time around. Thus if at all AAP makes a foray south of Vindhyas, it is more likely to hurt Congress chances than BJP’s.

As for East India, AAP neither exists there, nor does it have an opportunity to spread for the foreseeable future. AAP may yet win a MP seat here or there in the 2014 LS election due to strong local candidate in multi-cornered fights, but to suggest that it would have a large-scale impact on urban LS seats is nothing but a pipedream.