A customer sits in front of a cut-out of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a store selling election merchandise at the Sadar Bazaar market in Delhi. Photographer: Ruhani Kaur/Bloomberg

Elections 2019: How India Voted In The Last Five Years May Offer A Clue

While opinion polls and surveys may be the closest indicator to how Indians will vote in the upcoming general election, the results of state elections and bypolls over the last five years can give an insight into voter behaviour.

2014: BJP’s ‘Honeymoon Period’

The first big state election after the BJP’s sweep in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls was in Maharashtra. Expecting an upsurge of the “Modi wave”, the BJP demanded more seats, leading to a tussle with the Shiv Sena. While the BJP emerged the single largest party, doubling its vote share from 14 percent to 28 percent, it still needed the Uddhav Thackeray-led party’s support to form the government. This ended the Congress’ ten-year rule in the state. The BJP later won elections in Haryana and Jharkhand by a big margin and did the unthinkable by partnering with the People’s Democratic Party to form a government in Jammu and Kashmir—which was dissolved a few years later.

2015: Bihar, Delhi Halt The ‘Modi Wave’

The BJP’s ‘honeymoon’ didn’t extend into the next year, with regional political parties stepping up. In Bihar, bitter rivals Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav forged a “Mahagatbandhan” (mega alliance) with the Congress that won the state elections. Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal, which was written off by many, emerged the single largest party. Nitish would eventually turn back to the BJP.

The Delhi assembly election sprang another surprise, with the fledgling Aam Aadmi Party winning 67 out of 70 seats, leaving the BJP with three.

2016: Foray Into North East, Regional Players Dominate

The BJP won in Assam, ending fifteen years of Congress rule. The importance of regional players was underlined once again with massive wins for Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, the late J Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu and a resurgent Left in Kerala. The only silver lining for Congress was in Puducherry.

2017: Demonetisation Powers BJP’s March, Congress Revives

Days after announcing demonetisation—in which over 86 percent of the nation’s currency notes was invalidated to fight the parallel or black money—the BJP won the Uttar Pradesh elections in a landslide. Uttarakhand and Haryana followed, with healthy margins. The party managed to retain Goa, despite Congress emerging as the single largest party after elections, and formed a government in Manipur for the first time.

The “fly in the ointment” was Gujarat, where the BJP scraped through with a slim margin, losing largely in rural areas. It was also a wakeup call for the party on the impact of rural distress. The Congress could claim a moral victory in Gujarat—the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi—and a clear win in Punjab, which was credited to party’s state unit, Captain Amarinder Singh.

2018: Congress Wrests Three Hindi Heartland States

This was a crucial year for the grand old party, which won elections in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. The close fight in two of these states gave rise to the sentiment that the voter hasn’t changed her mind completely.

The BJP’s dominance in the North East grew unabated. It won elections or formed governments with alliances in Tripura, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland. The Congress managed to retain power in Karnataka in alliance with the JDS despite the BJP emerging the single-largest party.

In Telangana, the power of strong regional leaders was on display once again with the TRS’ astounding win.

In all, 27 states went to the hustings since the 2014 general election, with the BJP and its allies winning 14, the Congress winning 7 and other parties 6. Out of this, the BJP won in 12 states where an incumbent was booted out and retained power in two states. It lost in four states where it was in power to either the Congress or other opposition parties.

Elections 2019: How India Voted In The Last Five Years May Offer A Clue

Of the 30 bypolls held since 2014, the BJP and Congress have won 6 each, with other parties winning 18.

Elections 2019: How India Voted In The Last Five Years May Offer A Clue

Key Takeaways

  • BJP has done well in new territories, replacing incumbents. It has done very well when it’s in a head-to-head contest with the Congress.
  • The Congress has shown signs of resurgence by breaching the BJP bastions of Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. But the party won Rajasthan by a slender margin and in Madhya Pradesh, its vote share was identical to that of the BJP.
  • Regional parties continue to dominate—be it in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Delhi or Bihar. Such players have performed better in bypolls as well and neither the BJP nor the Congress can afford to ignore them.