Why 2009 may be most startling verdict since 1977
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While the Congress had improved its tally to 145, an improvement of 31 seats over its worst-ever performance in 1999, its vote share actually fell by 1.9 percentage points between the two elections. Barring the National Front of 1989 and the United Front of 1996, no other party or alliance had come to power at the Centre with such a small share of the popular vote. Compared to the 35.88 per cent of the NDA, the UPA secured a tiny lead of half a percentage point at 36.53.
The difference in vote share between the Congress and BJP was 4.28 percentage points in 2004 — the Congress got 26.44 per cent and the BJP 22.16 per cent.
Verdict 2009 is more like the verdicts of 1977 and 1980. Like them, it is startling. But unlike the 2004 verdict, it is clear. The winner, Congress, has notched an estimated 10 percentage point lead over the loser, BJP.
Since the 1990s, a theme of Indian politics has been the decline of the two main national parties, Congress and BJP, and the ascendance of regional players. In the run-up to this election, it was widely predicted that the Big Two would become less decisive to the final outcome than ever before.
The 2009 results defy that expectation in at least two ways: One, the Congress's 2009 tally is the highest won by either the Congress or BJP at the Centre since 1991. Also, the combined vote share of the Congress and BJP, that had plunged from 56.68 per cent in 1991 to 48.16 in 2004, has again risen above the 50 per cent mark in 2009.
Conventional wisdom has it that the Congress does better in the rural areas while the BJP bests the Congress in the urban vote. This understanding was first dented by the 2004 results in which the Congress-led UPA won most of the big cities. According to CSDS data, of the 74 urban seats in the country, the UPA won 35 while the NDA won 21.
This trend reversal has been accentuated in the 2009 elections — the Congress-led alliance has swept Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata — indicating that a genuine shift in the support base of the major players is taking place.
It used to be said that the road to Delhi passes through UP. But in the last decade and a half, national politics has pursued a trajectory that is separate from UP.
The old adage may be coming true again. The Congress-led alliance's big win in 2009 at Centre runs alongside the stunning u-turn the party's fortunes have taken in UP, a state in which it had been virtually knocked out of the reckoning since it lost power in 1989.
Ever since the collapse of Congress dominance in 1989, the state of Uttar Pradesh became the site for the unfolding of three national-level political projects. Majorities were sought to be cobbled through Mandir, Mandal, and 'social engineering' BSP-style. The 2009 results indicate that all three projects may have been exhausted or domesticated or both.
In successive elections in UP, a sharp seat-vote disproportionality — a structural feature of the first-past-the-post system — has been on display. For instance, in 1991, the BJP got 31.5 per cent of the vote and 221 seats. In the next election in 1993, the BJP improved its vote share to 33.3 per cent but its seats came down to 177. The party further improved its vote share to 33.9 in 1996 and further reduced its seats to 175. More recently, in 2007, Mayawati got only 30.4 per cent of the vote, yet won 206 seats, an absolute majority.
For the first time after 1991, the Congress performance shows a congruence in seat and vote shares. The party has doubled both in UP since the last parliamentary election in 2004.
The Left has hit a historic low. Its best ever performance in the 2004 LS polls has been undone by its worst-ever performance now since 1977.
Lalu Prasad Yadav's RJD has posted its worst-ever performance, with its tally being lower than the previous low of 1999. Also, for the first time the erstwhile king of Bihar, and torchbearer of Mandal politics in the country's north, is likely to be out of power both in the state and at the Centre. If the Congress offers him a Cabinet berth, it will be more as graceful acknowledgement of past loyalty than tribute to his power to dictate terms.
Ever since the fracturing of the polity after the collapse of Congress dominance in the 1990s, decisive verdicts have been associated with emotive issues. Yet, Campaign 2009, shorn of any emotive charge, has delivered a scintillating national verdict.
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