How Modi-Shah can be beaten
To defeat the BJP, you either deny them a critical mass of Hindu votes or build a regional leader and party strong enough to protect their turf, observes Shekhar Gupta.
The BJP, since its rise under Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, has been an election winning cavalry. But he also lost.
With its sweep in Uttar Pradesh and three other states now, the air is overloaded with gyan from the whole class of experts on why and how the BJP is winning.
It is important, and therefore interesting, to take a step back and examine when, how and why he loses. And losing it does.
If in doubt, find out which part of India the BJP controlled at its height in early 2018, 2019 and now.
In terms of area, it is now about 44%, which is about 49.6% of the population.
The winter defeat of 2018 in the three heartland states – Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh – was Modi-Shah BJP’s first and last loss to Congress.
Karnataka in the same year was a complicated story as the BJP overshot the count but did not go halfway and initially conceded the state to a short-lived Congress-JD-S coalition.
We do not count Punjab 2017 or 2022 because the BJP is marginal there.
Since its second national sweep in 2019, the BJP has also lost significant time in West Bengal to the TMC, and decisively to the Congress-JMM-RJD coalition in Jharkhand, where it was the incumbent.
Two more BJP setbacks qualify. In Haryana, he failed to come of age soon after sweeping all Lok Sabha seats by huge margins, and lost Maharashtra after winning it because staunch ally Shiv Sena walked away.
In the Modi-Shah era, the basic BJP playbook is clear. Obtain 50% of Hindu votes and win. Check out Uttar Pradesh, for example.
Yogi Adityanath may have indiscreetly remarked that this was an 80-20 battle, but that was a Freudian slip at worst. He was telling the truth.
In the UP, the Muslim vote is slightly above 19%.
It therefore follows that if the BJP ignores the Muslim vote, it only targets the 80% Hindus.
In the final tally, if the party with allies got about 44% of the votes, it is evident that it got more than 55% of the Hindu votes. That’s good enough for a landslide.
Of course, we assume that the Muslim vote for the BJP, if any, would be insignificant.
This 80:20 formula works with local variations, but only in the heartland of Hindi and the three major west coast states – Maharashtra, Gujarat and Karnataka.
In the Lok Sabha elections in Uttar Pradesh in 2019, the BJP along with its allies garnered 52% of all votes.
Again, excluding Muslims, this would represent around 67%, or nearly two out of three of all Hindu votes.
This is the reason why he was able to destroy the SP-BSP alliance which, on paper, was unbeatable.
What happens when this equation does not exist?
Take West Bengal. The BJP invested more time, energy and resources in winning the state than in any other except Uttar Pradesh.
The CAA agitation set the stage for a super polarized election.
The BJP was planning another first conquest of a still major state. The opposite happened. Mamata Banerjee’s TMC beat him.
How and why did the BJP lose here?
Especially since in the Lok Sabha elections in 2019, he annexed 18 of the 42 seats, was ascendant and, of course, threw away the activists, funds and “agencies”.
If we just look at the vote tally, the BJP polled roughly the same near 40% in the 2021 assembly elections and the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Yet this did not translate into a comparable number of seats in the Assembly.
Because the TMC has also increased, from 39.59 to 47.94%.
What has changed in two years? First, after the destruction of 2019, the Left-Congress coalition lost almost all of its remaining voters.
But more importantly, unlike UP, West Bengal does not offer the BJP an 80:20 equation. It’s more like 67:33.
Barely 50% of Hindu voters cannot pass halfway.
With 38.59% of the total vote, he got well over 50, more likely around 57% of the Hindu vote.
But in a 67:33 equation, it would have taken almost 65.
This was refused as Mamata was able to retain the loyalty of her female constituents.
Gender, in this case, defeated Hindu consolidation.
So that’s the first lesson.
If you want to beat the Modi-Shah BJP, you still have to win enough Hindu votes to deny him that critical percentage of over 50.
If you can’t, like in UP, Bihar and Assam, you are wiped out.
This is why the parties of Akhilesh Yadav and Lalu Prasad, built on a Muslim-Yadav core, can no longer win.
Unless they are able to bring in other strong and important caste groups among the Hindus, they don’t stand a chance.
Unless you fight the BJP for the Hindu vote, you don’t stand a chance.
Or, like Mamata, find an answer through gender.
In Uttar Pradesh, it worked backwards.
All reliable exit poll data indicates that many more women voted for the BJP than for the Samajwadi party.
Maybe Priyanka Gandhi had an interesting idea, enticing young women with her catchy ‘ladki hoon, boy sakti hoon‘ countryside. But his party was unable to exploit it.
Something like that could have made a difference for the Samajwadi Party. But he lacked imagination for something so innovative, hat-ke.
So the conclusion is that for any hellish chance of beating the Modi-Shah BJP, you have to deny them enough Hindu votes.
Don’t just take Muslims and a loyal caste into this battle.
Mere combinations of parties cannot defeat the BJP.
The Congress-SP alliance was swept up in UP assembly polls in 2017, as were the SP-BSP alliances in UP, Congress-NCP in Maharashtra and Congress-JD-S in Karnataka in Lok Sabha 2019.
Jharkhand 2019 is the only exception where an alliance – Jharkhand Mukti Morcha-Congress-RJD – won.
But note that the BJP had run a particularly apathetic government under Raghubar Das and the experience of handing over the state to a non-tribal had caused resentment.
About 15% of the state’s electorate is Muslim, and the 85/15 struggle, by Yogi’s standard, has become closer to 60/40 because about 25% of voters are tribal.
Clearly, it was the loss of the tribal vote that left the BJP only about 2% behind the winning coalition.
The state is back with a tribal chief minister in Hemant Soren.
We do not include Delhi 2015 and 2020 in this analysis as it is a city-state with sui generis politics and in the Lok Sabha elections here in 2014 and 2019, the BJP had a sweep.
This phenomenon, with voters distinguishing between a Lok Sabha and an assembly election, is also evident elsewhere, notably in Odisha.
In 2019, the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections were held on the same day.
In the Lok Sabha, the BJP won eight of 21 seats with 35.44% of the vote, just 4% behind Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal.
For the assembly, on the same count, the BJP stopped at 32.9% and was crushed by the BJD at 44.7%.
We also stay away from the 2018 Rajasthan-MP-Chhattisgarh results because the BJP faced anti-incumbency (in MP and Chhattisgarh it was in power for three terms).
And the only one he decisively lost was Chhattisgarh, the smallest of the three.
So three courses. To defeat the BJP, you either deny them the critical mass of the Hindu vote or build a regional leader and party strong enough to protect their turf.
And third, best of all, to have such a strong regional, ethnic and linguistic stronghold that Hindus mostly vote as Tamils or Malayalis or Telugus.
This will be tested in the upcoming Telangana elections.
But, overall, here is evidence to show how the BJP can be beaten if you do your politics right.
To note: Election data from the Trivedi Center for Political Data, Ashoka University.