Skip to main content

Despite NDA gaining 5%, geography of its votes only 'marginally' changed in five yrs

By Christophe Z Guilmoto*
Much ink has already been spilled on the 2019 general elections in India. The sheer scale of the triumph of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the defeat of the Indian National Congress (INC) has impressed commentators as the NDA, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), gained 353 seats among the total of 542 seats in the Lok Sabha (the Indian parliament). The NDA has secured seats in almost all Indian state and the BJP clearly ceased to be the strictly north Indian party it once was.
In this paper, we want to show how a formal spatial analysis of the election results shows the unique geographical footprint of the BJP vote and how its recent progression follows obvious spatial patterns.
The strength of the BJP in the Lok Sabha does not reflect its real vote share.
India’s “first-past-the-post” electoral system favours the largest parties, and as a result, the strength of the BJP and its allies in the parliament (63% of 542 seats) does not reflect its vote share (45%). This system also grants an advantage to smaller regional parties since their electors are geographically concentrated, as illustrated in Punjab, West Bengal, or Andhra Pradesh. Keeping these features in mind, it is important to examine the actual percentage of votes won by the NDA rather than just the distribution of seats.
Our map shows the share of votes for the NDA based on the official data published by Ashoka University, with additional information on the NDA Lok Sabha seats.

A heterogeneity of voting behaviour

The map first shows the heterogeneity of voting behaviour across India, with scores by the NDA ranging from less than 5% in the south to more than 70% in its strongholds of Western India. Yet in spite of the NDA progressing nationwide by more than 5%, the geography of its votes has only marginally changed over the last five years.
Unlike in regional elections characterised by the “anti-incumbency” phenomenon – when voters express their dissatisfaction against the incumbent party by voting against it – the NDA retained the vast majority of seats obtained in 2014.
The highest NDA scores remain concentrated in a few states of western and northern India, the coalition having in particular gained all the seats in a single regional block, stretching from Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Uttarkhand in the northwest to Rajasthan and Gujarat.
When studied through the lens of spatial analysis, the singular geographical impact of the NDA vote appears unmistakable.

Constituencies influencing each other

The national index of spatial autocorrelation (Moran’s I, which measures the strength of similarities between adjacent observations), has reached 0.73: this means that the correlation between NDA votes in one constituency and those in the neighbouring constituencies is as high as 73%.
This is a very strong level of spatial dependence compared to other social, religious or economic indicators, which confirms the pronounced geographic patterning of the NDA votes in 2019.
This stable and regular distribution of voting behaviour contradicts the proverbial volatility of India’s regional politics last illustrated in 2018, when the BJP lost the local elections in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. This geographic structure also demonstrates that these spatial patterns owe less to the vagaries of local political coalitions and candidates than suggested by media reports.
In addition, the NDA vote has spread over the years to new regions of India, loosening up the geographical concentration around its historical bastions. Votes for the coalition are now more evenly distributed from one constituency to the next, mirroring the gradual regional spread of the BJP’s influence toward the east and the south.
The index of spatial autocorrelation has in fact increased since 2014 (I=0.69) and previous research shows that it has been on the increase since 1999 (I=0.43).

Discontinuity

Yet if you look closer, you can still distinguish areas of distinct spatial discontinuity, which are contiguous constituencies where the NDA strength drops significantly.
The most pronounced discontinuity line corresponds to southern and eastern Karnataka, a state where the NDA recorded an almost flawless victory: its vote share abruptly falls from around 50% to less than 20% when one crosses the boundaries to Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
The NDA share declines slightly less dramatically in Tamil Nadu, thanks to its local alliance with the local AIADMK. Similar steep declines in voting shares are also on display in the northeast (Meghalaya, Mizoram and Sikkim) as well in the Muslim-dominated constituencies of Kashmir. The NDA percentage also drops by half when one enters Andhra Pradesh from Odisha or Punjab from neighbouring Rajasthan and Haryana.
These cases of discontinuity contradict the otherwise high level of spatial autocorrelation highlighted earlier and points to the presence of strong regional parties that rejected any alliance with the BJP or to the presence of strong social heterogeneity along religious or ethnic lines.
More broadly, this corresponds to vigorous regional political traditions away from the Hindi belt, the states where Hindi is used as lingua franca. In such areas, local parties, including the Congress and Communist parties, fight against each other for local dominance and the BJP’s nationalist and conservative agenda appears somewhat irrelevant to Hindu voters.

Several islands of organised resistance

Apart from these clear-cut regional break lines acting as barriers to the progression of the BJP-led alliance, the map also points to several islands of organised resistance to the NDA. Three small such clusters of non-NDA MPs emerge in BJP-dominated states: two in northwest and eastern Uttar Pradesh and one in western Maharashtra.
Note the near absence of isolated non-NDA constituency in northern India. The resistance to the pressure of the NDA’s campaigning and ideology is organised around local bastions in which opposition parties have been able to preserve a dense network of politicians and activists. The combined strength of mobilization in adjacent localities and consistencies appears crucial for political survival in front of the BJP juggernaut.
Do these spatial patterns correspond to unchanging features of Indian politics? The relatively stable contours of the BJP votes over several elections and the permanence of its strongholds would suggest so.

Securing peripheral regions to build a new political geography

Our mapping also points to the interesting geography of the NDA’s recent progression since 2014. New seats taken by the NDA coalition in 2019 are not randomly distributed on the map and illustrate its spatial diffusion away from the BJP core areas.
For instance, the NDA had gained its new sets in peripheral Karnataka, with two new seats in the northeast and five in its southeast tip. Similarly, the seven new seats grabbed in Bihar by the NDA in 2019 are all located in the state’s most eastern tracts next to West Bengal while the five seats gained in the northeast form a contiguous block from Manipur to southern Tripura.
The BJP’s foray into West Bengal (eight seats gained) follows clear spatial patterns from adjacent states to the south of the state, with the Kolkata metropolitan area now encircled. The NDA has also gained ground in Telangana (three new seats) from its porous northwest border with Madhya Pradesh and in western Odisha (four new seats) from nearby Jharkhand. It notably established for the first time a bridgehead by reaching the Bay of Bengal in northern Odisha (two new seats).

Grassroots organisations at the forefront

With the exception of south India’s current sanitary cordon, this geographical propagation is a unique feature of the BJP’s progress over the last three decades.
It is very different from the segmented regional patterns of the Congress vote, which are scattered over India, with strongholds in the north, the south and east. It also underscores the role of local processes of political conversion through grassroots organisations, in addition to the national media blitz and regional coalition building.
As to the tight barriers to BJP progression in southern India, there is no reason to believe that they will withstand indefinitely the pressure from India’s hegemonic party.
Not only could the BJP join forces with local partners – as it did in Andhra Pradesh in 2014 and Tamil Nadu in 2019 – but also the spatial divides noticeable earlier along the West Bengal or the Telangana borders seem to have all but collapsed during the latest election.
It is time to recognise the map of the NDA’s electoral success for what it is: the signature of a successful diffusion drive of a consistent political ideology across the country that might, in the absence of organised resistance, incorporate in the near future more territories of south and east India. Without a consistent spatial perspective, we risk losing sight of its actual momentum.
---
*Senior fellow in demography, Institut de recherche pour le développement (IRD), Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD), France.
This paper was first published in The Conversation. Republished under the Creative Commons license

Comments

TRENDING

India's GDP down by 50%, not 23%, job loss 200 million not 122 million: Top economist

By Our Representative  One of India’s topmost economists has estimated that India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) decline was around 50%, and not 23%, as claimed by the Government of India’s top data body, National Statistical Organization (NSO). Prof Arun Kumar, who is Malcolm S Adiseshiah chair professor, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi, said this was delivering a web policy speech, organised by the Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi.

Youngest of 16 activists jailed for sedition, Mahesh Raut 'fought' mining on tribal land

By Surabhi Agarwal, Sandeep Pandey* A compassionate human being, always popular among his friends and colleagues because of his friendly nature and human sensitivity, 33-year-old Mahesh Raut, champion of the democratic rights of the marginalised Adivasi people of Gadchiroli, Maharashtra, has been in prison for over two years now.

India performs 'poorly' in Quality of Life Index, ranks 62nd out of 64 countries

Counterview Desk “Expat Insider”, which claims to be one of the world’s most extensive surveys about living and working abroad, in a survey of 20,259 participants from around the globe, has found that of the 64 destinations around the globe, has found that while Taiwan is the best destination for persons living outside their native country, closely by Vietnam and Portugal, India ranks 59th.

#StandWithStan: It's about Constitution, democracy and freedom of expression

By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ*  It is more than three weeks now: On the night of October 8, 2020, the 83-year-old Jesuit Fr Stan Swamy was taken into custody by the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) from his residence in Ranchi to an undisclosed destination. According to his colleagues, the NIA did not serve a warrant on Fr. Stan and that their behaviour was absolutely arrogant and rude.

Stan Swamy vs Arnab Goswami: Are activists fighting a losing battle? Whither justice?

By Fr Sunil Macwan SJ* It is time one raised pertinent questions over the courts denying bail to Fr Stan Swamy, who was arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), and granting it to Arnab Goswami, editor-in-chief of the Republic TV, arrested under the charge of abetting suicide of Avay Naik, who ended his life in 2018. It is travesty of justice that a human rights activist is not only denied bail but is also made to wait for weeks to hear a response to his legitimate request for a straw to drink water, while Arnab Goswami walks free.

Human development index: India performs worse than G-20 developing countries

By Rajiv Shah A new book, “Sustainable Development in India: A Comparison with the G-20”, authored by Dr Keshab Chandra Mandal, has regretted that though India’s GDP has doubled over the last one decade, its human development indicators are worse than not just developed countries of the Group of 20 countries but also developing countries who its members.

Buddhist shrines massively destroyed by Brahmanical rulers in "pre-Islamic" era: Historian DN Jha's survey

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Namaz in Mathura temple: Haridwar, Ayodhya monks seek Faisal Khan's release

By Our Representative As many as 23 members of the Hindu Voices for Peace (HVP), including the founder president of the well-known Haridwar-based Matri Sadan Ashram, Swami Shivananda Saraswati, and a one of its top monks, Brahmachari Aatmabodhanand, have expressed their “dismay” over the arrest of Khudai Khidmatdar chief Faisal Khan and three others on charges of “promoting enmity between religions” and “defiling a place of worship” after they offered namaz in Mathura’s Nand Baba temple premises on October 29.

Government of India 'refuses' to admit: 52% of bird species show declining trend

Finn's Weaver  By Our Representative The Government of India has been pushing out “misleading” data on the country’s drastic wildlife decline, says a well-researched report, pointing towards how top ministers are hiding data on biodiversity losses, even as obfuscating its own data. It quotes “State of India’s Birds Report 2020” to note that of the 261 out of 867 bird species for which long-term trends could be determined, 52% have declined since the year 2000, with 22% declining strongly.

Dalit, Adivasi protest in Jharkhand against 'illegal' transfer of land for development

By Rishit Neogi Displacement and eviction are not new terms. It is surprising that they are still continuing and have become a tool in the hands of state backed corporates to forcibly occupy lands in the name of development.