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

Ganga world's second most polluted river, Modi's Varanasi tops microplastics pollution

By Rajiv Shah  Will the new report by well-known elite NGO Toxics Link create a ripple in the powerful corridors of Delhi? Titled “Quantitative analysis of microplastics along River Ganga”, forwarded to Counterview, doesn’t just say that Ganga is the second most polluted river in the world, next only to Yangtze (China). It goes ahead to do a comparison of microplastics pollution in three cities shows Varanasi – the Lok Sabha constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi – is more polluted compared to Kanpur and Haridwar.

How real is Mamata challenge to Modi? Preparing for 2024 'khela hobey' moment

By Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury*  Third time elected West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee is on a whirlwind tour of Delhi, meeting everyone who matters within and beyond the government, the Prime Minister, the President, some Cabinet ministers, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, several other opposition leaders, et al.

Did Modi promote Dholavira, a UNESCO site now, as Gujarat CM? Facts don't tally

By Rajiv Shah  As would generally happen, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tweet – that not only was he “absolutely delighted” with the news of UNESCO tag to Dholavira, but he “ first visited ” the site during his “student days and was mesmerised by the place” – is being doubted by his detractors. None of the two tweets, strangely, even recalls once that it’s a Harappan site in Gujarat.

Madhya Pradesh tops India's 145 instances of 'anti-Christian atrocities' this year

Counterview Desk  A report prepared by the Religious Liberty Commission of the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), founded in 1951 as the national alliance of evangelical Christians of the Protestant denomination, in its just-released report, “Hate and Targeted Violence against Christians in India: Half Yearly Report 2021”, has said that an analysis of 145 cases of violence it has documented against Christians, mainly by non-state actors, “stems from an environment of targeted hate.”

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

UP arrest of 'terrorists': Diverting attention from Covid goof-up, Ram temple land scam?

By Advocate Mohammad Shoaib, Sandeep Pandey* That corruption is rampant in police department is a common experience. However, there is another form of corruption which devastates lives of individuals and their families. It has now emerged as a common phenomenon that police more often than not register false cases because of which individuals have to spend number of years in jail.

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".

Demolition drive: Why aren't high-end hotels, farmhouses treated same way as Khorigaon?

By Our Representative A public hearing, sponsored by the civil rights group National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) to hear the affected citizens of Khorigaon, off Faridabad, Delhi NCR, has seen local people complaining how their houses are being demolished even as the entire area was converted into a prison through heavy police deployment.

How BSF, police, court turned Bangladeshi woman slave victim into accused in crime

Counterview Desk  Civil rights leader Kirity Roy has strongly objected to the manner in which the Border Security Force (BSF) , the police and the judiciary in West Bengal have treated a 35 years old Bangladeshi woman victim of human trafficking, who was subjected to sexual exploitation for 15 long years, has been declared guilty of violating the Foreigners Act, violating all human rights norms.

If not Modi, then who? Why? I (an ordinary citizen) am there! Main hoon naa!

By Mansee Bal Bhargava*  The number of women ministers is doubled in early July from the first term after cabinet reshuffle by the present government led by Narendra Modi. While there were 06 women ministers in the previous term, this term there are 11. The previous two governments led by Dr Manmohan Singh had 10 women ministers in each tenure. Are these number of women ministers something to rejoice in the near 75 years of independence? Yes maybe, if we think that things are slowly improving in the patriarchal system. This change is less likely to achieve gender balance in the parliament otherwise we require more than 11 as per the 33% reservation . This change is also less likely because the men politicians’ inability to handle the country’s mess is becoming more and more evident and especially during the corona crisis. Seems, the addition of more women ministers may be a result of the recent assembly elections where women played a decisive role in the election results. For example