ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Defying the Pattern

The 2016 State Assembly Elections

On the basis of evidence, culled from the 2016 assembly elections, this opinion piece reiterates the argument that political process shaping voters' preferences needs to be contextually understood to meaningfully explain the poll outcome in India.

India’s political landscape is changing. With the victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the 2014 Lok Sabha poll, the idea that the opposition had lost its steam gained ground. It received a boost with the combine winning in the state assembly election in Maharashtra, Haryana, and Jharkhand. The BJP also won a share of power in Jammu and Kashmir by forging a post-poll alliance with the state-based People’s Democratic Party (PDP). But the runaway success story suffered a setback in the 2015 Delhi state assembly election when the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) trounced the BJP. And later in the year, in the Bihar assembly election, a coalition of the Janata Dal (United)—JD(U), the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), and the Congress beat the BJP. In 2016, assembly election results have confirmed that the BJP seems to have failed to ideologically inspire the masses despite being supported by the cadre-based Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Except in Assam, the BJP lost miserably in West Bengal, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu.

The poll results show that Indian electorates defy being classified using neat, theoretical concepts. There can hardly be a universal formulation. Each election, whether national or regional, has its own dynamics and needs to be understood accordingly. Before embarking on an analysis of the poll results, we need to be aware that none of the winning parties in Indian elections have ever represented the majority of voters, which is impossible in a first-past-the-post system of voting in a multiparty system. The BJP in the 2014 poll secured only 30% of the popular votes though it won more than 50% of the parliamentary seats (282 of 545 seats). This is also true of the 2016 assembly elections—none of the victorious parties won more than 40% of the votes, but they had a comfortable majority in Bihar, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu, and two-thirds of the assembly seats in West Bengal. This can be persuasively explained by a contextual analysis of the poll results.

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