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Pro-incumbency Favoured the BJP in Himachal Pradesh

Ramesh K Chauhan (rkchpu@gmail.com) teaches at and Bharti Sharma (nishabd1987@gmail.com ) and Sunil Kumar (sunilsanjauli @gmail.com) are research scholars in the Department of Political Science, Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla.

The 2019 Lok Sabha elections in Himachal Pradesh saw an all-time high polling percentage. The Bharatiya Janata Party emerged as a party that was supported across various sections irrespective of caste, gender, age and education statuses, as reflected in its escalated vote share.

The 2019 Lok Sabha election results in Himachal Pradesh are significant for three important reasons: an all-time high polling percentage in the state; a surge in vote share of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP); and the BJP garnering support cutting across caste, community, age, gender, education, and locality. Having had its voting in the last phase of elections on 19 May 2019, Himachal Pradesh recorded its highest ever polling of over 72%. This is about 8 percentage points higher than the last Lok Sabha elections held in 2014 and 5 percentage points above the national average in 2019.

The BJP vote share increased by a sharp 16 percentage points as compared to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, whereas the Indian National Congress (INC), the other key player in the state’s bipolar political contest, saw a vote share decline of around 13 percentage points (Table 1, p 19). Winning all the four parliamentary constituencies in the state, the BJP’s dramatic lead in all 68 assembly segments, spread across four parliamentary constituencies, makes this election result unique.

Change and Continuity

Himachal Pradesh is known for its two-party political system, wherein the BJP and Congress have been major competitors. The 2019 Lok Sabha elections reinforced the trend as the two parties have a collective vote share of more than 96%.1 Any third party or alliance has never made serious inroads in terms of vote share and seats in the state (Chauhan and Ghosh 2009; Lohumi 2019). The results also reveal that the BJP literally decimated the Congress in all the four parliamentary constituencies. Though the BJP won all the seats in both the elections (2014 and 2019), a sharp rise in the margin of victory differentiates this election from the previous one. For the first time, a winning party has maintained its leading position not only in all parliamentary constituencies but also in all the 68 assembly segments.2

The BJP’s performance and margin of victory is an attestation of the fact that the Congress was nowhere close in the contest. As part of its strategy, the BJP changed two of its candidates in the elections. The Congress too changed all the candidates who contested on its ticket in 2014. This change in faces worked positively for the BJP, while for the Congress, it opened the floodgates of factional feuds and ego clashes.

This election was unique also in the sense that it has been fought under the command and control of a new generation of leaders in both Congress and the BJP. After the declaration of 2017 assembly election results, in a dramatic turn of events, Jairam Thakur became the chief minister as the earlier projected chief minister candidate, Prem Kumar Dhumal, lost his assembly seat. The elevation of Thakur is believed to mark a “generational shift” in state politics. Similarly, in Congress, post 2017 assembly elections the leadership has passed on from Virbhadra Singh to younger leaders—Mukesh Agnihotri (leader of the opposition), Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu (former state party president) and Kuldeep Rathor (present state party president). Having centred on the personalities of Singh and Dhumal for about two decades (1998–2018), state politics is now witness to the new generation of leaders playing a critical role.

Leadership and Campaign

Electoral outcomes are the result of many tangible and intangible factors. Party unanimity, confident and decisive leadership (Shastri 2019), selection of candidates, public perception towards those candidates, outreach through campaign and media management, the performance of the government, and the role of media in opinion-making are some of the factors that mattered in this election.

In 2014, a visible nationwide anti-incumbency against the Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the centre, combined with a high level of dissatisfaction with the state Congress government with Singh as the chief minister, along with a pro-Narendra Modi and pro-BJP wave, clearly led to the BJP sweep in the state. This time around, the sweep was all-pervading and appeared to be the result of a strong pro-incumbency at both the national and state levels, along with the strong support for the national leadership of the party (Khemani and Chauhan 2019).

At the organisational level, the BJP had gained the favour of public much before the declaration of elections. Many national leaders visited the state and addressed the meetings of booth-level workers. The presence of panna pramukhs (in charge of each page of voter list) further added energy to the BJP campaign (P Chauhan 2018; Tomar 2019a). Hoardings displaying the achievements of the national and state governments with images of Modi, Thakur and Amit Shah were on display across the state. In contrast, the Congress was found struggling to match the scale and intensity of such activities of the BJP (Tomar 2019d). The party workers of all wings of Congress were found to be inactive.3

The role of the leadership factor was prominently visible in Himachal Pradesh in the National Election Studies (NES) post-poll survey. More than seven out of every 10 respondents preferred Modi as the prime ministerial candidate, an increase in support by close to 20 percentage points as compared to 2014. This increase in Modi’s popularity is critical in explaining the BJP’s success. Coupled with Modi’s image, the BJP as the ruling party both at the national and state levels also scored quite in terms of the levels of popular satisfaction (Table 2).

Survey data also show that the BJP gained significant support among all social groups. While the party retained its support among the upper castes and Other Backward Classes (OBCs), it made considerable gains among the Scheduled Castes (SCs), who were considered traditional Congress voters.

In Conclusion

The Lok Sabha elections in 2019 witnessed a strong but silent undercurrent, predominantly in favour of Modi as a trusted face of the BJP. The dynamics of state politics had a definitive impact. The organisational strength of the BJP was visible in it being a well-knit party, with successfully marketed and popular appeal, giving an impression of decisive and strong leadership and outreach to the masses. Within Congress, however, fault lines were visible as it faced a leadership crisis and a resource lag, and had limited popular outreach. This resulted in impressive victory margins in all the parliamentary constituencies in the BJP’s favour. Further, the generational shift in leadership change has been smoothly handled by the BJP. On the other hand, the transition has not been that smooth for the Congress. A pro-incumbency factor also favoured the BJP.

Notes

1 The collective vote share of both the parties was 94.92% in 2014, 95.19% in 2009, and 93.15% in 2004.

2 In 2014, the lead was confined to 59 assembly constituencies with margins not as big as in 2019.

3 This is evident from the fact that the office of state student-wing president is lying vacant for the last two years. Except for Rahul Gandhi, hardly any national-level leader from the party addressed any rally in the state. One rally scheduled for 14 May 2019 to be addressed by Priyanka Gandhi, also got cancelled at the eleventh hour.

References

Chauhan, Pratibha (2018): “Politics of Charge-sheet Generates Winter Heat,” Tribune, 22 December.

Khemani, Sakshi and Ramesh Chauhan (2019): “Post-poll Survey: Modi Factor Swing It for the BJP in Himachal Pradesh,” Hindu, 30 May.

Chauhan, Ramesh (2019): “Himachal Pradesh Lok Sabha Elections 2014: BJP Rides High on Modi Wave,” How India Votes: A State by State Look, Ashutosh Kumar and Yatindra Singh Sisodia (eds), Delhi: Orient Black Swan, pp 195–208.

Chauhan, Ramesh and S N Ghosh (2009): “Himachal Pradesh: Pro-Incumbency Helps the BJP,” Economic & Political Weekly, Vol 44, No 39, pp 180–82.

Lohumi, Bhanu P (2019): “Third Front beyond the Realm of Possibility,” Tribune, 11 May.

Shastri, Sandeep (2019): “Leadership Sweep Takes and the Modi Factor,” Hindu, 21 May.

Tribune (2019): “Virbhadra, A Friend or Foe,” 6 May, https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/himachal/virbhadra-a-friend-or-foe/768....

Tomar, K S (2019a): “BJP President Outlines His Poll Strategy,” Tribune, 26 February.

— (2019b): “Congress Overhaul Need of the Hour,” Tribune, 29 June.

— (2019c): “Congress Revival: An Uphill Task in State,” Tribune, 15 June.

— (2019d): “More than a Photo Op than Patch Up,” Tribune, 13 April.

Updated On : 30th Aug, 2019

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