2019 Opinion Polls: Why BJP’s ‘Loss’ in West Zone Is Overhyped

(This is the Part II of a series of conversations between psephologists Yogendra Yadav and Yashwant Deshmukh. Read Part I here)

I had reckoned that Yogendra Yadav’s observation on the gains in “eastern greenfield states” for BJP would differ significantly from our tracker numbers. To my surprise, it didn’t.

Not surprisingly however, we differ on the west zone, where Yogendra Yadav’s perceived loss of about 15 to 20 for the BJP seats is not supported by data.

The BJP’s loss in the West as per the data is minimal. Albeit, as per the tracker, this perceived loss of seats is largely there because of the Shiv Sena’s meltdown.

Also Read: 2019 Opinion Poll: What Yogendra Yadav Gets Wrong About BJP

BJP-Shiv Sena Break Up & Loss of Votes

The BJP continues to hold fort when it comes to its traditional support groups. So, let’s be clear about the name of the parties and the perceived losses attributed to them. We are discussing the total gain/loss to BJP as the main theme of this debate. Just a look at the vote shares in the west zone will make this point clear enough.

In the 2014 elections, the BJP-led NDA (including Shiv Sena) polled almost 54 percent votes in the west zone while the Congress-led UPA polled 34 percent (including NCP). As of 16 November as per the tracker, the UPA (which essentially means Congress without NCP) is polling 32 percent and the NDA (which essentially means BJP without Shiv Sena) is polling about 44 percent.

So, the loss of about 10 percent votes is directly attributable to Shiv Sena, deciding that they will contest all alone. This is resulting in no less than a loss of 17 Lok Sabha seats in NDA tally from Maharashtra alone; but this is not the loss in BJP tally as their share in this loss is only 3 seats, while Shiv Sena is facing a loss of 14 seats, going solo. This is precisely the point which I alluded to earlier.

Also Read: Will Rajasthan Break Trend & Bring BJP Back for Consecutive Term?

Is BJP Hardly Losing Anything in West Zone?

Yadav: The West is likely to witness a business-as-usual election with a small dent in the BJP tally. It swept this region in 2014 by winning all but six seats. Since then, anti-incumbency has affected all the three states. Rural unrest in Gujarat, farmers’ agitation in Maharashtra, its troubles with the Shiv Sena and the unholy and proxy government in Goa, appear to have set the stage against the BJP in the region. Yet, the surveys suggest that the BJP can contain its losses.

A Gujarati PM can help the party reverse some of its assembly poll setbacks in Gujarat. In Maharashtra, if the Shiv Sena goes back to the BJP, the NDA can take on the combined strength of the NCP-Congress alliance. In sum: the BJP may keep its losses to about 15-20 seats in this region.

Deshmukh (the author himself): Agree with “business as usual” observations; but not with the numbers. The BJP is hardly losing anything in the West. It won 53 seats last time, and the current tally as per our tracker is 50; a small loss of 3 seats.

Yes, there is a huge loss of 14 seats to tally of NDA allies, which is crashing down to 5 seats from 19 seats in 2014, and it’s no rocket science to guess where its coming from. If I have to pick one big loser in Indian politics over the last 5 odd years, it won’t be INLD or AIADMK or not even the CPM. That has to be Shiv Sena. They have been completely outsmarted by BJP, have been humiliated by the voters of Maharashtra to such an extent that even their basic political existence in Mumbai region is now under pressure.

Yes, if they decide to stick to their decision of going solo, then it would help the Congress-NCP alliance to sweep Maharashtra, but not without a complete meltdown of the Shiv Sena.

Also Read: BJP Will Win 2019 Polls with or Without Shiv Sena: Fadnavis

What NDA Supporters Really Think

As they say in Hindi “hum to doobenge sanam, tumko bhi le doobenge”, but with a twist that BJP will survive with the life-jacket of its extremely popular state leadership duly supported by equally popular central leadership in the long run. But in that eventuality, Shiv Sena would push itself to the point of no return. So, the Yogendra Yadav’s assertion that “the BJP may keep its losses to about 15-20 seats in this region” applies only on the Shiv Sena, not the BJP.

In the recently concluded annual report card survey for the leading Marathi news channel ABP-Majha, we found that Shiv Sena leadership is completely disconnected with what their supporters think about NDA governments at the centre as well as the state.

Not only was the Shiv Sena voters’ net satisfaction with these governments high, more importantly, their feedback on the leadership of PM Narendra Modi and CM Devendra Fadnavis are not exactly what the folks at ‘Matoshree’ would like to hear.

CVoter’s ‘Seat Loss’ Projection in West Zone

Similar trends are coming across from the MP report card series that we are running for another leading Marathi news channel TV9 Marathi. When asked a direct question, ‘Who would you prefer to elect between Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi as the PM’, an overwhelming majority of the Shiv Sena voters chose Modi.

Same holds true about the Raj Thackeray-led MNS supporters, even though NCP is pitching for them to become part of the Congress-NCP alliance. In the CVoter-TV9 Maharashtra Tracker, we also asked the voters about this probability.

Only a majority of the Congress and NCP supporters look excited about the prospect, while as many as 80 percent of MNS supporters opposed the idea of joining the Congress-led front in Maharashtra.

The CVoter tracker projects a mere 3 seats loss in the west zone, which includes the much-fancied losses in Goa, a state that sends only 2 members to the Lok Sabha.

What’s happening in Goa?

However, it must be mentioned for Goa, that the BJP lead of almost 17 percent votes has come crashing down to just above 4 percent, in this state. That the BJP government in Goa has been unpopular is an understatement, regardless of the love that the Goans have for the current popular CM Manohar Parrikar, who is now terminally ill.

Has Modi Been ‘Losing’ Gujarat for 20 Odd Years?

It was in his absence that BJP actually lost the last Vidhan Sabha elections in Goa, but somehow managed to form the government due to complete political mismanagement by the Congress. So comprehensive was the anti-incumbent verdict that the BJP came crashing down from a high of 53 percent in 2014 to 33 percent in 2017, which is an unprecedented negative swing of 20 percent, and resulted in the humiliating defeat of the sitting BJP CM Laxmikant Parsekar as well.

But the BJP’s idea of coming to power ‘at any cost’, even after being decisively kicked out by the voters in the 2017 assembly elections, has left a bitter taste among the voters.

However, it is important to note that two major state parties MGP (11.3 percent) and GFP (3.5 percent) have joined the BJP-led government and their block of 15 percent votes could very well cover up for this 20 percent loss in BJP votes. That explains the current 44 percent voting intention for BJP among Goa voters in the CVoter tracker.

That leaves us with the state of Gujarat. The less I say about Gujarat, the better. As per Lutyens media and sources, Modi has been ‘losing’ Gujarat for the last 20 odd years. While our tracker is showing a loss of a seat or two in Gujarat, you can take it in writing, that eventually it could be 26-0 once again. Lutyens notwithstanding.

Urban-Rural Divide Among Gujarati Voters

During the last Vidhan Sabha elections in Gujarat, much was written about the urban/rural split in Gujarat’s voting patterns. The fact that BJP polled 49 percent in comparison to just 41 percent of the Congress was brushed under the carpet. Blindsided by the sensational narrative of BJP managing to win ‘only 99’ seats compared to a ‘massive 77’ seats won by the Congress. Never mind the fact that it was the first election after a long time, when Narendra Modi was not the CM candidate.

Also, the fact that the BJP vote share actually went up by 1 percent when compared to the last elections, was ignored. Finally, even after an anti-incumbency “wave” against the 20 years non-stop BJP rule in the state, the Congress could manage an upswing of just 2.5 percent votes, and still landed a full 8 percent behind the “Modi-less BJP”.

What About the ‘Patel Votes’?

To be fair, Congress was at par with BJP in terms of vote share in North Gujarat, and Saurashtra regions. In the end, it was just a question of 10 additional assembly seats to be flipped, and even with a huge vote share lead of 8 percent to 10 percent at the state level, the BJP would have been staring at one of the most bizarre defeats in election history. This was possible due to the loss of Patel votes after the Anamat Andolan stir.

The CVoter tracker data for Patel votes, comparing their voting behavior of 2014 Lok Sabha with 2017 Vidhan Sabha elections, clearly shows a huge 20 percent negative swing away from BJP, almost all of it towards Congress among the Patel voters of Gujarat.

A back of the envelope calculation of summing up the 2017 assembly elections leads at the Lok Sabha level, indicates that BJP is trailing behind the Congress, not just in one or two seats, but a significant 8 Lok Sabha seats, 5 of which are from North Gujarat and 3 from Saurashtra region.

An Upswing of 6% for BJP in Gujarat

Yes, I understand that the 8 percent lead of BJP in Gujarat was largely due to ‘urban’ seats which BJP won with huge margins, as against the ‘rural’ seats which BJP lost to Congress by a small margin. But this fact should be troubling Congress more than the BJP. Because, all those small margins in the rural part will evaporate when the Gujaratis come out to vote for a Gujarati PM.

The tracker data shows current voting intention of 55 percent to BJP, as compared to 38 percent for the Congress in Gujarat.

That’s an upswing of 6 percent for the BJP and a downswing of 3 percent for the Congress, resulting in an increase in gap of 9 percent votes further. Total vote share gap: a staggering 17 percent in vote share for the Lok Sabha voting intention.

The 2017 ‘leads’ at the Lok Sabha levels tells us, that barring one seat of Junagarh where the Congress lead was 10 percent votes, for the rest 7 seats, the margin was 1 percent to 5 percent votes in 2017.

Do your calculation with 9 percent “reverse swing” in current data, and you will get down to just one single lead at the Lok Sabha level for Congress, that too with a slender margin of just 1 percent votes. That’s Gujarat for you.

What’s Been Observed vs Ground Reality

I somewhat agree with some of Yadav’s “political” observations, but certainly not with the numbers. The casual way of wrapping up the numbers in a subjective approach does not help in objective observations. The much-hyped loss of BJP in the west zone is mentioned so casually, that you blink, and you miss it. This is what has been casually observed and what actually is happening on the ground:

  • East observation: BJP may pick up to 20 additional seats from this region
  • Fact: Gain of 24 seats for the BJP as of 16 November
  • West observation: BJP may keep its losses to about 15-20 seats in this region
  • Fact: Loss of 3 seats for the BJP as of 16 November

So, the observation of Sanjay Kumar of CSDS, that “losses for BJP in the Hindi-belt including Gujarat may not be as big as Yogendra Yadav believes, Congress would need a big swing in its favour” seems to be on track in the west zone for sure.

(The author is the founder-director, CVoter International. He tweets @YRDeshmukh. This is an opinion piece. Views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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