“A fox knows many little things, but a hedgehog knows one big thing”
-Greek Poet, Archilochus
Writing about political predictions in his book, The Signal and The Noise, Nate Silver classifies political pundits and experts into two categories; Hedgehogs and Foxes. Hedgehogs according to Silver are type A personalities who believe in big ideas, whereas, foxes are creatures who believe in a plethora of little ideas and in taking a multitude of approaches towards a problem. Foxes tend to be more tolerant of nuance, uncertainty, complexity and dissenting opinion, while hedgehogs believe in governing principles of the world that behave as though they were physical laws. (Reference: Agile Marketing)
Most of the intellectual class permanently based out of Delhi TV studios and newspaper op-eds are typical hedgehogs of the Nate Silver variety. Every evening, these political pundits harp on big ideas like secularism, polarisation, coalition politics and some such stuff, without making any substantial contribution to predicting the future of Indian polity. As a rule, Silver opines that hedgehogs forecasts are barely better than random chances, whereas, the foxes demonstrate a remarkable predictive skill.
With the appointment of Narendra Modi as virtually the face of the BJP for 2014 and beyond, the intellectual class of Delhi got active over the weekend in propounding their big ideas. Almost all of them tended to parrot the same questions, “Modi is a polarising figure, so, where will he bring his allies from?” None of them were able to fathom the mood of the nation that is looking for a big change. The only different idea that came out of these discussions was probably the predictable hypothesis of Congress being on a sticky wicket and the possibility of a regional parties led Third Front coalition.
Not only do political pundits lack an understanding of ground realities, but also, they are virtually blind to statistics. At the very outset, the only statistic that matters is 93 per cent of all elections in India in the new millennium have produced majority (or near majority) mandates. Even the recently concluded Karnataka election produced a clear majority despite a fragmented State polity.
Thus, we can safely say that statistically, there is 81 per cent possibility (15 per cent less than State Assemblies due to 2004 fragmented mandate) that 2014 will produce a clear majority. By repeatedly harping back to 1996, the Left-libber intellectuals of Delhi, just prove that they are still rooted in the political realities of the previous century.
Aiming for a majority is the foxy idea
With the arrival of Modi on the forefront of the national political scene, aiming for 272 is really a foxy idea, for it is rooted in a complexity that is more realistic to our times. As Shashi Shekhar pointed out in his recent article, there are 286 Lok Sabha seats, which the BJP has won at least once in the last four General Election – which essentially means that BJP is in a strong position in about 300 odd seats and under the NaMo leadership it has to maximise these seats.
At the outset, a 250+ Lok Sabha seat haul looks like a tall order, but once we analyse it at a deeper level, it assumes more realistic proportions. First thing first: a presidential style of election always helps the BJP, whereas, General Election that are an aggregate of many State polls help the Congress. BJP gained upper-hand in the 1990’s because it converted the elections into Vajpayee v/s others presidential campaign. Whereas, 2004 became an aggregate election due to severe drought and 2009 was a de-facto aggregate poll due to BJP’s lack of ideas and leadership. Thus with the most popular leader of today leading the BJP in a presidential style campaign will only help the party regain its upper-hand once again.
2014 could be a historic election for the BJP, for it could potentially gain the highest vote percentage ever. This is happening due to four fundamental reasons:
1. Historically, this is the lowest ebb for the Congress when it is likely to lose a big national mandate to the main Opposition BJP, especially where they are both pitted directly – a swing of three per cent in favour of the BJP.
2. Being the most popular leader of today, Narendra Modi could typically add about four per cent vote share to the BJP’s kitty.
3. Contrary to what is being preached in the TV studios, NDA will expand and newer allies will join BJP because of the NaMo factor (Jayalalithaa being the first, followed by BJD, as news reports suggest) – this will add another three per cent to the overall vote-share of the BJP (will be analysed in more detail later).
4. As we have seen in the past, in our first-past-the-post system, the frontrunner usually consolidates the position and typically gains an additional two per cent in the last mile.
Even if BJP loses about three per cent vote share due to general wear and tear of the five year cycles of local anti-incumbencies and/or certain levels of minority vote consolidation against the party, the BJP still has the potential for a nine per cent positive swing in its favour and reach a target of 27 per cent. It is this vote-share that is likely to catapult the party to the 250 club.
The NaMo national campaign 1.0
The first part of the Modi campaign, likely to begin this month, has an interesting array of States. Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh are supposed to be the four 4 states where the NaMo campaign will be concentrated over the next two months. Together these States account for 210 Lok Sabha seats and BJP had won a paltry 31 seats out of 210 in 2009. This is where the BJP has tremendous potential to perform; it can more than triple its tally and reach closer to the century mark here, under the NaMo leadership. Let us briefly analyse each of them individually.
Uttar Pradesh: The largest State with 80 Lok Sabha seats was a former citadel of the BJP during the peak of the Ram Janam Bhoomi Andolan and the Vajpayee era. After more than a decade, the BJP is once again on the ascendancy and the cadre is enthused like never before. Many recent surveys have already suggested a positive swing for the BJP in UP and the elevation of master strategist Amit Shah has become an icing on the cake that may well lead to a political tsunami of sorts in this heartland State.
As a local Hindi journalist of Jhansi puts it succinctly: “When Mulayam Singh praises Advani, be afraid… Modi has created a political earthquake in Uttar Pradesh, even before starting a campaign!” Creating a political earthquake is one thing, but winning the required number of Lok Sabha seats is quite another task altogether. Will Modi’s popularity transform into actual seat gains in a State that is divided between Mandal and Dalit politics for close to two decades? Will development politics finally triumph in UP?
“There are three factors going in favour of Modi,” says Shailesh Pandey, a wandering activist and a former navy officer from Varanasi:
1) His mass appeal.
2) He always has his ears to the ground and;
3) He has a very capable team. So, all Modi and his team has to now do is concentrate on the right geography of this vast State. As a first step, we need to unclutter the areas of concentration to map BJP’s strength in winnable LS seats.
To derive ‘winnable’ seats out of the 80 LS constituencies, we can chalk out a statistical model using past electoral data of primarily the post-delimitation LS election of 2009. For the sake of strategic convenience, I have classified the ‘winnable’ seats into three primary categories:
Category A: Consists of mainly BJP stronghold seats wherein the party has either won the seat or has been a strong runner-up in 2009. It also includes those seats which the BJP has lost by less than 50 thousand votes, even if it was not among the top two; suggesting BJP strength area in a typical multi-cornered fight – 24 LS seats
Category B: Consists of those LS seats which BJP had lost by a margin more than 50 thousands but less than 80 thousands votes, while still polling a substantial percentage of votes (not less than 20 per cent) in 2009 – six LS seats
Category C: Consisting of those areas which were either traditional stronghold areas of the party (especially in the pre-delimitation era of the 1990’s) or have seen new realignments in the last four odd years (especially Congress seats which are up for grabs in the wake of new political realities) – 18 LS seats. It is these 48 LS seats that BJP can potentially win and where the party can concentrate its efforts on. It is quite clear from the above classification that BJP can manage to win about 25 to 30 seats just as part of Indian election roulette, but would require a great deal of hard work by the cadre and local leaders along with the charisma of Modi to reach the magical figure of 45.
Maharashtra: This is a straightforward State where the BJP contests 25 seats directly against the Congress-NCP alliance. Along with Modi’s charisma, what matters in Maharashtra is to get the NDA arithmetic right by including MNS, which would test the alliance building ability of the Modi electoral machine. Since, it is a straightforward contest, the classification is also a lot simpler:
Category A: Seats that BJP had won in 2009 when Congress had swept the country – all weather seats – nine LS seats.
Category B: Seats that BJP had lost in 2009 by a margin of less than 30 thousand votes, suggesting vote division as the cause of defeat – seven LS seats.
Category C: Seats that BJP had lost in 2009 by a margin less than 80 thousand votes, but still has significant chance of a victory in 2014 – three seats
BJP has 19 ‘winnable’ seats in Maharashtra to concentrate on and all of them can be won with the right coalition and right leadership.
“Since 1995, this is the first time that Sharad Pawar and Congress’s grip over Maharashtra has considerably loosened,” says Venkatrao Patil a veteran trade unionist, and he goes on to add, “Only a major miracle can prevent BJP-SS from winning”.
Right coalition is the bigger issue in Maharashtra, for the warring cousins are in no mood to reconcile. “Even the moneybags who funded the Congress-NCP alliance are now disgruntled,” says Jiten Gajaria, an entrepreneur and a BJP Maharashtra State office bearer.
He also warns adding , “Watch out for the NCP’s moves, they are increasingly getting closer to Shiv Sena.”
Bihar: This is a flux State, which is possibly going through a process of churning after almost eight years. If the BJP-JDU alliance holds then, it would be a status quo situation or even a marginal improvement of NDA’s performance, but the alliance is unlikely to hold on because of the stringent position taken by Nitish Kumar’s JDU.
In the event that the NDA alliance breaks-up, BJP is likely to fight the Lok Sabha elections on its own under the NaMo leadership. Quite a few surveys of the recent past have suggested that BJP will significantly improve its performance in Bihar if it fights the election alone. As a pracharak from Patna suggests, “Nitish brought lower caste to the BJP’s base of solid upper caste votes, but now there is a big churning, even lower caste want more than just their own leader and identity.” He then asks an important question, “If Modi represents the lower caste, then why does the BJP need Nitish in Bihar?”
BJP had won 12 out of the 15 Lok Sabha seats that it had contested in 2009. Whilst it had lost one seat by a wafer thin margin of three thousand votes, the other two seats that BJP had lost were to stalwarts like Lalu Prasad Yadav and Meira Kumar – both by less than 50 thousands votes. The following classification for Bihar holds true, based on 2009:
Category A: Those seats which BJP has won in 2009 or lost by only less than five thousand votes – 13 LS seats.
Category B: Those seats that JD-U had won in alliance with the BJP where Upper Caste are the dominant vote-base – five LS seats.
Category C: Those seats that can potentially aggregate BJP’s core Upper Caste vote base with the NaMo leadership to bring in the Lower caste votes (in Lower Caste dominant vote-base) – seven LS seats.
It is these 25 LS seats that are deemed as ‘winnable’ for the BJP. Even many recent surveys suggest a similar tally for the BJP in Bihar under Modi’s stewardship. In such a scenario, even the JD-U’s breaking of the alliance only means a loss of seven to eight seats for the BJP in the overall scheme of things.
Andhra Pradesh: One can always argue that BJP is non-existent in southern India, so, it is futile to analyse a State like Andhra Pradesh. But the fact of the matter is that BJP has some concentrated presence in the Telengana region. When a powerful national leader enters the scene through a presidential campaign style, then even small vote-bases get converted into actual seats – as seen in the late 1990’s under Vajpayee’s leadership, when BJP won in AP and TN.
If BJP is able to formulate a Telengana action plan in the manifesto and if it is able to form an alliance with TRS/TDP, then the haul in this region in terms of LS seats would be significant. Even on its own, the BJP can potentially win a few seats here, which explains the NaMo campaign. Let us try and do a realistic classification for AP.
Category A: Those seats where the party has secured one lakh plus votes in 2009 and can pose a serious challenge this time with the twin issues of NaMo + Telengana – four LS seats.
Category B: Those seats where BJP has some base (at least 5 per cent plus vote-share in 2009) which can be augmented by a strong NaMo campaign – three LS seats.
Category C: Those seats where inorganic growth is possible, by attracting political talent from other parties, movie stars or activists (especially in the Telengana region) – as an augmentation to NaMo for PM campaign – three LS seats.
It is these 10 seats that the BJP needs to capitalise on by highlighting the Telengana issue along with the NaMo factor. BJP winning a vast number of these seats would be hugely increased in case of a tactical pre-poll alliance.
Mission 272 for a Congress Mukt Bharat
Apart from the four above States, the second set of States are those that are traditional strongholds of the BJP. The two western States, i.e., Rajasthan and Gujarat, the three heartland tribal States of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand and the one southern State of Karnataka constitute this second group. Now, we can also club Delhi as the seventh State to this group.
The common factor among all these States is that the BJP is directly pitted against the Congress in most of the LS seats here, which gives the BJP a great chance to perform optimally. Together these 7 States account for 138 LS seats and the BJP is in direct contest in almost all of them. BJP can potentially make a clean sweep in these States and even win about 120 seats, provided it brings back disgruntled leaders like BS Yeddiyurappa and Babulal Marandi. A great political leader always has the innate ability to respect electoral realities and this would be another test for Modi on how he brings back these popular leaders into the party fold.
Another important aspect which goes in favour of the BJP with regard to these set of States is that all of them would have had State Assembly Elections within the preceding 12 months and BJP definitely has the potential to win six out of seven States (with the lone exception of Karnataka).
The third set of States are those where BJP needs the inorganic route of cementing old friendships and building new allies to improve the score in the LS polls. Tamil Nadu, Orissa, Punjab, Haryana, Assam and the North-East account for 118 LS seats. Narendra Modi already has a rapport with J Jayalalithaa and Purno Sangma, while a large section of BJD is also reportedly keen to join the NDA.
Modi’s recent meeting with Kuldeep Bishnoi also augurs well for the future health of a BJP-led alliance. With the right alliances and the NaMo mantra, BJP can win about 20-25 seats in these regions.
Smaller States like Uttarakhand, Himachal, Jammu and Kashmir and Goa along with six Union Territories can account for another dozen seats for the BJP, taking the total closer to the 272 mark. That brings us to the last two States of communist leanings, Kerala and West Bengal; here the BJP is truly absent and whatever seats that the party manages to win would be considered as bonuses.
Mission 272 is not just a pipe dream, but is logically and realistically achievable in 2014. Indian polity is at a historic crossroad where the old order of fragmented regional coalitions are becoming redundant and a truly federated national party is in a position to occupy the power vacuum at the Centre, replacing a venal and corrupt Congress. Narendra Modi is both the messenger as well as the message of creating a Congress mukt Bharat.
Shri Narendra Modi to address BJP Karyakartas after National Executive Meeting in Goa
(With inputs from: Maharashtra: Venkatrao Patil, a veteran trade unionist and political analyst from Kholapur. Jiten Gajaria, an office bearer of Maharashtra State BJP. Various journalists from Miraj-Sangli and Sholapur. Uttar Pradesh: Shailesh Pandey, a former naval officer and an activist based out of Varnasi. Various journalists from Jhansi and Mathura. Bihar: Pracharaks and journalists from Patna and Aurangabad)