The Uniqueness of the 2014 Electoral Arithmetic and What it Means for the New Government

The Uniqueness of the 2014 Electoral Arithmetic and What it Means for the New Government

Swaniti Initiative | June 16, 2014 | The Swaniti Blog

The results of the elections to the 16th Lok Sabha are a cause for jubilation for some parties (one party in particular), downright dejection for some others, and perhaps a surprise for most. A lot has already been written and said about how this election was different from any other in recent memory, an ‘election that broke every known rule of Indian politics’ (Pratap Bhanu Mehta, The Indian Express, 17th May 2014). Conventional calculations in Indian politics based on caste, religion and ethnicity have evidently failed most parties this time. For the first time since 1984, a single party has been given a mandate as decisive as in 2014, with the BJP alone bagging 284 out of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha. Narendra Modi is perhaps one of the very few politicians who have never known fractured mandates and unstable governments. He has now won 4 elections – thrice in Gujarat and once at the Centre – all of them with a full majority for his party.


Clearly, the General Election of 2014 has been unique for many reasons. However, to get a real sense of exactly how unique it was, one needs to look at the numbers. India follows the “first-past-the-post” (FPTP) system in its elections. This means that in each constituency, the winning candidate simply needs to poll the highest number of votes among all candidates contesting from that constituency. Therefore in some cases, the winning candidate may have polled 50% of the votes, while in some others, a mere 20% may have sufficed. This variability depends on two main factors – the number of candidates contesting; and the socio-economic profile of the electorate in the constituency (caste, class, religion, ethnicity etc). The crucial factor in any party’s eventual performance is the ratio between its “seat-share” and “vote-share”. In other words, how many of its votes is a party able to convert into seats?


A historical comparison between the Congress and BJP’s electoral fortunes since 1991 is revealing. The Congress has had a higher vote-share than the BJP in all six Lok Sabha elections from 1991 to 2009. However, 2014 saw a dramatic turnaround, with the BJP getting 31% of the total votes polled, as compared to the Congress’ 19.3%. But, what is more crucial is that 2014 also saw the Congress record its lowest “seat share to vote share ratio” in history. With just 8.1 % of the total seats and 19.3% of the total votes, the Congress has a poor “seat-to-vote ratio” of 0.42. This is more than 50% lower than its previous low of 0.9 in 1996. In contrast, the BJP had a staggering seat-to-vote ratio of 1.68 in this election. This is more than 15% higher than its previous high of 1.46 in 1996.


The record vote-share for the BJP does indicate that traditional considerations of caste and identity have had a lesser role to play this time. The BJP has perhaps managed to break new ground in many constituencies by attracting voters which have historically been loyal to other parties. As a consequence, caste-based parties have done poorly – the BSP for example getting no seats despite bagging the 3rd highest vote-share nationally (4.1%). In stark contrast, other regional parties with a fine track record of governance have done tremendously well. The AIADMK has won 37 out of the 39 seats in Tamil Nadu, while the Biju Janata Dal has won 20 out of 21 in Odisha. This clearly is a thumbs-up to the governments in these two States, which have performed well in terms of many social and economic indicators. Tamil Nadu has made significant strides in renewable energy production and water conservation in the last couple of years. Public health and education continue to remain Tamil Nadu’s strengths. Odisha’s most significant achievement has been the successful management of the cyclone last October. Apart from this, Odisha under BJD rule has also seen a considerable reduction in poverty rates , while steps have also been taken to improve the quality of public service delivery (like the Public Distribution System for foodgrains)


Therefore, for the new government at the Centre, the message seems to be quite clear. The overwhelming mandate this time is for development and change, which people believe is possible through effective and responsive governance. For long, a large section of our population has been cynical of politics and politicians in India. May 2014 may just change that. If the hope at the ballot box translates into tangible outcomes on the ground, perhaps our dwindling faith in Indian democracy may be restored. That would be the greatest legacy of the General Election, 2014.


Source: Election Commission of India, Results 2014 and India’s 2009 elections: Resilience of Regionalism and Ethinicity by Christophe Jaffrelot and Gilles Verniers