The assertion that whoever holds court within the Uttar Pradesh assembly is of critical importance to the Indian polity is incontestable. All the shibboleths of power tell us so. My colleague Vicky Nanjappa wrote in his January 5 piece 'Nine out of India's 15 prime ministers have been from Uttar Pradesh. Prime Minister Narendra Modi who hails from Gujarat represents the Varanasi constituency which is in Uttar Pradesh. These statistics alone would tell how important UP is and why the elections in this state would be a referendum for any party.'
A few more statistics should clear any lingering doubts. The state is the world's most populous sub-national entity; one of every six Indians is located in UP. The state sends 80 out of the 543 members of the lower house of the Indian Parliament. It boasts 30 of the Rajya Sabha's maximum 250 members, and we all know how desperate both the NDA and the Opposition parties are to wrest control of that space.
The Uttar Pradesh assembly election is not merely important for the BJP's future in the Rajya Sabha but is also a test for its political efficacy in the aftermath of the Centre's demonetisation move.
Since there is no way to gauge the potential success of the party in a yet-to-be-conducted election one is forced to look back the past and lessons gleaned thence.
A Laevinic defeat
The BJP saw two consecutive defeats in assembly polls in 2015, first in Delhi and then in Bihar. The Delhi results saw them run aground with many observers stating the Modi wave had finally broken. However, a closer look at the numbers shakes that notion.
In the 2015 elections, the BJP may have lost its chance to run the Delhi assembly but its vote share remained almost intact. In the 2013 Delhi assembly polls, the BJP won 31 out of 68 contested seats. It's vote share was 33.07 per cent with 26,04,100 votes. The 2015 elections saw the BJP vote share almost intact. According to the Election Commission data, the BJP's vote share has reduced by about just one per cent, bringing it down to 32.1 per cent (27,79,810 votes).
The Congress had won 8 out of 70 contested seats and received a vote share of 24.55 per cent (19,32,933 votes) in 2013 Delhi elections. But in 2015, all that changed. The Congress got a mere 9.8 per cent vote share with over 8.4 lakh votes; a loss of nearly 15 per cent of its past vote share.
The Aam Aadmi Party was thus the inheritor of a vote share that traditionally belonged to the Congress party and had been split up amongst other smaller groups and independents. In the 2013 elections, the AAP won 28 seats out of 70 and got 29.49 per cent vote share with 23,22,330 votes. In 2015 elections, the AAP swept the elections with 67 seats and secured 54.3 per cent vote share. That was an addition of nearly 25 per cent to their previous election's vote share.
A detailed result can be seen HERE.
These numbers suggested that the BJP was a redoubtable opponent, something detractors assumed unimportant whilst taking into account its incumbency in the Centre.
In Bihar again, as with Delhi, the BJP's chief opposition, the Nitish Kumar-led Grand Alliance, cornered the largest vote share of nearly 46 per cent as against the National Democratic Alliance's nearly 34 per cent.
On single-party basis, however, the BJP managed a vote share of nearly 24.8 per cent -- higher than solo shares of 18.5 per cent for the RJD and 16.7 per cent of the JD-U. BJP also fought on the highest number of seats.
BJP's NDA allies -- the Lok Jan Shakti Party and the Hindustani Awam Morcha-secular -- could manage only meagre vote shares of 4.8 per cent and 2.2 per cent, respectively.
The Congress, which fought elections as part of the Grand Alliance, could manage a vote share of only about 6.7 per cent. The full result can be found HERE.
If 2015 was bad for the BJP, 2016 held no kindness either. The 2016 Tamil Nadu assembly election saw the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam ascendant, having increased its individual vote-share by 2.4 per cent since 2011, bringing it up to 40.8 per cent from the earlier 38.4 per cent. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam also increased its individual vote-share by 9.2 per cent since 2011, going from 22.39 per cent to 31.6 per cent. However, the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam's vote share fell to a lowly 2.4 per cent from a considerable 7.8 per cent in 2011. Others, such as the Left parties and the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi also saw a fall in their already measly vote share. The Pattali Makkal Katchi barely managed to retain its vote share.
Meanwhile, the BJP was a rare breed to see its share go up from 2.2 per cent to 2.8 per cent, a marginal increase of 0.6 per cent which the party claimed to be a victory. The state poll results can be viewed HERE.
The same was true of Kerala, where the data reveals that the party went up to a 10.7 per cent share in 2016; the BJP had a vote share of 6.03 per cent during the 2011 assembly elections.
Just to cite two examples, although it came in second in the Chathanur constituency, the BJP increased its votes from 2.07 lakhs in 2011 to 4.96 lakh votes. Similarly, the BJP vote in Thrissur went up from 1.34 lakhs to 3.36 lakhs, not an insignificant jump.
Armed with sparse political capital, the BJP still managed to bring up its vote share in West Bengal from a measly 4.06 per cent in the 2011 assembly polls to a substantive increase of 10.2 per cent. Although the party's vote share in the state fell from the 17.5 per cent in the 2014 general election, it still won three seats fighting on its own in the state. In the 2016 assembly polls the BJP garnered around 56 lakh votes, bringing the number up from 19.5 lakh in 2011. These statistics should makes the party's state leadership quite happy, considering the party had lost much of its steam since the 2014 general elections. The results can be seen HERE.
History repeats itself...
The 2012 Uttar Pradesh assembly election saw the BJP come down to holding a mere 15 per cent of total votes polled. This decrease was considerable when one looks at the party's offing of 32.51 per cent in 1996 assembly polls to 20.12 per cent in 2002 assembly polls to 16.97 per cent vote share in 2007 polls. The party, which won 47 seats in 2012, also lost four of the 51 seats it won in 2007, which itself was a drop down from its tally of 88 in the 2002.
The BJP may have lost all of the aforesaid elections but a closer observer might add that their vote share reflect something else. At a time when the Congress seems to have lost in most states the BJP continues to enjoy its, in some cases considerable, vote share.
Otto Von Bismarck, in an interview with the German newspaper Die Gartenlaube, had once remarked, 'Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable - the art of the next best'.
Will the BJP make it big in Uttar Pradesh or, if not, will it manage to be 'next best'? Time will tell.