The Bihar election date should be announced some time this week, after which the Lokniti unit of CSDS will kick into gear for our post-poll survey there. In the meantime, I’ve been trying to understand the national political context in which the Bihar elections will be held.
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) sweep in the Lok Sabha (national parliament) elections of May 2014 is obviously a big part of this context. The BJP’s victory was so absolute that it won enough seats to retain a majority on its own, a feat last accomplished by the Indian National Congress (INC) in the 1984 elections, which were held in the wake of Indira Gandhi’s assassination. However, to truly understand the BJP’s momentum, it is pivotal to examine their recent dominance–and Congress’ utter collapse–in state politics as well.
The following spreadsheet lists the governing parties and chief ministers within all 29 of India’s states and two of its union territories (the National Capital Territory–Delhi and Puducherry). Each row refers to the governing party of the Vidhan Sabha, the lower house, of each state; for many of these states, a coalition of two or more parties governs. Don’t be overwhelmed by all the colors here; the key colors are saffron for BJP governance and light blue for Congress governance. Click the spreadsheet for a larger view:
If we sort the states by their most recent elections, it becomes apparent how the BJP has been trouncing Congress in nearly every state since the May 2014 elections. The only two states in which the BJP or one of its partners have not won an election are tiny Sikkim (where the Sikkim Democratic Front has governed since 1994) and Arunachal Pradesh. They also lost the Delhi elections held at the beginning of this year, when the anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) swept the playing field.
As the AAP victory was the most recent Vidhan Sabha election, there are questions as to how much this win was a rebuke to the BJP versus an idiosyncratic outcome of Delhi politics. These questions will be tested in the upcoming Bihar polls.
But ordering the states by election date does not tell the whole story. If we order India’s states by population, it becomes clear that the BJP is now dominating state politics in most of India’s largest states. There is a lot of saffron near the top of the spreadsheet below; the BJP now governs in five of India’s ten largest states, and ten of India’s twenty largest states. Meanwhile, Congress has been reduced to something of a bit player. It has a strong presence in the tiny states of India’s northeast (Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, and Mizoram) and the slightly larger north Indian hill states of Himachel Pradesh and Uttarakhand. But the only large states where it continue to govern are Karnataka, Kerala (as part of the United Democratic Front alliance), and Assam, and the latter two will be holding elections in the first half of next year:
Sorting the states by coalition also illuminates this trend. Notice how the BJP-governed states in saffron are much larger in terms of population than the INC-governed states in light blue. This also illustrates how a number of India’s largest states–Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar, Tamil Nadu–are governed by regional parties:
This is the context in which the Bihar elections will be held next month. The BJP romped to victory last year in the Lok Sabha elections, but their momentum has been consistent in the Vidhan Sabha elections such that they now govern in many of India’s largest states. This will also set the stage for next year’s elections, when one union territory and four states, including two of India’s largest (West Bengal and Tamil Nadu), will hold their Vidhan Sabha elections.
The Vidhan Sabha elections are important for national politics in that they elect the representatives to the Rajya Sabha (the upper house of the national parliament). Presently, Congress is still the party with the largest bloc of MPs in the Rajya Sabha, but that will change in the next few years as some of the BJP-governed Vidhan Sabhas will select new MPs for the Rajya Sabha. A win in Bihar, or the Vidhan Sabha elections held next year, would give the BJP more political muscle in the upper house of parliament.
If you’d like to download the data and play with the spreadsheet yourself, click below:
*Thanks to Shreyas Sardesai for his review and comments
Note: An earlier version of this post listed the wrong dates for some states’ previous elections. These have been corrected.