Today, lets find out the untold story of how BJP lost the 2004 General Elections. No other analyst or newspaper has narrated this story with such analysis.
In the early 2000s, India had witnessed steady economic growth under Vajpayee, and BJP in general had become synonymous with progress due to reforms, infrastructure including Golden Quadrilateral which was discussed in an earlier article here: http://guruprasad.net/posts/roads-indias-path-to-prosperity/
When BJP passed the state assembly elections of 2003 with flying colors (In MP, Rajasthan & Chhattisgarh), Vajpayee thought it was the right time to call for early elections and recommended premarture dissolution of Lok Sabha in early 2004 to utilize the mood which he thought was in his favor. General Elections were conducted in mid 2004 during which BJP left no stone unturned to glorify itself through the “India Shining” campaign, amidst some criticisms, but almost all the newspapers, analysts & opinion polls predicted a resounding victory for BJP. On 13 May 2004, results of the counting came as a shocker because BJP had lost!! Sonia Gandhi went on to form the Govt with Dr. Manmohan Singh as PM and the rest is history. After the dust was settled, there were thousands of articles introspecting & analyzing this and the major reason attributed by analysts was that BJP went overboard with the “India Shining” campaign which offended the rural & urban poor who made it a point to “punish” BJP by voting against them and to bring in Congress which was (and has always been) seen as pro-poor. Even LK Advani admitted that they lost in 2004 due to overconfidence & wrong slogans like “India Shining” which was questioned by Sonia Gandhi who used the opportunity to mock at the campaign by pointing out India’s poverty.
While these popular sentiments might indeed have played some role in ousting BJP out of power, what really matters in elections is “numbers”. i.e The emphasis during campaigns are all about sentiments but what goes behind the scenes are purely mathematical. Lets find out how BJP actually lost the 2004 elections by analyzing these numericals from official reports of EC and debunk the above myth/propaganda.
To begin with, lets find out how many people voted for BJP & Congress in 1999 & 2004 because that might give us an idea of the swing in vote and the subsequent debacle.
The above table depicts starting revelations!! As we can see, The number of people who voted for Congress & BJP had almost remained the same in 1999 & 2004.
10.3 crore people had voted for Congress in 1999 and even in 2004, around 10.3 crore people voted for Congress. 8.6 (crore people had voted for BJP in 1999 and even in 2004, around 8.6 crore people had voted for BJP. But look at the number of seats won. In 1999, through 10.3 crore votes, Congress had won 114 seats but in 2004, using almost the same number of voters, it won 145 seats!! In the case of BJP, in 1999, it had won 182 seats through 8.6 crore votes but in 2004, inspite of having the same number of votes, could manage only 138 seats.
To summarize, with approximately the same sizes of their respective voterbases, Congress managed to increase its seats by 31 while BJP’s seats decreased by 44, ultimately leading to it’s defeat.
So, the myth of “People punishing BJP for India Shining campaign” is debunked here because as the statistics reveal, there was hardly any swing in votes. In fact, they remained same.
Naturally, the next question would be: “How could Congress manage to increase it’s seats inspite of having the same number of voters”. This is the beauty of the arithmetic of Indian Elections which is based on the system of British Electorate (Also called the Westminster Electoral system). In this system, contrary to the popular belief, more votes need not always assure victory. What really matters is how these votes are actually distributed across constituencies which in turn can determine the winner of each constituency. The concept is called “First Past the Post” which means in each constituency, the party has the highest votes wins that constituency seat and the rest of the votes going to other parties in that constituency are not considered at all. These votes cannot be carried forward to other constituency because each constituency is completely isolated from each other in terms of vote counting.
Lets take up a simple example to understand how this “First past the post” can skew results. The following example is simplified but exaggerated to help understand the concept while in reality, it will be much more complex.
Assume we have only 2 parties (BJP & Congress) and the following 3 constituencies in our country: 1) Ramasitanagar – population of 20K 2) Indiranagar – population of 20K 3) Rajivnagar – population of 10K
In order to form a Govt, assume that a party must win atleast 2 seats (out of the 3 i.e 67% seats)
Adding the population, We have a total of 50K people spread over 3 constituencies. Assume that in Ramasitanagar, 18k people vote for BJP and the rest to congress. So, BJP wins that constituency and gets a seat. In Indiranagar, 11k vote for Congress and 9k to BJP. So, Congress gets a seat. In Rajivnagar, 7k vote for Congress and 3k to BJP. So, Congress gets a seat.
We now have a result where Congress gets 2 seats but BJP only 1. But, calculate the above figures, you get Total BJP votes = 18K + 9k + 3k = 30k (60% of the votes) Total Congress votes = 2k + 11k + 7k = 20k (40% of the votes)
Although BJP got 60% of the votes and Congress just 40% of the vote population, when it came to seat tally, Congress got 67% of the seats and won the election.
The above example illustrates how a party, inspite of getting more voters can lose to a party which gets lesser votes but plays strategically to win.
Congress party has been a champion in this ever since the first General Elections were held in 1952 which had taken political commentators by surprise. For example, the following excerpt from “India after Gandhi” shows how Congress managed to win 74.4 percent of the Lok Sabha seats inspite of getting only 45 percent of people’s votes:
Coming back to the main topic, it is this concept of “First past the post” which was very well understood & applied by the Congress party. Instead of putting more campaigning efforts into constituencies it already had strong foothold in, the party chose to divert that effort into other constituencies where it was weak or was in tight battle with BJP. Increasing it’s seat ratio was primary and everything else was secondary because the party knew that if it had the right numbers, it could easily attract allies and could even pull a few away from rival coalitions (DMK for example) into their grip so as to form the next Govt.