Starting with the East

It started with a fun-tweet at my end, poking Prof. Yogenadra Yadav that he doesn’t take @cvoterindia’s numbers seriously. In a way, I interjected in a conversation between Dr. Sanjay Kumar of CSDS and Prof. Yadav. Dr. Sanjay disagrees with Prof. Yadav in his assessment (or rather assertion) that BJP’s fortunes are taking a nosedive in the run up to 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Shekhar Gupta in the “spirit of healthy disagreement” asked for a debate between “two brilliant psephologists” aiming for a @YogendraYadav and @sanjaycsds conversation. Now, the only way to get myself counted among the greats, was to jostle in, to bask in the reflected glory of great minds that I deeply respected. Shekhar ji being a gentleman, had to give a socially amicable reply, so that he didn’t sound rude to me (see, how good I plan all this!!), and I was no way going to let the opportunity pass by. These three gentlemen are way too senior to me, and I have decided to use my attention seeking tantrums just the way a toddler does.

It is normal for different agencies to come up with different numbers, particularly for seats. The recent CVoter Tracker in MP/Chattisgarh/Rajasthan shows similar voting trends like the CSDS surveys barring some differences in seat share projections. In MP/Chattisgarh seat share projections the CVoter tracker is projecting a slender Congress lead and a massive Congress sweep in Rajasthan. The CSDS numbers were positive for BJP majority in MP/Chattisgarh and a normal victory for Congress in Rajasthan. This is explainable as the vote shares in both studies are within striking distance of each other, and the FPTP (first past the post) system inherently does not have any direct correlation of votes polled and seats won by any party. The thumb rule says, the party with more votes would get more seats, but in FPTP, even that rule goes for a toss.

However, when the difference in assessments between poll pundits is not a marginal one, it sure asks for a detailed dissection to ascertain if we are talking about the same universe. In that light this debate is important and interesting. To cut the story short; you can read the full analysis of Prof. Yogendra Yadav on “Why BJP is staring at a loss of nearly 100 seats from 2014 tally” here:

https://theprint.in/opinion/hindi-heartland-holds-key-to-bjp-2019-electoral-fortunes-once-again/147096/

As the fun-poking intervention became serious, I said I am game. Prof. Yadav replied:

“Great. So, for clarity sake, can we break the dialogue into 4 Q’s:  1. Likely gains for BJP in East followed by 2. Likely losses for BJP in West + South; 3. Likely losses for BJP in UP and finally 4. Likely losses for BJP in rest of Hindi belt Feel free to change/challenge”

I have written my series in the same format that Prof. Yadav has suggested, just that I feel the second part should be split into two separate debates for West and South individually, so that the readers get crisp and clear picture about each state in details.

 Likely gains for BJP in East

 

YoYa: The East offers the BJP its only growth possibility over 2014. It won 11 seats in this entire region and thus has room to grow. All credible polls indicate that its support base is growing in Odisha at the expense of the Congress and in Bengal at the expense of the Left Front. The BJP has followed the old Congress strategy of acquisition and merger to register unprecedented growth in the northeast. The BJP will be a force to reckon with in east India. The only question is whether it can convert its additional votes into additional seats this election. As of now, the BJP appears to have crossed that threshold in Odisha, but not in Bengal. It may overtake the Left to emerge as the runner-up in Bengal, but it is still way short of challenging Mamata Banerjee’s hegemony. It cannot grow more in Assam but is likely to pick additional seats in the hill states of the northeast. All in all, the BJP may pick up to 20 additional seats from this region.

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YRD: Agree with the observations. Our latest Tracker this month shows a gain of 24 seats for the BJP in this region. Not far off from 20 additional seats that YoYa is indicating. That’s a pleasant start, that we ended up agreeing on something. But jokes apart, for these detailed inputs, I am putting in all the updated data for each state in East Zone. Prof. Yadav has raised an extremely important point while stating that BJP will be a force to reckon with in East India. He is absolutely correct in raising doubt that the massive upswing of votes for BJP in Eastern Zone may not end in equally “massive” addition to its seats tally. This is very much possible.

Just look at the vote shares. As Prof Yadav has focused more on “Seats”, I would like to focus more on “Votes” just to give context on why we are agreeing on certain things and the opposite as well. In May 2014 the NDA had polled just about 19% in this Zone, and as on today our tracker data is indicating a massive 12% upswing taking the BJP vote share to almost 36% in this zone. Classically, this upswing is not coming from the kitty of Congress which is retaining its approx. 19% vote share in this Zone.

This upswing is coming from Regional parties, most notably the CPM in West Bengal (I know few would get offended by terming CPM as regional Party but let us leave it for separate debate altogether) and the BJD in Odisha.

A small portion of these votes are coming from NDA allies in NEDA, which constitutes only 11 out of total 88 seats in this region. These 11 seats in 7 North East states have only about 8% votes of entire Eastern region. Remaining 92% electorate are spread across 3 major States of West Bengal, Odisha and Assam, where BJP has arguably conjured a massive upswing.

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While in Assam and Tripura the BJP has made Government on its own, the tracker data shows something extraordinary happening in the state of Odisha and West Bengal. In Odisha the BJP is polling almost 38% at the moment, way more that 33% of ruling BJD. Certainly, BJP looks set to cross the ‘threshold’ of votes to convert that into seats in Odisha. If the trend continues, it could deliver a Tripura or Assam like punch, provided the BJP doesn’t give it back on a platter to BJD for realpolitik reasons.

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But the same can’t be said about West Bengal. The state ruled by TMC is witnessing an extraordinary scenario, where CPM and Congress are headed for a complete meltdown and their votes are polarizing towards BJP, against Mamata Banerjee. So, the more bipolar it gets, the more likely it might end up helping TMC, simply because of arithmetic. Right now, the BJP is polling around 31% votes while TMC is full 10 points ahead with 41% votes. With further polarization, it is very much likely that Muslim votes in North Bengal would leave Congress and move to Mamata. The opposite would happen from Left Front towards the BJP.

If the trend line continues like this, they may finally settle for 35% for BJP and 45% for TMC. Yes, the BJP would become the principal opposition to Mamta Banerjee in West Bengal, but will the 35% vote share result in seat conversion? Unlikely.

I fully agree with Prof. Yadav here that in West Bengal, even with massive upswing of votes, the BJP might not cross the threshold. It doesn’t look likely as on today. Our algorithm converts these votes into approximately 9 out of 42 seats for BJP in West Bengal, but it is very much probable that BJP might end up with big Zero even with a possible 35% vote share. In a bipolar contest, a gap of 10% votes is way too big to counter. The real gamechanger could be a swing away from TMC though. The moment this gap starts reducing from 10% to 7% to 5% and so on, the number of seats for BJP could come in disproportionately. The reason for this is regional variation.

The lead of TMC is not 10% across all the regions. We spotted this trend in the massive round of survey we did during Panchayat elections for Anand Bazar Patrika, the largest selling Bengali daily. From a mere 3% votes in 2013, the BJP shot to almost 27% votes during the Panchayat elections, and the regional variations were staggering. The latest round of CVoter tracker only confirms that this trend has consolidated further.

Tracker Vote Share across the regions in West Bengal:

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Look at the TMC leads over the BJP across different regions. They are as large as 21% in North Border regions and 13% in Deltaic region but crash down to about 5% in Northern hills and just about 2% in Southern plains. And in the Highlands, the tables have turned already and TMC is trailing by about 3% behind BJP. Yes, you guessed it right, it is the same region that comprises areas like Jhargram and Purulia, where the TMC is accusing the BJP of joining hands with Maoists for electoral gains.

How much of that is true, I leave it to the readers, but I wonder if the BJP vote of 36% compared to TMC 38% in Southern Plains, or 38:42 split in Northern Hills also has anything to do with Maoists. Just couple of points swing from Left Front to BJP in these areas is bound to turn the tables.

Tracker Seat Share across the regions in West Bengal:

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But if that doesn’t happen, then further polarization of Muslim votes to TMC will increase the gap, and that would only mean just about 4 or 5 seats for BJP in largest State of East Zone.

Taking about probability, Mamta Banerjee could very well end up with a score line of 42-0 within the same vote share range. If the news about sitting Congress MP from Malda Mausam Noor joinging TMC gets confirmed, it will sound the final nail in coffin for the WB Congress. She is niece of legendary Congress leader ABA Ghani Khan Choudhury, and it’s the Malda votes which form majority of the 15% votes that Congress is picking up in Northern Border Region.

As TMC is already projected to poll almost 20% more than BJP in this region, with sole Congress MP projected to come from this region, if Mausam Noor joins TMC it will become one-way traffic for TMC. Our data shows TMC leading in 7 out of total 8 seats in this region, and with Mausam Noor switching the sides, it will be 8-0 for TMC with well over 50% votes in this region.

This episode of West Bengal precisely exposes the equation of TMC and BJP. It is in TMC’s interest that BJP grows in West Bengal at the expense of Left Front while TMC eats up the entire Congress support base. This ensures the complete TMC sweep as on today. However, as Prof. Yadav talked about the ‘threshold’, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that this threshold has already been breached in one region and on the verge of being breached in two more major regions of West Bengal.

If the TMC leadership thinks that their 10% lead over BJP is evenly distributed in entire state, they might be in for a rude shock. That shocker is just 1% swing away in Southern Plains and another 2.5% swing away in Northern Hills, and at this moment as many as 18 out of the 32 projected seats for TMC are coming from these two regions.

So, if I am openly underlining the huge probably of 42-0 score line for Mamta Banerjee in 2019, in all professional fairness, I must also underline the probability of 21-21 scorecard if there is even a slight further swing from Left Front to BJP in just two of the five regions in West Bengal.

Else, my current estimate of BJP gaining 24 seats in East region is more or less matching with Prof. Yadav’s estimate of 20+ seats gain for saffron party.