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Regional parties could hold key to govt formation

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Regional parties could hold key to govt formation

As we inch closer to the result day, are we heading for a single-party majority government again or a coalition? 

The 2019 Lok Sabha election, which is one of the biggest exercises in democracy in the world, is coming to its end. While voting for 483 seats in six phases is over, another 60 constituencies are yet to go to polls in the seventh phase. As we inch closer to the result day, are we heading for a single-party majority government again or a coalition?

In 2014, the NDA government was formed with a huge majority for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), an event that happened exactly 30 years after the Congress's sweeping win in 1984. In between these years, the skew has mostly been towards the third electoral system where statebased regional parties or small parties have played an important role to form the central government.

This year too, it seems, might be difficult for a single party to get the 2014-like majority. Why? The answer lies in the performance of the parties in the past three decades.

Since 1989 to 2014, we have had a coalition-based government at the Centre. This period has seen the dominance of Congress party decline consistently, while, at the same time, the BJP's foothold has been increasing steadily.

Apart from this, another major significant change has occurred in Indian politics during the same period. Many regional parties have emerged at the state level and they have been playing a significant role to form the government at the Centre.

Their strength has expanded over the past three decades. As the chart indicates, the seat share and vote share of regional and small national parties has been consistently more than 200 since 1996. Even in 2014, when the country witnessed massive support in favour of BJP, the share of regional parties was not affected much.

BJP, CONG SWAP SEATS

Interestingly, in the past few elections, seats have shifted between the two biggest parties - BJP and Congress. The gain for BJP's 166 seats (from 116 seats in 2009 to 282 in 2014) came from Congress's loss of 162 seats (from 206 in 2009 to 44 seats five years later). Regional parties weren't impacted from the Modi wave, except in Uttar Pradesh. However, if we exclude the vote share of BJP, Congress, Left and Independents, the aggregate vote share of regional parties has hovered around 40 per cent since 1998, going up by one per cent in 2014.

SMALL, BUT BIG

There are 13 states (Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Haryana, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Odisha, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal) where regional parties not only have a strong presence at the state level but they also play a major role in parliamentary elections. If we disaggregate the vote share data further at the state level, we can see a rise in the vote share of most of the major regional parties.

Here we look at the results of three elections - two consecutive Lok Sabha elections (2009 and 2014) and the latest Assembly election held in that particular state. What we discovered is that major regional parties, such as AIADMK, AITC, BJD, RJD, Shiv Sena, TDP, TRS, etc, improved their vote election over the 2009 election.
To analyse further, we took the vote share of the same parties in the latest round of Assembly elections in the states and found that most of the regional parties did not lose their vote share except a few like AIADMK, LJP, SAD and Shiv Sena, and even their loss was minimal. In fact, some parties like DMK, JD(S) and JMM got a boost in their vote share in their Assembly election after 2014.

WHAT'S IN STORE?

As most field reportage suggests that unlike 2014, this election seems to be 'waveless' as no major chants can be heard in the field either in favour of the incumbent government or in support of opposition parties. So, we don't know yet which way the mandate will go but the above analysis suggest that there is a strong possibility that despite final outcome,
the hold of regional parties would still be strong. Even in this election, their performance will not change much and their votes might not transfer substantially to the bigger national parties. What is interesting to note here is that in some states like Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, the shift of votes occurred to other regional parties within the state, and not to the national parties. Unlike 2014, when many states witnessed a multi-corner fight, this time, in most states where regional parties have a stronghold, there is a bipolar contest due to different alliances. If their arithmetic works, it could enhance their electoral performance in 2019. So, the electoral verdict this year could lead us back to the third electoral system where a winning party might have to rely on regional parties to form a coalition government at the centre.