THE ELECTION RESULTS IN UTTAR PRADESH and four other states last month have confirmed that the standard analysis of the 2009 Lok Sabha elections—which suggested the national parties were in fact on their way back to dominance—was false.
Between the general elections in 2004 and 2009, the Congress increased its vote share by only two percentage points—from 26.5 to 28.5 percent—but this translated into an additional 61 seats in the Lok Sabha, thanks largely to the increasing fragmentation of other parties. Without the benefit of a split in the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, and the creation of new parties in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, the Congress and its allies would have fared far worse. The real story in 2009, obscured by the Congress victory, was that for the first time state parties took more than 50 percent of all votes—52.5 percent, to be precise, up from only 43.5 percent in 1991.
I am using the term “state parties” here in a broader sense than the official one employed by the Election Commission, which defines a “national party” as one with nominal representation in the Lok Sabha or state assembly across at least four states. That criteria grants ‘national’ status to what are, in essence, state parties: the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which won 20 of its 21 Lok Sabha seats in UP; the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M), which won all its seats in Kerala and West Bengal; the Nationalist Congress Party, which won seats only in Maharashtra; and the Rashtriya Lok Dal, which took seats only in Bihar and Jharkhand.