The disconnect between the Delhi commentariat and political reality becomes most evident when the time comes to analyse a defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party. This was underlined after the latest state elections, which saw three states in the Hindi belt change hands—Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. The Congress’s less-than-thumping victories, with the thinnest of margins in the two most populous states in play, were enough to get the capital talking of the end of the Narendra Modi era. In liberal drawing rooms and watering holes, many who maintained a studied silence for the last four years are rediscovering the language of dissent as they prepare themselves for what they see as an impending regime change.
But political reality has no regard for such expectations. The Delhi chatter was sustained by a blinkered focus on the number of state constituencies won and lost, which diverted attention from the data on vote share. The former numbers are the ones that count when forming governments, but the latter are the truest markers of voter sentiment. And it is the vote-share breakdowns that offer an answer to the big question that remained unanswered after the editorial pages were filled and the television debates exhausted—what explains the differences in the verdict across the Hindi belt? By the popular vote, the Congress swept Chhattisgarh, with a lead of 10 percentage points over the BJP, but in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh the two parties were essentially tied. Accounting for this is key to deciphering the vote as a whole.
There have been various root causes proposed to explain why the elections swung against incumbent BJP administrations in all the three states. The largest share of them have been economic—farmers’ distress, job losses, rising prices, poverty. Post-poll surveys by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies show that the percentages of voters concerned with economic issues were comparable across the three states, suggesting that these had broadly similar impacts everywhere. That, then, cannot account for the variation in the results between states.