"The 2014 polls will be about chemistry and not mathematics," said Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)'s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, a day after the press conference of the Third Front alliance of 11 political parties. For a party that valiantly launched a "Mission 272+" initiative to capture a majority in the Lok Sabha on its own under Modi's leadership, is this deference for chemistry over maths a subtle admission of the importance of alliances in Indian elections? By anointing Modi as its prime ministerial candidate, the BJP evidently expected his popularity to more than compensate for any loss of seats through falling alliances. What is the mathematical value of this "Modi Wave"? The analysis shows that it should be equal to at least five per cent more Lok Sabha seats for the BJP than its best-ever historical performance in each state over the last 25 years, for this bet to pay off.
The six largest states (Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Tamil Nadu) account for more seats (54 per cent) in the Lok Sabha than the rest of the country combined. And 18 of the 29 states of India account for nearly 95 per cent of all Lok Sabha seats. There are dominant regional parties in 11 of these 18 states (if a regional party has contested all seats in its state in the past, it is classified as dominant). Analysis of the last six Lok Sabha elections from 1991 to 2009 in these 18 states reveals that the electoral landscape is getting crowded with every passing election. In 1991, six parties/alliances contested in all seats in at least one state. In 2009, nine such alliances contested and in 2014, the number is likely to be much higher than nine, making it one of the most crowded elections in Indian history.
In this context, political parties can choose to play one of two strategies - smart alliances to consolidate vote share or bet on a favourable swing to emerge on top of a fractious ballot. The BJP under Modi's leadership has chosen the latter strategy. This left the playing field open for the formation of a Third Front coalition to play the former strategy. Will the BJP strategy work in its favour?
The graph below shows the BJP's winning percentage and percentage of seats contested in each of these 18 states over the last six Lok Sabha elections (1991-2009).
Assuming that if the BJP had contested in more than 75 per cent of seats in a state it is presumed to have gone solo, otherwise it had a pre-poll alliance partner, this table can be used to analyse the BJP's winning percentages when it went solo vis-à-vis with an alliance partner. Out of these 108 instances (six elections x 18 states), the BJP contested alone in 57 per cent of cases and had an alliance partner in 43 per cent.
The graph below shows the BJP's average winning percentage in each state when contesting on its own and in an alliance.
For example, in Andhra Pradesh, when the BJP contests alone, its average winning percentage is three per cent vis-à-vis 44 per cent when it contests with an alliance partner. It is evident that the BJP's winning percentage over these six elections is significantly higher (30 per cent versus 41 per cent) when it had an alliance partner than when it contested without a partner. The difference in winning percentages between fighting alone versus with an alliance partner is dramatic in states such as Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Assam where it is blatantly obvious that the BJP would be better served with an alliance partner than otherwise.
The table below shows the BJP's best-ever historical winning percentage performance over the last six Lok Sabha elections in each of the 18 states and if this was achieved with an alliance partner or without.
In nine states, the best performance was achieved by going it alone and in the remaining nine, it was with alliance partners. At the time of this writing, for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP under Modi's leadership will not have an alliance partner (defined as contesting at least 25 per cent of seats) in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Bihar that it previously had when it recorded its best-ever performance. Assuming that the BJP is able to match its best-ever historical performance in each of these 18 states, under the current alliance conditions, it will garner 230 out of the 509 seats (45 per cent). Thus, its winning percentage of 45 per cent is five percentage points below what is needed for a majority, i.e. "Mission 272+". Had it been able to stitch up alliances with each of its regional partner to match its historical best, then this alliance's best-ever historical performance in each state would have been 357 seats out of the 509 (70 per cent). Thus, this "Modi wave" needs to deliver a minimum of five per cent (50-45 per cent) more seats than the BJP's best-ever historical performance.
The world's largest democracy flaunting its democratic prowess every five years may seem like a grand spectacle of drama and emotion devoid of reason or rationale to the passive observer. However, there is ample evidence of cold logic with generous doses of calculated complex moves by the different players in the Indian national elections. I first argued about the astuteness of Jaylalithaa's strategy in a January 6 op-ed titled "The math behind Jayalalithaa's PM ambitions". Events that have unfolded since then including the formation of the Third Front, the alliance of Jayalalithaa's AIADMK with the Left parties and a conspicuous show of solidarity among 11 different political parties have only re-affirmed the reasoning outlined in that piece. I acknowledge and accept some of the typical admonishment I receive for such data-backed analysis about past performance not being an indicator of future results, this election being different from the previous ones, data not reflecting true sentiment, futility of counter factual analysis and so on. Nonetheless, historical data do provide a useful framework and a baseline upon which one can then add one's own cognitive instincts to draw conclusions. What should this supposed "Modi Wave" be worth in terms of Lok Sabha seats is a useful question and that's all this analysis attempts to do. Will it deliver or not is left to you to form an opinion!
(The author is founding trustee, IndiaSpend. This article first appeared in Business Standard)