Many a slip
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Electoral victories in four states may not add up to a BJP wave in 2014.
One unavoidable dimension to the analysis of the recently held assembly elections has been their relevance to the Lok Sabha election in 2014. For this reason, if for nothing else, the BJP could read into these outcomes the possibility of a better electoral harvest in 2014. Four of the states that went to polls (leaving out Mizoram) account for 72 Lok Sabha seats — of which 40 are currently held by the Congress and 30 by the BJP. The recent assembly outcomes are likely to add a large number to the BJP's account from Rajasthan (where it won only four seats last time), and would reduce the Congress's strength in Delhi, where it had won all seven seats (it may now lose all of them). So it is reasonable that there is a spring in the BJP's step. While interpreting these assembly elections as having a strong bearing on the parliamentary outcome is indeed legitimate, would the BJP be right to sense a wave in its favour?
In this moment of expectation and excitement, the BJP will have to remember some plain facts. To begin with, it must remember that it has had a generous opponent in the form of the Congress, which contributed to the BJP's advance in no small measure. Through its prevarication on the state leadership issue, through its suicidal internal bickering and through its lack of vision, the Congress allowed itself to lose an already difficult round of elections. So one wonders how much of the outcome is the making of the Congress and how much of it is the BJP's achievement.
But more than the routine contributions that the Congress makes to its opponents, what distinguishes this round of elections is perhaps the fact that the tarnished image of the Central government was a key factor. Survey data emerging from the pre-election survey conducted by the CSDS and Lokniti clearly show that voters were disappointed with the UPA government and its leadership. Net satisfaction (that is, the proportion of those satisfied minus those dissatisfied) with the performance of the UPA government ranged from minus 6 per cent in Delhi to 13 and 14 per cent in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh respectively, to 24 per cent in Madhya Pradesh. Worse, in the post-election survey, price rise was uniformly perceived as the single most pressing problem for voters in these states. Twenty per cent in Chhattisgarh, 24 in MP, 27 in Rajasthan and 37 per cent in Delhi saw price rise as the issue that dominated their voting decision. So, this electoral outcome had the imprint of negative voter assessment of the Central government.
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