Numbers: Stacked against the BJP

The BJP is 32 years old; understandably, it has a smaller footprint across the country compared to the INC that has been in the politics business for four times as long. For example, there are large swathes of India where the BJP does not even have a single MP representing it in Parliament. The contiguous states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa did not elect even one BJP member of Parliament in the 2009 General Elections. Another large state sharing a boundary with Orissa, West Bengal, has just one BJP MP — Jaswant Singh — who contested almost  as a Gorkha Janmukti Morcha candidate in Darjeeling. That makes the BJP irrelevant to the extent of drawing a blank in geographically contiguous 165 constituencies. Things may change and the BJP may indeed do well in 2014 in these States, but it’s unlikely to translate into more than 10 MPs even upon improving dramatically, given the organisational structure of the party in those states and First Past the Pole(FPTP) System of the elections.

Further, the BJP has been in fourth position or worse in at least 28% of the constituencies in Uttar Pradesh. It is reasonable to assume the probability of anti-incumbency benefiting Parties in second and third positions is higher than that of the contender in fourth position accruing gains sufficient to win. If one adds the other States where the BJP is not likely to win significantly — such as Jammu & Kashmir, Tripura, Nagaland, Manipur — roughly 200 seats have a very low probability of less than 0.15(more on the method later) for a BJP victory. That makes the party competitive (P(V) > 0.3) in 342 constituencies. A hit rate of 50% in these constituencies, an unbelievably  difficult task in itself, would still give the party only 170 seats. Whether that’s sufficient to draw allies is a question that the remainder of this post and the ensuing series of posts will attempt to explore.

The long term problem of the BJP, however, is that its appeal is in conflict with the FPTP in a multi-party democracy. Especially one in which the multiple parties and their appeal have high correlation with the demographic data. Or stated in an attention grabbing non academic way, it’s not an accident of history or the Party’s relative recent birth compared to its biggest rival that has rendered the BJP geographically limited. This post’s hypothesis is that there are structural reasons for this limitation. Before examining and illustrating the hypothesis — here are a couple of pointers,

  1. Among large states (Parliamentary Seats of 13 or higher) where the BJP is either relevant or a dominant player, the population of Muslims is between 6% and 14%. Something strange happens at either ends of this band.
  2. In these States, there is almost always a direct contest with the INC. There isn’t a single large State where the BJP is a dominant player when the other dominant player happens to be a regional party.

The hypothesis that one is tempted to put forward is as follows: when the population of Muslims in a large state exceeds 14%, it becomes increasingly likely that a regional party surfaces with enough cache from one of the dominant castes to offset the balance that the BJP and Congress are otherwise able to achieve between caste combinations within Hindus and across Hindus and Muslims in FPTP system.

Consider Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, with over 16% and 18% Muslims respectively to demonstrate this effect. In these states, the natural equilibrium seems to be a four cornered split among five groups — Muslims, dominant OBC, other OBC castes, upper castes and Dalits. Typically, the Dalits and the dominant OBC group are antagonistic on the ground and hence their alliance is unnatural. The upper caste groups are typically smaller compared to the other groups. The other OBCs are most likely to be antagonistic to the dominant OBCs and amongst themselves in varying degrees. With the internal fracture set this way, the Muslim population at about 14% seems to reach a certain criticality where it cannot be treated as another OBC group and attains stature tending to either the dominant OBC or Dalits. This allows space for a regional party to become viable state-wide. The combinations can be any one of the many possible and that’s the raison d’etre for RJD, SP, JDU and to a lesser degree, the BSP. That’s also the reason why parties similar to these are not as prominent in the contiguous state of Madhya Pradesh, which has a Muslim population of 6.37% — one that can be treated as that of another caste group.

The problem for the BJP is that while all Hindu caste sub-groups in the 4 categories are neatly divisible into competing groups, the Muslim population stands as a single separate entity that’s unlikely to vote for them. So, the asymmetry of caste formation introduced by virtue of this criticality renders the BJP in a losing proposition under normal circumstances. The 90s Hindu mobilization were abnormal times where possibly antagonistic groups on the ground — such as competing OBCs — voted BJP. But that sort of a flash in the pan will be rare and takes either a social upheaval or an enlightened electorate to happen. Neither of those seem likely in 2014.