By Aditya Menon
The United States has seen a few Presidential candidates lose the elections despite winning the popular vote. It happened to Hilary Clinton in 2016 and Al Gore in 2000. This has happened less frequently in India.
However, the BJP had to face this in the recently concluded Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh – the party lost the election despite securing 47,827 more votes than the Congress, which is now forming the government in the state. In terms of percentages, the BJP’s vote share was 0.1 percent more than the Congress, yet it won 109 seats, five less than that the Congress at 114.
The only other state where this has happened in the recent past is Karnataka. In the 2008 Assembly elections, the Congress’ vote share was 0.9 percent more than that of the BJP. But it won 30 seats less than the latter.
This was repeated in Karnataka in the assembly polls this year. The Congress won 78 seats with a vote share of 38 percent, but the BJP won 104 seats with a vote share of 36.2 percent. So, the BJP won 26 more seats than the Congress despite its vote share being nearly two percent less. That the Congress later formed a coalition government in the state with the Janata Dal (Secular) is another matter.
This is mainly due to the regional variations in the support of the three parties in Karnataka: BJP, Congress and JD(S).
- The JD(S) is strong in the Old Mysore region in the south eastern part of the state and traditionally weaker in all the other regions.
- Conversely, the BJP has a strong presence across the state, except the Old Mysore region.
- The Congress’ base is spread uniformly across the state.
So, the discrepancy between votes and seats took place because the Congress lost sizable seats to the JD(S) in the Old Mysore region with the BJP being a distant third. In rest of the state, the Congress lost many seats to the BJP, with the JD(S) being nowhere in the picture.
Something similar has happened in Madhya Pradesh in this election. Like Karnataka, there are three aspects to this:
First, even though Madhya Pradesh doesn’t have a strong third party like the JD(S), anti-BJP votes consolidated behind non-Congress candidates in a few seats where the Congress was weak.
Second, the BJP’s base was spread more evenly across Madhya Pradesh.
Third, the Congress won more seats with smaller margins than the BJP.
Some Voters Chose ‘Others’ to Defeat BJP
Seven seats in Madhya Pradesh were won by non-Congress, non-BJP candidates. Out of these, two were won by the Bahujan Samaj Party, one by the Samajwadi Party and four by independent candidates. The BJP was the runner-up in six out of seven seats and the Congress was nowhere in the picture, not very different from the BJP’s position in the Old Mysore region in Karnataka.
This is surprising as the Congress was said to be in a winning position in Madhya Pradesh for the first time in the past three Assembly elections in the state. This indicates that the anti-BJP voters may have shifted strategically to other parties in seats where the Congress candidates were weak. Not surprisingly, three of these are seats where Congress rebels emerged victorious.
These six seats were all characterised by a huge vote share gap between the BJP and the Congress and a sharp reduction in the latter’s vote share compared to the last election.
BJP’s Votes Were More Evenly Spread Out
Like the Congress in Karnataka, the BJP’s votes were more evenly spread across Madhya Pradesh. The party contested 222 seats in the state, winning 109 and coming second in 113. The Congress, on the other hand, was in serious contention in 211 seats, of which it won 114 and came second in 97. The party was out of the race in a larger number of seats than the BJP, much like the latter’s position in Karnataka.
The Congress came third in 14 seats in Madhya Pradesh and fared even worse in five seats. This includes Jatara, a seat it didn’t contest, leaving it for Sharad Yadav’s Loktantrik Janata Dal which could secure barely 1,200 votes. The BJP in contrast stood third in just seven seats and fourth in just one.
The first-past-the-post system is unfair to parties whose votes are not concentrated in particular seats. The most obvious example is the BSP failing to win a single seat in Uttar Pradesh in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, despite securing 19 percent of the votes.
Congress Won More Seats With Smaller Margins
A large number of constituencies went down to the wire in Madhya Pradesh which was one of the reasons why the counting continued till late into the night of December 11. In ten seats, the margin was less than 1,000 votes. The Congres won seven out of these and the BJP won three. Two seats were decided by a margin of less than 500; both were won by the Congress. In Gwalior South, Congress candidate Praveen Pathak won by a margin of just 121 votes while in Suswara, the party’s candidate Hardeep Singh Dang defeated his BJP rival by a margin of 350 votes.
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