Understanding Indian public mood is not easy, nor is it easier to concretely predict any parliamentary or assembly polls in the country. Trends in the past have shown that whenever there has been larger turnout of voters in an election, it has not correlated with a change. This narrative has yet again become a part of discussion on television channels, print media and also digital media following the upsurge in voters’ participation in Goa and Punjab assembly elections.
Punjab saw 77.37 percent polling, more than one percent lower than what was recorded during the 2012 assembly election, while Goa witnessed 82.23 percent polling, around one percent more than what was registered during the last assembly election in the state five years ago.
This indeed indicates public enthusiasm towards the poll and is attributed to the Election Commission’s vigorous public awareness campaign and increase in the enrollment of first-time voters. On February 4, in several polling booths across Goa, election commission officials had to keep the polling stations open even after 5 pm as long queue of people had not ended by then.
Yet, on average, past 20 years’ data accessed from the Election Commission reveals that high poll percentage has not necessarily translated into change in the political system. The last assembly election in West Bengal recorded over 84 per cent voter participation in the polls. Instead of going against the Mamata Banerjee-headed government in the state, the poll favoured it with overwhelming majority seats going in the ruling Trinamool Congress’ kitty.
Similarly, history was created when the 2012 assembly election returned the SAD-BJP combine to power for the consecutive second term in Punjab since its reorganisation in 1966. That election had witnessed over 78 percent of polling, a sort of record in the state.
Therefore, as per some experts, relating high public participation in the election with pro-change demand, would be full of risks. This argument, however, is not bought by many others as their stand is that high turnout reflects only anti-incumbency feeling of voters and therefore, in their eyes, the just-concluded assembly polls in Punjab and Goa would see a change in the political system.
What if high poll percentage remains advantageous for AAP?
It is hard to predict as to which party will win and form the next government in Punjab and Goa. Still, if high turnout of electorates in these two states favours positive outcome for the AAP, it means bad omen for the BJP in Gujarat and reduced chances for the saffron party and the Congress in Himachal Pradesh – both of them are going for polls in October and November this year.
In the just-concluded municipal and district panchayat polls in Gujarat, the BJP won 107 out of the total 123 seats, but it is not sure that the saffron party’s citadel will not fall when the assembly elections take place. It is anticipated that Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal-headed AAP’s victory in Punjab and Goa will boost morals of the rookie party’s rank and file and as such, they will perhaps not shy away from giving the ruling BJP in Gujarat a stiff challenge during the forthcoming assembly polls.
Already, there is a simmering discontent among the youth belonging to Patel community over the reservation issue. The Dalits too are shocked following the last year’s incident when a cow vigilant group severely beat up four Dalit youths in public and dragged them along the road for nearly a kilometre in Gir Somnath district of Gujarat.
The Congress has failed to channelise this anger against the BJP and local polls’ results have shown it in clear terms. However, for the APP, a victory in Punjab and Goa means pumping in more energy into its rank and file’s adrenaline and mobilise youth and women against the saffron party in Gujarat. It will not be surprising if this rookie party outflanks the Congress either in Himachal Pradesh during the assembly polls. In fact, it has been seen that the AAP performs well wherever a ruling establishment is led by traditional outfits like the BJP and the Congress.
What if larger turnout of voters proves well for Congress?
If larger voting percentage in Punjab and Goa turns out favourable for the Congress, it will reinvigorate the grand old party for which a series of losses in state assembly polls since 2014 parliamentary election have made it look like a sinking ship. A win in these states will also give a shot in the arm of party’s vice president Rahul Gandhi, criticised by opposition leaders as a non-performer. The confidence of the party, at the moment, seems to be shaken.
Once ruling across the length and breadth of the country, the Congress’ infrastructure and support base have collapsed in several states. Its Brahmin, Muslim and Dalit base has been hijacked by the BJP, the SP, the BSP and other outfits, leaving it without significant public support. But a win in Punjab and Goa will keep the party away from the ventilator it is on for more than two-and-half-years.
By and large, it remains to be seen whether increase in voters’ turnout proves to be a game changer or not. Yet, it should not be forgotten that without understanding the ground reality, arithmetic of turnout will not help in correctly predicting the outcome. In 1977, there was a bi-polar fight between the Congress and the Janata Party; by the turn of the 1980 parliamentary election, everything got demolished under the charisma of Indira Gandhi.
In the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984, the Congress got 415 seats out of 542 seats and scored 48.1 voting percentage. However, in 1989, when parliamentary polls took place, the Congress suffered a heavy defeat at the hands of V P Singh-led Janata Dal, even as the former witnessed a marginal two percent decline in its vote share in comparison to its last Lok Sabha polls’ performance.
A cursory glance at the electoral data of the past two decades shows that voting percentage has increased by 3-to-12 percent across many states, yet they have not necessarily factored in the expression of anti-incumbency factor and this has been clearly illustrated by West Bengal’s last assembly polls and Punjab’s 2012 assembly election.