India saw eight alliance governments being formed over six general elections
between 1989 and 2004. If we look at the seat and vote share data for the leading party in each election and compare it with the seats and vote share for the runner-up party, we find no patterns that can lead us to say that a particular data points to an alliance government in India.
There are no discernible patterns in differences in seat count or vote shares between the leading and runner-up parties.
For example, the BJP achieved a clear majority on its own in 2014 with a 31.3 per cent vote share. So, can we argue that a party getting more than 30 per cent of the votes on its own leads to a clear majority? We cannot, as the data from 1989 and 1991 says otherwise.
In the years 1996, 1998 and 1999, the BJP emerged as the single largest party but had fewer votes than the Congress. This could be explained by the decidedly smaller geographical footprint of the BJP vis-à-vis the INC (especially the saffron party’s absence in East and South India).
While it is true that the BJP has won two elections in a row with a clear mandate, it could be perhaps be explained by another factor.
The X Factor
The year 1984 was the last time India elected a government with a clear majority before giving a clear mandate to Narendra Modi
in 2014. What changed between 1989 and 2014? This could be explained by the absence of a larger-than-life, charismatic leader who could convert the election into a presidential style poll.
Between, 1952 and 1980, the Congress party was led by charismatic leaders such as Jawahar Lal Nehru and Indira Gandhi and the 1984 verdict was also due to the sympathy wave after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination. In 1989, however, Rajiv Gandhi's personal popularity was on the decline and he faced three strong challenges in the form of V P Singh, Mandal politics and the early stages of the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement.
The BJP increased its seat tally from 161 in 1996 to 182 in 1998 thanks to the X factor that was Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It increased its votes by 26 million in 1998. It couldn’t however, scale the majority mark owing to a smaller geographical footprint as mentioned earlier.
In 2014 and 2019, Narendra Modi
was the undisputed charismatic figure supported by a strong party apparatus which brought a clear verdict in favour of the BJP. In a presidential style election in 2014, BJP increased its votes by 93 million (up 118 per cent). Similarly it increased its votes by 57 million (33 per cent) in 2019. Narendra Modi and BJP’s success in 2014 and 2019 can also be attributed to their mastery over caste arithmetic in different states.
The reincarnation of the politics of charisma has trumped the politics of the alliance. For now at least.