H is for Hawk

In an Indian Express op-ed on 11 January, political scientist Paul Staniland argues that we shouldn’t lose too much sleep over Pathankot-style terror strikes because “despite understandable public outcry and past success, these spoiler attacks will be increasingly ineffective for the Pakistani military and its non-state allies”.

One reason for this, he argues, is that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s nationalist stance ensures that “no national party can make a politically potent case against [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi as being too soft on Pakistan. His domestic room to manoeuvre would be the envy of past PMs”. As a result, Modi will be free to pursue a rapprochement with Pakistan if he so wishes.

The temptation to slot the BJP, the Indian National Congress and other parties as hawkish or dovish is understandable, but it conceals as much as it reveals. For one, even though the BJP’s rhetoric tends to be more hardline than the Congress’, at the present time it is under attack from the Congress party and others as being excessively soft on Pakistan.

More to the point, the hawk-dove continuum exists within each political party, and places limits on how accommodating their leaders can be. Consider two examples:

  1. During a six-day visit to Pakistan in 2005, then BJP President Lal Krishna Advani praised Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah and described him as a “secular” leader. This caused a furore in the BJP, forcing him to resign, and leading to his replacement as president by Rajnath Singh later that year.
  2. In July 2009, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed a joint statement with his Pakistani counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani in Sharm el-Sheikh that delinked progress in other areas with terrorism and seemed to acknowledge Pakistani claims of Indian interference in Balochistan. Coming only eight months after the deadly Mumbai attacks, the statement appeared to undermine India’s earlier stance. Many Congress party members were outraged and refused to defend their own prime minister against public criticism. With no support visible in his party, Singh backtracked and the bilateral dialogue languished for the remainder of his term.

The point is that nationalist attitudes permeate many Indian parties and impose limits on how far and fast their leaderships can move. I have no doubt that Modi, like Advani, would discover those limits pretty quickly if he bent too far backwards in accommodating Pakistani concerns.

The futility of calls for covert action

Every time there is a terror attack in India, whether Mumbai (2008) or Pathankot (2016), some commentators demand “action”, usually a call for India to take the battle to the Pakistan Army and its insurgent proxies. This would presumably mean Indian agencies launching similar strikes at these groups and deterring future terror attacks.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar appeared to support this line when he stated on 11 January that any “individual or organisation” that harmed India “should also receive the pain of such activities… how, when and where should be your choice”, though he clarified that he thinking aloud rather than formulating government policy.

One frequently cited example of this approach is the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW)’s Counter Intelligence Team X (CIT-X) that is said to have carried out “retaliatory attacks in Lahore, Multan and Karachi” in the 1980s, which the former RAW officer B Raman credited with “putting an end to the ISI’s interference in Punjab by making such interference prohibitively costly”.

So why can’t India retaliate in a similar manner to terror attacks from Pakistan? There is one inescapable problem: it’s hard, if not impossible, to judge a strategy that is designed to remain hidden. Outside of a small circle of decision-makers, how would anyone know whether a covert Indian programme is being implemented, let alone if it’s working?

This problem of identification is magnified by the fact that terror attacks aren’t exactly rare in Pakistan – four times as many Pakistanis died in insurgent attacks between 2010 and 2014 as Indians did, even though its population is about a seventh that of India’s (data from the Global Terrorism Index).

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With all kinds of terrorists jostling to blow up stuff in Pakistan, it would be challenging to even identify an Indian attack.

As it is, the Pakistani government frequently accuses India of sponsoring groups like the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) via its consulates in Afghanistan. From a Pakistani point of view, the TTP attacks on the Pakistan Army headquarters (2009), the naval base PNS Mehran (2011) and the Kamra air force base (2012) bear more than a passing resemblance to a hypothetical Indian campaign.

Whether this is a figment of Pakistan’s imagination or not isn’t the point. It is that no Indian prime minister will ever say: “Mitron, we’re doing some sick ops in Pakistan, check out this LiveLeak video”. Cynics might think that the Modi government is more than capable of live-tweeting a state-sponsored attack, but I have my doubts.

This makes possible at least four errors of inference:

  1. False positive 1: Pakistan attributes attacks to India that in fact have nothing to do with India, and reacts to them. This could well be the case right now.
  2. False negative 1: India sponsors attacks in Pakistan to impose “costs”, but these are incorrectly attributed to the TTP or others. Indian deterrence fails. (Presumably someone in the PMO has seen Dr Strangelove and would signal to Pakistan appropriately.)
  3. False positive 2: Someone reads this blog and claims that it exposes India’s “grand design”, when none in fact exists (outside of, cough cough, moral and diplomatic support to Baloch rebels).
  4. False negative 2: India sponsors attacks in Pakistan, while all along analysts at home bemoan India’s “emasculation” and plaintively ask “how long can this go on”.

The lesson? Don’t waste your time calling for Indian “action”.

Unless it makes you feel better.

BJP-ruled states still more communally violent

In an article posted on the website Newslaundry on 14 October, Rupa Subramanya argues that government statistics do not support the view that “there’s been some sort of upsurge in communal violence since the election of Narendra Modi”, contending that figures that show an increase of 25% in communal incidents in January-May 2015 vs. January-May 2014 are unlikely to be statistically significant.

She also states the following:

This is a reference to my 15 February 2014 blog post titled BJP ruled states more communally violent. In her article, Subramanya asserts that:

  1. These findings are questionable because “one can get just about any result [by] using different start and end dates”; and
  2. The persistence of communal violence among a variety of different states makes it “impossible for a fair minded person to assert that there’s a greater prevalence of communal violence in either BJP or Congress ruled states.”

Note that the original one-and-a-half year old blog post used 2010-13 data because that’s what was available at the time. So let’s be fair-minded and run the analysis with the data used in the Newslaundry piece (2010-January 2015).

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Lo and behold, there’s no change in the ranking of states. Zip, zero. BJP-ruled states have an intensity of communal violence (measured by casualty rates) that is 61% higher than that of INC-ruled states. Note that both INC- and BJP-ruled states are above the national average, which means that states ruled by other parties are, on average, more peaceful. I’d say that debunks the debunker.

Let’s include communal violence data from 2007-09 to include as much information as we easily can. And here is what we find:

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There is some reshuffling in the ranking of the states, but the basic pattern holds: BJP-ruled states have 64% higher intensity of communal violence than INC-ruled states, and 78% higher than the national average. The only states where neither the BJP or INC was dominant thoughout this period are Jharkhand, Kerala and Rajasthan. The BJP was in power for most of the time in Karnataka and all of the time in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. The INC was in office in Assam throughout and in Andhra Pradesh (including Telangana) for most of the period.

The Newslaundry piece does note that several states changed government in 2013 and 2014 (and earlier), so let’s focus only on those that have experienced lengthy periods of government by one party.

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(No) surprise! BJP-ruled states still have a casualty rate 73% higher than INC-ruled states, and 60% greater than supposedly polarised Uttar Pradesh (UP) (remember, the UP figures include the Muzaffarnagar riots).

These findings, though robust, need not comprise the whole story. A thoughtful critique would note that the political party running a state isn’t the sole determinant of communal violence, and that factors such as the nature of party competition (Wilkinson 2004), the presence of institutionalised riot systems (Brass 1997), the density of civic ties among communal groups (Varshney 2002) and other contending explanations could also shape levels of communal violence.

A considered critique might also seek to distinguish between low-level communal friction at the level of locality, town or village, and outbreaks of communal violence that go beyond these. Subramanya hints at this in her observations about Uttar Pradesh but appears too focused on trying to fix the responsibility for the 2013 riots on Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav to look at this in a considered way.

Instead, we get baseless generalisations about cut-off points, and a digression involving temperatures and climate change. Sorry, Newslaundry, this just doesn’t cut it.

Does Bihar’s kidnapping industry embody “Jungle Raj”?

In a fiery election speech in Munger, Bihar, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated that the coming state election was a choice between “Jungle Raj” and “Vikas Raj”, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led alliance representing the latter.

Modi cited widespread kidnappings in Bihar as an indicator of how lawless the state has been under Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) (JD[U]). Let’s leave aside the obvious objection that the BJP bears some responsibility for this, having run Bihar in coalition with the JD(U) for the past decade. In a heated election campaign, the BJP needs to differentiate itself from Nitish and his newfound ally, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Lalu Prasad Yadav.

The problem for Modi is that two BJP-run states in the neighbourhood have higher rates of kidnapping, according to data provided in Table 1.6 of the 2014 Crime in India report (released earlier this year by the National Crime Records Bureau):

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As you can see, Bihar sits somewhere in the middle while Madhya Pradesh, ruled for 12 years by the BJP, has a kidnapping rate 61% higher than Bihar’s.

What about the trend line; does it support the charge of “jungle raj”? It certainly seems that Bihar’s kidnapping rate has jumped between 2007 (2.7 per lakh population) and 2014 (6.4 per lakh population). But that’s not the whole story: India’s overall kidnapping rate has actually risen a bit faster in the same period, and Bihar’s share of national kidnappings has in fact dropped from 9.2% (2007) to 8.5% (2014). This may be little consolation for the 3,940 additional Biharis who were kidnapped in 2014 versus 2007, but the chart below is illustrative.

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What’s not clear is if there has in fact been a national upsurge in kidnappings or whether there are technical or procedural reasons that have raised the numbers. But what is clear is that, while Bihar certainly has law-and-order issues, the state’s performance in this particular area has been only slightly worse than the national average.

The charge of “Jungle Raj”, at least so far as kidnappings go, isn’t supported by the data.

Update on Oct 17

The Wire carried this piece:

Does the New York Times really have an India problem?

The New York Times (NYT) has long been a lighting rod for criticism, and things are no different regarding its India coverage and analysis.

Economist Vivek Dehejia for one has criticised what he calls the “rabid anti-India editorializing of today’s New York Times” and attributed it to the “unremitting hostility of the Anglo-American liberal media establishment” towards the BJP.

An analysis on the website Newslaundry examined three NYT op-eds written in the last 18 months and concluded that none of them held up to scrutiny using hard data, and the author concluded that the paper’s editors seemed to “”outsource” stories to who they consider to be India “experts” without the same rigorous fact-checking as US stories.”

So does the NYT have an “India problem”? Between 1 January and 6 October 2015, the NYT carried 49 commentaries about India, of which 18 were written by the NYT editorial board and reflect the paper’s own opinion. Keep in mind that these commentaries are entirely separate from the NYT’s news reporting, and are meant to reflect the opinions of their writers.

And this is what I found:

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The editorial board is clearly critical of government policy, of Modi and of Hindu nationalism, but has also commented on topics such as the national budget, air pollution and Delhi state elections without taking an overt political or ideological position. Note that there is nothing illegitimate in the editorial board taking ideological stands.

The op-eds are, however, more diverse. An overwhelming majority relate to topics that either do not call for a political stance, or the writers choose not to adopt one. There is some criticism of Modi and of government policy, but there is also some support for both. Which means that strong Modi critics like writer Sonia Faleiro do not represent the entirety of India content on the NYT op-ed page.

The paper does, on the other hand, display a clear ideological stance.

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This should not surprise anyone who pays attention. In a 25 July 2004 comment, then NYT Public Editor Daniel Okrent answered the question of whether the NYT is a liberal newspaper with a succinct: “Of course it is.” He added that the NYT editorial page is so “thoroughly saturated in liberal theology that when it occasionally strays from that point of view the shocked yelps from the left overwhelm even the ceaseless rumble of disapproval from the right.” Furthermore, he contended that the op-ed editors “do an evenhanded job of representing a range of views in the essays from outsiders they publish”.

The first chart above does show a greater diversity of views among op-ed contributors than in the editorial board, but even op-ed contributions are overwhelmingly liberal in their orientation (in US terms). This arises, to quote Okrent again, because “the paper’s heart, mind and habits remain embedded” in the culture of New York City, and “because getting outside one’s own value system takes a great deal of self-questioning”. Fans would no doubt consider this a good thing (words like cosmopolitan, progressive and multicultural come to mind), while critics would not (and apply labels such as elite, East Coast establishment, godless). And liberal east coasters are unlikely to be sympathetic to Narendra Modi and Hindu nationalism.

But that might not be enough for those critics who see the NYT on a mission to denigrate Indian greatness. And even though I don’t subscribe to that view (finding the above explanation more compelling), here is some ammunition for them:

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Note that the editorial board has zero “good stuff” to discuss, and the op-ed pages carried all 11 pieces in this category. Hate away.

Bihar may be an uphill battle for the BJP

An average of three recent opinion polls (here, here and here) shows that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)- and Janata Dal (United)(JD(U))-led alliances are locked in a statistical dead heat in the 2015 Bihar state election.

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This is a very creditable performance for the BJP. The party was long overshadowed by its partner of two decades, Nitish Kumar’s JD(U), even though it played a crucial supporting role in bringing upper caste votes to the alliance. Today, it appears to have fought Bihar’s two dominant parties to a standstill, and could yet form a government with its political allies. Indeed, the formation of a “grand coalition” (महागठबंधन) by the JD(U), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Indian National Congress (INC) could ironically elevate the BJP to political primacy in Bihar, as Yogendra Yadav argued in a recent TV interview.

But it won’t be easy for the BJP to overcome the grand coalition’s raw arithmetic power. At the height of the Modi wave in the 2014 general election, the BJP and its allies outpolled the combined votes of these three parties in only 85 of 243 assembly segments. Most of these lay within 11 Lok Sabha constituencies where heavyweight BJP alliance candidates were contesting. The corollary: the then-hypothetical grand coalition “won” 158 assembly segments.

The big change since then is that the RJD and INC are now in alliance with the JD(U). So why does the race appear to be so tight? One theory is that disaffection with the RJD and Lalu Yadav will encourage many JD(U) supporters who might otherwise have voted for Nitish to switch to the the BJP. Furthermore younger and more educated Yadavs are also said to be weighing support for the BJP, which means that the RJD could also lose votes to the BJP.

Who knows, right? Well, not quite. We have a test of this theory in ten state by-elections fought in August 2014, only three months after the general election. The main difference was that the RJD+INC and JD(U) fought separately in the general election, but presented a unified front in the by-elections. A comparison of vote shares in the two elections gives us an opportunity to gauge the effect of the grand coalition.

So what happened? There was a swing of 2.1% towards the JD(U)-led front and a swing of 6.2% away from the BJP alliance (using simple averages). The BJP and its allies won four assembly seats and the JD(U) alliance took six. This would seem to show that the unification of the RJD, JD(U) and INC had a (weak) positive effect, while the BJP lost substantial vote share compared with the general election, only three months later. If this is a foretaste of how the grand coalition might fare against the BJP, the latter has much to be concerned about.

There are, as usual, caveats. This measure is imperfect because (1) issues and candidates differ between national and state elections and (2) ruling parties tend to win by-elections about two-thirds of the time because voters like their constituencies to receive favourable treatment. This means that any alliance effect — political contradictions that forced some RJD and JD(U) voters into the arms of the BJP — could have been hidden in the by-elections by such an incumbent effect. Furthermore, ten is admittedly a small sample in a state that has 243 assembly constituencies, although as the map below shows they were reasonably diversified in geographical terms (156-Bhagalpur in the southeast seems to not have been properly highlighted).

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Most importantly, of course, there was no chance that the by-elections would result in a change in government, whereas the BJP and its partners present a credible alternative in the state election. So a BJP wave or the move of key swing constituencies towards it (be they Mahadalits or Yadavs) could still produce victory for the BJP. However, the recent historical record and the sheer quantum of votes available to the JD(U) and RJD suggest this won’t be so easy.

Some proof required

There’s been much heated debate about Surjit Bhalla’s August 29 and September 5 Indian Express op-eds in which he argued: “the only explanation for the constancy of the share of the Christian population between 1991 and 2011 (2.32% and 2.3% respectively) is large scale conversion to Christianity”.

The crux of Bhalla’s argument is that because Sikhs and Christians had comparable income and fertility levels in the early 1990s, their respective population growth rates in between 1991 and 2011 should have been similar. Instead, “the Sikh population grew at an average rate of 1.2% per annum, while the population growth rate of Christians was a relatively higher 1.9% per annum… despite [Christians] having the highest per capita consumption, the highest level of female education and the lowest fertility.” The gap is accounted for, says Bhalla, by religious conversions to Christianity, which he quantifies at 1,70,000 per year between 1991 and 2011.

This seems at first like a smart way to isolate the impact of conversion using demographic data. But as the following critique by Rohini Prabha Pande, expert on gender and population dynamics, shows, Bhalla may be too clever by half:

Guest post by Rohini Prabha Pande

Why Bhalla’s argument is half-baked 

The most likely explanation for Bhalla’s “puzzle” might be the simplest one. Even with a slightly lower fertility rate, the Christian population may have grown larger than that of Sikhs because of a larger population base to which this fertility rate is applied, rather than lakhs of conversions. In particular, if the age distribution among Christians favors the reproductive age groups, then even with lower fertility rates the population could grow. This is related to the concept of population momentum and, at minimum, Bhalla needs to examine the age distribution and age-specific fertility rates of Christian versus other groups to rule this out as an alternative explanation.

In another sleight of hand, Bhalla summarily rules out migration – a key component of population growth – as an explanation of why the Sikh population might have grown more slowly than the Christian population. Here too he needs to explain why he is correct, and others – like Aswini Nanda – are wrong.

There are other flaws in his reasoning. I agree with Tony Joseph’s argument that Bhalla’s results depend on which period you pick. To that I would like to add that Bhalla’s focus on 20-year time periods brushes under the rug some key aspects of the relative growth of these two groups’ population, because the more you collapse data, the more information you lose. A quick calculation shows that if you simply parse 1991-2011 into two 10-year census periods (even without going further back in time to 1971, as Joseph does) you get a somewhat different picture: the (compounded) rate of growth of the Christian population across the two periods is slowing faster than the rate of growth of the Sikh population (see Table 1 below).

In other words, while the Christians may have a higher population growth rate than the Sikhs, both groups’ rates are dropping, and the Christians’ growth rate is declining faster than that of the Sikhs. The difference between the Christian and Sikh populations’ growth rates has narrowed from 0.9 percentage points between 1991-2001 to 0.6 percentage points between 2001-2011.

Table 1: Changes in population growth rates of different religious groups in India, 1991-2011
Table 1: Changes in population growth rates of different religious groups in India, 1991-2011

Bhalla then asks “what caused Christian population growth to accelerate from 1.39% (1971-91) to 1.93% a year (1991-2011)?” and concludes that the answer lies in religious conversions. One could equally and legitimately ask what caused Christian population growth to drop from 2% between 1991-2001 to 1.5% between 2001-2011. Framed this way, the question does not – unfortunately for Bhalla – lead to the conclusion that conversions have risen.

So one has to take Bhalla’s assertions with a large pinch of salt, if one were to pay any attention to them at all.

Finally, in his 4 September rebuttal of Joseph, Bhalla asserts that: “The excess Sikh males do not marry; excess Christian women do marry and produce Christian kids.” Aside from the parochialism implicit in this statement, is he assuming that the excess Sikh males don’t marry because there are no Sikh women? His own occasional coauthor, sociologist Ravinder Kaur, is the foremost researcher in India (look here) on the increasing phenomenon of across-region marriage, showing in particular how excess males in Punjab (presumably including Sikhs) import brides from Andhra Pradesh and Assam.

To sum up, Bhalla’s calculations of conversion are at best inconclusive, at worst, disingenuous.

Why the BJP should worry about Rajasthan’s local election results

Both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Indian National Congress (INC) claimed victory in the August 17 urban local body elections in Rajasthan.

Both sides seem to have a point: the BJP won decisively while the INC strongly improved its performance in comparison with the 2013 state and the 2014 general elections.

But it also seems true that the BJP hasn’t done as well as it might have hoped in urban constituencies that have long been its stronghold (as pointed out here and here). The fact of the BJP’s victory tell us little: the party has been so dominant in urban Rajasthan that it even outperformed the then-ruling INC in 2010 by a single percentage point.

So how to evaluate these election results? Direct comparisons with state and general elections are a bit crude because local elections are driven considerably by local issues and candidates. Indeed the BJP’s winning margin in 2015 over the INC (3.4 percentage points) was pretty much the same as in 2005 (3.3 percentage points), the previous time it was in power. The results, in this context, are unremarkable and at best mark the return of “normal” politics to Rajasthan.

Yet things aren’t quite that simple. The separation of urban local elections into two phases since 1994 provides us with a “natural experiment” that allows us to compare changes in urban support for the BJP between 2014 and 2015. In November 2014, 1,696 wards in 46 urban local bodies had elections, while the August 2015 elections covered 3,351 wards in 129 municipal bodies.

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The chart above shows that, in November 2014, the BJP gained a sizeable vote swing of 6.8 percentage points in comparison with 2009, and the INC experienced a corresponding negative swing of of 7.2 percentage points. In August 2015, the swing towards the BJP compared with 2010 was only 0.8 percentage points, and the swing away from the INC 1.6 percentage points. Differences in absolute levels of support between the two phases don’t matter here: we are concerned only with vote swings.

This isn’t a perfect measure because it assumes that, as of 2014-15, the choice of whether a ward had elections in November or August was essentially random (any evidence, for or against, would be welcome). Plus some of the candidate qualification rules changed prior to the August election and many INC and BJP candidates run as independents in municipal elections.

Even so, this is us the closest we have to a yardstick of the change in urban support for the BJP between November 2014 and August 2015. Another way to think about this is in terms of the vote foregone by the BJP between the two rounds: a hefty 6 percentage points.

Something seems to have changed between November 2014 and August 2015. Rajasthan, long a swing state, is back in play.

Too early to proclaim a revival in the BJP’s Kerala fortunes

In a previous blog post, we considered the possibility that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s strong performance in the Aruvikkara assembly constituency by-election marked the beginning of its revival in the state of Kerala. A closer examination of BJP leader O Rajagopal’s previous election record suggests that this by-election result is a one-off, rather than the beginning of the BJP’s statewide ascent.

Recall that the BJP’s vote share in Aruvikkara doubled from 12% in the 2014 general election to 24% now, which eroded the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM)’s vote share and helped the Indian National Congress (INC) retain the seat with 40% of the vote.

This is similar to what occurred three years ago in the Neyyattinkara assembly constituency (that lies within the Thiruvananthapuram parliamentary constituency), where the BJP’s Athiyannoor Sreekumar had won 6% of the votes cast in the April 2011 state election (pdf). When the victorious CPM candidate R Selvaraj resigned and switched over to the INC, the BJP decided to field its veteran Rajagopal in the ensuing June 2012 by-election (xls). As a result, the BJP’s vote share soared to 23%, the LDF’s fell 14 percentage points to 35% and the UDF won despite a drop in its tally from 43% to 40%.

Sound familiar? Clearly, it would be premature to proclaim the beginning of the BJP’s ascent in Kerala.

Note also that national politics appear to have had no discernible effect in this assembly constituency: the vote shares of the three party blocs were substantially unchanged in the 2014 general election, two full years later.

The Congress should thank the BJP for its Aruvikkara assembly win

Shortly before the counting of votes in Kerala’s Aruvikkara assembly by-election, Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan make the startling claim that the entry into the contest of veteran Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader O Rajagopalan had made it difficult for his party to unseat the incumbent Indian National Congress (INC).

He was right. The INC (or rather, the INC-led United Democratic Front) won 40% of votes cast, the same percentage as it had in the 2014 general election. The CPM-led Left Democratic Front that had won 43% of the vote in 2014 got only 33% this time. The BJP’s tally however doubled from 12% to 24%, with most of the gains coming from the CPM, which ensured the INC’s victory. Had the voting pattern of the general election been repeated, the CPM would have triumphed over the INC.

BJP supporters were naturally jubilant.

Still, it may be a bit early to pop the gau-champagne. The BJP’s Rajagopalan is one of a handful of credible leaders in the party’s state unit, and had previously given a tough fight to the INC’s Shashi Tharoor in Thiruvananthapuram in 2014. It remains to be seen whether this result is a flash in the pan, or the start of a bigger shift in votes towards the BJP.

A real shift could well facilitate the UDF’s reelection in 2016, as the BJP’s rise divides the opposition vote statewide. As the following chart shows, Hindu voters have long leaned towards the LDF in Kerala, while Muslim and Christian voters have coalesced around the UDF.

If the BJP continues to gain support among, for instance, Ezhava voters, it could fragment the LDF’s vote base even as the latter attempts to take advantage of any anti-incumbency against the UDF. In both Kerala and West Bengal, the rise of the BJP is posing a severe challenge for the CPM and its allies.

Update on Jul 1

On reflection, it would appear that the Aruvikkara result has little to say about the BJP’s wider prospects in Kerala. Click here for why.