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.

Is AAP India’s most criminal party?

With candidates declared for six of the nine rounds of voting in this never-ending general election, a partial analysis can now be done of how many stand accused of criminal activity and in what proportion parties are awarding tickets to such folks (data from National Election Watch, also see preliminary analysis here).

The chart below ranks parties by the proportion of candidates that have serious criminal charges against them:

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As before, parties from Bihar and Maharashtra have the highest percentage of Lok Sabha candidates that face serious criminal charges. In 2009, the Indian National Congress (INC) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were comparable; the BJP is doing a little worse so far in the 2014 election with 17% of its candidates facing serious charges compared with 13% of the INC’s.  The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is performing better this time round: it has fewer accused candidates than the BJP, INC or the Samajwadi Party (SP). The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), as might be expected, looks pretty good here.

What about levels of criminality? To calculate the intensity of the alleged criminality of each party’s candidates, we count the number of candidates with more than one serious charge, add up the number of charges and calculate the total as a percentage of the total candidates per party. And here is what we find:

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Shock and horror! AAP turns out, by far, to have the highest levels of alleged criminality of all of India’s parties. The Shiv Sena and Nationalist Congress Party come a poor second and third respectively.

As it happens, AAP’s ranking is driven by two statistical outliers: Anti-nuclear activists SP Udayakumar and M Pushparayan respectively account for 382 and 380 of the 829 serious charges that AAP candidates face. The next such candidate is Trinamool’s Kameshwar Baitha with “only” 48 charges, suggesting that the numbers for Udayakumar and Pushparayan are unusual. After all, is Udayakumar really 48 times more “criminal” than Sri Ram Sene leader Pramod Mutalik who faces eight serious charges?

To limit the effect of such outliers, let’s give a score of 10 to all candidates who were had more than nine serious criminal charges. The result is:

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The AAP now drops in the rankings and ends up with about the same intensity of criminal charges as the Congress Party, although it still does worse than the BSP and Biju Janata Dal. The “criminality” of the BJP slate of candidates is more than double that of the INC and AAP, up from being 28% greater than the INC in 2009. The Congress score in 2014 is about the same as it was in 2009, but the BJP’s is sharply higher this time.

As before, the BSP does well in this ranking, although its score is not strictly comparable with the SP’s because the latter is focused much more on Uttar Pradesh and has only two-fifth as many candidates. Communist Party of India (Marxist) supporters can breathe a sigh of relief: it moves from the top of the list in 2009 to somewhere in the middle.

Finally the overall incidence of serious criminal charges is higher (so far) in 2014: 302 of the 533 candidates facing serious criminal charges (the 57th percentile) have more than one charge against them compared with 355 of 1,114 (the 32nd percentile) in 2009.

Remember however that this is still an incomplete list: we await candidate data for the final rounds of voting.

Guilty parties

With political parties beginning to name their candidates, media attention once again turns to the topic of criminals in parliament. Here we look at which parties are guiltiest of facilitating their entry into politics (data from National Election Watch).

On the face of it, the Indian National Congress (INC) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have a large concentration of Lok Sabha MPs who face criminal charges:

But that’s hardly surprising since these are the two largest parties in parliament. What you need is a measure of proportion, and things begin to look much better for the Congress. The BJP has nearly twice the percentage that Congress does of MPs in the Lok Sabha who face criminal charges.

The BJP comes off almost three times worse than the Congress when you restrict the analysis to MPs who face serious criminal charges. The Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and Shiv Sena are also fare poorly in this ranking (which I limit to the ten biggest parties in the current Lok Sabha):

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So far so good. However there is one flaw with this analysis: It is always possible that some parties gave a lot of criminals tickets of whom only a few were actually elected, while other parties gave a relatively small proportion of tickets to criminals of whom many made it into parliament.

The picture changes when you look at the proportion of Lok Sabha candidates in 2009 who had criminal charges against them (ranked in the chart below by the percentage of serious charges). The BJP and Congress look much more comparable now, while the Communist Party of India (Marxist) makes a surprise entry at #3. Overall the Janata Dal (United) and the Shiv Sena gave the highest proportion of tickets to candidates with criminal records.

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Finally not all criminally-charged candidates are equal. Of the total 1,114 candidates charged with a serious criminal offence, 355 (or the top 32nd percentile) had more than one charge. To test which parties gave election tickets to the most hardened (alleged) criminals, we count the number of candidates with more than one serious charge, add up the number of charges and calculate the total as a percentage of the total candidates per party. This allows us to calculate the intensity of the alleged criminality of each party’s candidates.

And this is what we find:

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Lo and behold the CPI(M) tops the list. This is only partly the consequence of chronic violence in areas of northern Kerala; the CPI(M) candidates with the most criminal charges stood from Palakkad in eastern Kerala and Bikaner in Rajasthan. The BJP’s alleged criminals are about 28 per cent more hardened than those of the Congress Party. The BSP, the only other party that had more than 400 candidates nationwide in the 2009 election, ranks about the same as the Congress.