By Rick Rossow & Samir Nair
On December 23 the results for state elections in Jharkhand and Jammu & Kashmir were announced by the Election Commission of India. As many polls predicted, the BJP stormed to power in Jharkhand. Together with a local coalition ally, it has won a slight majority of the state’s 81 assembly seats. In Kashmir, the party had its best showing ever, winning 25 of 87 seats and coming in second behind the People’s Democratic Party, a Kashmir-based political party espousing self-rule for the region. It remains to be seen who will form the government in Kashmir as no single party attained a majority of seats.
While these states are relatively small (combined population of 46 million), the elections are seen as moderately consequential for other reasons. They strengthen the BJP’s grip at the state-level and enable a greater alignment between the states and the Center in carrying out development initiatives. In fact, for the first time in Indian history, the BJP will be in power in eight Indian states while Congress is down to just ten states- the fewest states it has held since 2001. Back in July we dubbed this large, contiguous group of states the “Arc of Industry.” Secondly, as we highlighted in an earlier piece, these results could position the BJP for greater success in the Rajya Sabha in the coming two years. With four Rajya Sabha seats from Jammu and Kashmir to be vacated in February of next year, the BJP could pick up one of these seats if a BJP-PDP alliance forms the government in Kashmir. Interestingly, the Kashmir assembly elections indicate that the BJP’s support base in the state is larger than previously thought. The BJP could also pick up a couple more Rajya Sabha seats from Jharkhand – there is a current vacancy which the BJP will likely fill right away and there is a seat being vacated in 2016 which the BJP stands to gain as well. The BJP currently holds only around 19 percent of seats in the Rajya Sabha; this weakness impeded the passage of important reform bills in the just-concluded Winter Session of Parliament.
While the Congress Party still holds ten states to the BJP’s eight, measured in other ways the BJP is in a relatively strong position. The combined population of the eight BJP states is 400 million, compared to 151 million in Congress-held states. And the combined GDP of the BJP-held states is $662 billion; considerably higher than the $236 billion combined GDP of the Congress-held states. Regional parties are, combined, larger than either, with 650 million people and a combined GDP of $817 billion.
Since winning a majority of seats in the Lok Sabha election earlier this year, the BJP has continued to show strongly in state elections. In the four state elections since then, it has come to power in three states (Maharashtra, Haryana, and Jharkhand) and had its all-time best showing in the fourth (Jammu & Kashmir). The seat counts in these state elections roughly reflecting the BJP’s success in winning Lok Sabha seats in the national election. While it would seem obvious that success in a state during the national election would be carried forward to state elections held so closely together, this is not in fact the case. Looking back over the last three national elections—1999, 2004, and 2009—parties that won the highest percentage of seats from a state in a Lok Sabha election only had a 58.8 percent chance of also winning the most seats in a state legislature election held the same year (on a strange note, this percent remains fairly consistent whether the state legislative election is held 2, 3, 4, or 5 years later- all within a 52.9 percent to 53.8 percent band).
There will likely be elections for two states in 2015- Delhi and Bihar. Delhi has remained under President’s Rule since the 49-day rule of the Aam Admi Party (AAP) fell apart in February, 2014. Bihar is held by the Janata Dal (United), a former member of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coalition. Both will be hotly contested. The BJP won a majority of Lok Sabha seats from both states earlier this year (22 of 40 in Bihar, 7 of 7 in Delhi).
Mr. Richard M. Rossow holds the Wadhwani Chair in U.S.-India Policy Studies at CSIS. Follow him on twitter @RichardRossow. Mr. Samir Nair is program coordinator & research assistant with the Wadhwani Chair in U.S.-India Policy Studies at CSIS.
Richard M. Rossow is a senior fellow and holds the Wadhwani Chair in U.S.-India Policy Studies at CSIS.