Organizing a Victory: A Review Essay on the BJP’s 2014 Electoral Success

AuthorRajkamal Singh,Garima Goel
Date01 December 2019
Published date01 December 2019
Subject MatterReview Essay
Review Essay
Organizing a Victory: A Review
Essay on the BJP’s 2014
Electoral Success
Suhas Palshikar, Sanjay Kumar and Sanjay Lodha (Eds.), Electoral Politics in India: The Resurgence of the
Bharatiya Janata Party. London and New York: Routledge. 2017. 312 pages. `995.
Ashutosh Kumar and Yatindra Singh Sisodia (Eds.), How India Votes: A State-by-State Look. New Delhi:
Orient BlackSwan. 2019. 443 pages. `1395.
Prashant Jha, How the BJP Wins: Inside India’s Greatest Election Machine. New Delhi: Juggernaut Books.
2017. 235 pages. `399.
Rajdeep Sardesai, ‘2014: The Election that Changed India’. Gurgaon: Penguin Books India. 378 pages. `399.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has won decisively in two consecutive national elections. In 2014, the
BJP won an outright majority, the first time any party had done so in 30 years, with 282 of the 543 seats
in the parliament and 31.3 per cent of the total votes. Five years later, the party consolidated its historic
2014 victory: in 2019, it won with a bigger majority of 303 seats, and its share in total votes also climbed
to 37.4 per cent.
In addition to the overall win, the BJP almost swept Uttar Pradesh (UP), not just in the two national
elections but also in the state assembly election in 2017.1 The state sends the largest number of legislators
to the Indian parliament, and the showing in UP is in some sense more remarkable than the one at the
national level as, since the late 1990s, the BJP’s vote share in the state had been on a steady decline.2
How has the BJP managed to pull off these massive wins? Scholarly studies of the 2019 elections are
yet to appear, but several studies based on the results of the 2014 polls have analysed the BJP’s victory.
With the 2019 results in hand, the 2014 win that seemed a bit of an aberration 5 years ago now signals a
fundamental transformation in Indian politics. Therefore, analyses of 2014 elections hold immense salience
today. We review four such works to evaluate what we do and do not know about the BJP’s success.
The essay proceeds as follows: the first section traces the national-level analyses of the 2014 elections
by discussing the major factors behind the BJP’s performance. They converge around four themes:
anti-incumbency, building a new social coalition, the ‘Modi effect’ and religious polarization. We
evaluate these explanations and suggest the need for a deeper engagement with two other factors: voter
mobilization and media strategy. In the second section, which deals with UP, we consider these factors
alongside the organizational advantage the BJP has over its competitors. We conclude the essay by
1 In 2014, the BJP won 71 of the 80 parliamentary seats in UP with 42.3 per cent of the total votes. In 2019, the party’s seats reduced
to 62, but its vote share increased to 49.5 per cent. In the elections to the 403-member UP assembly in 2017, BJP won 312 seats
with a vote share of 39.7 per cent.
2 The BJP’s vote share in the Uttar Pradesh Lok Sabha elections shrank to 19.7 per cent in 2009 from 37.8 per cent in 1998. The
decline was even steeper in the state assembly elections: to 15 per cent in 2012 from 32.5 per cent in 1996.
Studies in Indian Politics
7(2) 274–280, 2019
© 2019 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/2321023019898925

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