Did BJP/NDA lose 2004 due to “India Shining”?

Critics of BJP do not miss any opportunity to remind the party of what happened in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections.  Recently Rahul Gandhi and a few other leaders of the Congress mocked that the BJP would once again face the “India Shining” moment in 2024. Back in 2004, the Vajpayee-led NDA government was widely expected to return to power comfortably as a coalition. Most opinion polls before the elections and exit polls after the elections predicted a win for the NDA. However, when the results came, it came as a shocker to all. NDA failed to get a majority and worse, BJP failed to become the single largest party. Even for the Congress party, the results came as a pleasant surprise.

It was widely believed then and it is today, that the main reason for NDA’s loss was the “India Shining” campaign which the government ran and that it did not resonate with people on the ground. In this sense, it was hypothesised that though the government was saying that India was doing well, the people felt quite the opposite and punished the government. The underlying conclusion was that the poor in particular felt slighted by the campaign. One of the main reasons for pundits to subscribe to this theory was L.K.Advani’s own admission after the polls that the “India Shining” campaign did the NDA in. Thereafter, it became a fashion for all pundits and analysts to parrot the same theory which runs to this day. However, a close dispassionate analysis of the results will tell you that BJP did not lose because of the “India Shining” campaign and the actual reasons were something else.

First of all, the “India Shining” campaign was carried out by the government sometime from mid-2003 for 6 months. It was not an election campaign of the BJP in 2004 in April/May. This campaign was run under the aegis of the finance ministry under the then finance minister Jaswant Singh. He felt that since the economy was doing pretty well (8% +GDP) and almost all sectors were firing, it was time to attract Foreign Direct Investments into the country by showcasing how India was changing. The objective of the campaign and the brief he gave to agencies and the results it achieved are clearly documented in Singh’s book.

If you compare the BJP’s numbers in 1999 Vs 2004 closely, there lies the story. In 1999, the BJP by itself got 184 seats and emerged as the single largest party. It could then ally with non-congress like-minded regional parties and could form the government with 280+ seats. However, in 2004, BJP could win only 138 seats which was a loss of 46 seats.

If you see state-wise, the states where BJP lost big time were Bihar (17), UP (16), Andhra Pradesh (7), Delhi (6) and Gujarat (6) which contributed to a loss of 50+ seats. An important point to be noted is that in less economically developed states like Madhya Pradesh/Chhattisgarh, Arunachal Pradesh and states like Karnataka it did much better than in 1999.  If the deprived sections of the society felt put off by the feel-good “India Shining” campaign, then BJP would have lost in states like MP, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan which were part of BIMARU states then.

Also, if you compare the numbers of the NDA alliance in 1999 and 2004, things get clearer. The difference is over 100 seats of which the allies contributed a loss of 50+ seats. This loss predominantly came from 2 states (both from the South).

In Tamil Nadu, DMK broke with the NDA alliance in 2003 and allied with the Congress. BJP took the other Dravida party – AIADMK led by Jayalalitha who had just come back to power in the state in 2001. Local advisors of the BJP in TN like Cho, Gurumurthy and their ilk strongly advised Advani to let go of the DMK and ally with the AIADMK. This didn’t work as the DMK alliance swept the state with 39 seats leaving “0” seats for the NDA. This meant a loss of 16 seats from 1999. Not just that.  Congress was ahead of BJP by just 7 seats. If in TN, the original alliance was intact, NDA alliance would have been ahead of the Congress alliance by 39 seats. This would have naturally attracted the non allied 3rd front parties to ally with the NDA.

The other state namely Andhra Pradesh (united then) was ruled by Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party and was an ally of the NDA. Naidu did not realise the ground crumbling under his feet when Y.S.Rajsekhar Reddy of the Congress was carrying out his Padayatra in the state calling out Naidu’s Hyderabad-focused IT development model. Result – BJP and TDP combined lost 31 seats in Andhra.  In fact, it is said that Naidu was the one who pushed Advani to bring forward the elections by 6 months. Advani and other strategists of the BJP also felt that coming after an impressive win in Dec 2003 in the Hindi belt states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the momentum was with NDA.

If it was not the anger of the poorer class due to the “India Shining” campaign, then what exactly happened?

One of the main reasons for the 2002 communal riots and its aftermath in Gujarat. While in Gujarat, it helped the BJP to consolidate its position with a huge win, it unsettled a lot of nerves outside of Gujarat.  In TN, one of the reasons for its ally – the DMK to opt out was that it felt that the minority community was abandoning it due to which it lost the state election. A similar thing happened in Bihar. BJP’s ally in Bihar – the Janata Dal United which had in its support base the Muslim community, lost heavily losing 12 seats.

The communal situation and the Tehelka sting operation which showed some of the BJP and NDA leaders in a poor light made the upper-class/urban voters go back to the Congress. This can be seen in Delhi where the BJP lost 6 out of 7 seats, 6 seats in Urban Gujarat, 4 seats in Haryana and 5 out of 6 seats in Mumbai as NDA coalition.

Above all, the key failure of the BJP was that during the 5 years while in power, the leadership didn’t focus on strengthening its organisation in weaker states. This meant that it couldn’t leverage its incumbency in states like Uttar Pradesh which let the regional parties there like the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party to strengthen their base and consolidate their respective vote banks. If you notice, this is one mistake that the present leadership of the BJP under Narendra Modi is not willing to commit. Irrespective of the party’s relative strength in a state, they are continuously at it to improve the situation and conquer new frontiers every election.

From the above, it is clear that the BJP lost in 2004 due to the non-performance of its allies which had an impact on the BJP (TN, AP, Bihar), urban voter shift to the Congress (Delhi, Mumbai etc), not strengthening the party base (UP) and the aftermath of the communal situation in Gujarat (Bihar, TN, Maharashtra,) and not really due to the “India Shining” campaign.

Critics of the BJP also tout the India Shining campaign as a metaphor for overconfidence and arrogance. If in that breadth, a question is asked if 2024 is a repeat of “India Shining”, it may be understandable. But evidence and data don’t show that the BJP actually lost 2004 due to the after-effects of the “India Shining” campaign, 2024 is not 2004. The starting point of the BJP in 2024 is 303 seats on its own and 330 + seats with its allies unlike 2004 where the gap between BJP and Congress was just 7 seats. Pundits have to do better.

4 thoughts on “Did BJP/NDA lose 2004 due to “India Shining”?”

  1. Well analysed Anand. Comparing 2004 and 2024 is comparing Apples and Jackfruits and you have hit the nail on the head perfectly.

  2. Hi..RS….Excellent insight into such an eventful political milestone …Lets hope ur analysis is spot-on wrt 2024..BJP seems to be facing many unrelated hiccups one after another…….must help them to keep sharp-focus for the phase wise challenges of the electoral battles!

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