The Bharatiya Janata Party lost 180 seats it had won in 2013 while the Congress gained 162 seats across Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh as results for the Assembly elections were declared on December 11, according to an IndiaSpend analysis of electoral data.

In 2013, the BJP had won 377 seats and the Congress 118 in the three states. The BJP had no seats in Mizoram in 2013, and this was the first state election for Telangana, created in 2014.

This means the BJP lost 48% of the seats it had won in 2013 while the Congress gained 137%.

The difference in the vote shares of the two parties in the Hindi heartland states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh was smaller, however. The Congress’s vote share in Rajasthan rose by 6%, in Madhya Pradesh by 5% and Chhattisgarh by 3% compared to 2013.

Of the 678 seats in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram – which account for 15.2% of India’s population – the Congress got 305 seats while the BJP won 199.

Mizoram and Telangana were won by regional parties, the Mizo National Front and the Telangana Rashtra Samithi. While the Congress won Chhattisgarh with 68 of the 90 seats (up from 39 in 2013) and Rajasthan with 99 of 199 seats (21 in 2013), Madhya Pradesh went to the wire with the Congress getting 114 seats (58 in 2013) and the BJP 109 (165 in 2013).

Here are some highlights of our analysis:

  • The Congress was 0.1% behind the BJP in Madhya Pradesh. In Rajasthan, it led by 0.5%.
  • In Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, where more than 70% of the population lives in rural areas, farm distress seems to have played a significant role. Not so in Telangana, which is 61% rural and exhibits similar distress, as we reported on December 6, 2018.
  • In Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, the BJP recorded its worst performances in a decade, and the Congress its best. Chhattisgarh has 43% of its seats reserved for Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes, Madhya Pradesh 36% and Rajasthan 30%.

Wafer thin margins in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan

A strong wave of anti-incumbency swept through Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh – states where the BJP had been in power since 2003 – and Rajasthan, where no party has stayed in power for more than one term.

In Madhya Pradesh, the BJP’s vote share was 41% and the Congress’s 40.9%. In 2013, the BJP had won 45% of the vote and the grand old party 36%.

In Rajasthan, the BJP’s vote share was 38.8% and the Congress’s 39.3%. In 2013, these figures were 45% and 33%.

In Chhattisgarh, the BJP got 33% of the vote and the Congress 43%. In 2013, it was 41% for the BJP and 40% for the Congress.

Farm distress appears to have been a key factor

On November 29 this year, over 1,00,000 farmers from across India marched to Delhi, demanding a special session of Parliament to address India’s farming crisis. Nearly 80% of the population, or 20.4 million people, in Chhattisgarh, 66% or 69 million in Rajasthan and 55% or 73 million in Madhya Pradesh are engaged in agriculture – as against the Indian average of 47% – indicating that farm distress may have played a significant role in the electoral outcomes.

Madhya Pradesh: In spite of recording an annual agricultural growth rate of 10.9% over eight years to 2015 (India’s highest), the state has witnessed farmer agitations, as IndiaSpend reported on November 30. As many as 1,321 farmers in the state committed suicide in 2016, the highest since 2013, according to government data. While farmer suicides dropped 10% nationwide, Madhya Pradesh witnessed a 21% rise in the two years to 2016.

Of the state’s 230 Assembly seats, the Congress won 114 seats, 81 of which were previously held by the BJP.

Chhattisgarh: In a state considered to be India’s rice bowl, at least 1,344 farmers – that is, 519 a year or more than one per day – committed suicide over 30 months to October 30, 2017, the Hindu Business Line reported on December 21, 2017.

Here, the Congress won 68 seats, 38 of which were previously held by the BJP.

Rajasthan: As in Madhya Pradesh, farmers in Rajasthan complained about not being able to meet production costs even after the government increased the price at which it bought their kharif and rabi harvests.

Outgoing Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje announced early this year that debts up to Rs 50,000 would be waived but farmers demanded a full waiver, which the Congress promised.

Of the 199 seats in Rajasthan, the Congress won 99. Of these, 74 seats were previously held by the BJP.

Telangana: Since becoming a separate state in 2014, Telangana has reported acute farm distress. At least 2,190 farmers have committing suicide in this period – more than one every day on average – according to data from the state police, IndiaSpend reported on December 6, 2018.

Over 89% of Telangana’s rural agrarian households are in debt, the second highest in India after Andhra Pradesh, according to the Telangana Social Development Report. The national average is 52%.

Yet, the incumbent Telangana Rashtra Samithi won 88 of the 119 seats – with a 46.9% vote share – surpassing the 60 required for the majority.

Reserved seats account for over a third of BJP’s losses

Across Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the BJP lost 120 of the 180 seats reserved for Scheduled Castes, or Dalits, and Scheduled Tribes, or Adivasis. In 2013, it had won 77% of these seats.

The Congress won 62% of these reserved seats this year, up from 23% in 2013.

Chhattisgarh: Seats for Scheduled Castes (13% of the state’s population) and Scheduled Tribes (31% of the population) together account for 43% of the 90 Assembly seats. The BJP won four of the 29 Adivasi-dominated seats, seven fewer than in 2013. In 2008, the BJP had won 19 of these reserved seats.

In contrast, the Congress won a record high of 24 Scheduled Tribe seats – more than the BJP has ever won and six more than the 18 seats it had won in 2013. In 2008, the party had won 10 of these seats.

The BJP failed to retain its hold on the Scheduled Caste seats as well. Of the 10 seats, the party won two, down from nine in 2013. The Congress won six.

Source: Election Commission of India
Source: Election Commission of India

These results echo our findings from travelling across India’s Adivasi heartland in November 2018. The state’s failure to settle forest land claims had led to tension in Adivasi areas, IndiaSpend reported on November 20, and this was reflected in the performance of incumbents in scheduled Tribe constituencies.

Of the 8,87,665 title claims, Chhattisgarh’s government issued 4,16,359 titles for 2.7 million acres, which is 7.8% of the state’s area or 18% of its forest area, according to our analysis of title data. Experts further believe nearly half the Adivasi population has not even demanded their rights yet. Community forest rights – central to the agency of Adivasi tribes, as they recognise the authority of the gram sabha to protect, manage and conserve traditional forests – account for 4.4% or 18,178 of the titles distributed.

Madhya Pradesh: Adivasis account for 21% of the state’s population and Scheduled Castes 16%. The BJP recorded its worst performance in these constituencies, losing 26 of the 82 reserved seats (32%). The Congress party gained 28 of these seats compared to 2013, its best performance in a decade.

The BJP won 16 of the 47 seats reserved for Scheduled Tribes, losing 15 seats it had won in 2013. In 2008, the BJP had won 29 of these seats.

The Congress won 29 seats. It had won 15 seats in 2013 and 17 in 2008.

Of the 35 seats reserved for Scheduled Castes, the BJP won 17 seats, 11 down since 2013 and eight fewer than in 2008. The Congress won 18 of these seats, up from four in 2013 and nine in 2008.

Source: Election Commission of India
Source: Election Commission of India

Rajasthan: Of the state’s 200 Assembly seats, 59 or 30% are reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

Of the 25 seats reserved for Adivasis, the BJP won 10 while the Congress took 13. The BJP is down eight seats from the last election while the Congress is up six.

Of the 34 Scheduled Caste seats, the BJP won 11, the lowest in a decade. It had won 32 of these seats in 2013, it’s highest in a decade. In 2008, it had won 14 of these seats.

After losing all seats reserved for Scheduled Castes in 2013, the Congress won 21 this time, three more than it had won in 2008.

Source: Election Commission of India
Source: Election Commission of India

This article first appeared on Indiaspend, a data-driven public interest journalism non-profit.