India politics: Quick View - By-election defeats show growing anti-incumbency sentiment

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Economist Intelligence Unit
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On February 1st the Election Commission released results showing that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was defeated in by-elections held for two seats in the Lok Sabha (the lower house of parliament) and one state assembly constituency in Rajasthan.


All three constituencies were previously represented by members of the BJP, which is the dominant party in the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) at central level. Rajasthan is currently governed by the party, and is scheduled to hold state assembly elections later this year. The defeat of the BJP candidates in these by-elections is thus a setback to the ruling party's efforts to retain power in the state of Rajasthan, and indeed to its national ambitions to win re-election in the parliamentary poll scheduled for early 2019.

The BJP-controlled NDA has been electorally dominant since winning the general election in 2014, subsequently securing victories in several key state assembly elections. This largely stems from the continued popularity of the prime minister, Narendra Modi. However, in recent months the NDA's grip on power has seemed to loosen. Although the BJP retained power in its stronghold, Gujarat, in state assembly elections held in December 2017, the narrow margin of victory indicated that anti-incumbency sentiment has risen among some sections of the electorate, Mr Modi's popularity notwithstanding. The main opposition party, the Indian National Congress, has consistently attacked the NDA over the relatively sluggish economy, distress in the agricultural sector and rising communal strife.

We expect the government to take steps to curtail rising anti-incumbency sentiment. The budget for fiscal year 2018/19 (April-March), for example, is expansionary. It provides several benefits to labour-intensive sectors and aims for higher spending on agriculture, infrastructure and social welfare. These measures seek to woo voters and provide stimulus to the economy. Furthermore, despite the gains made by Congress in the recent by-elections, there is no opposition leader as popular as Mr Modi. The lack of a united opposition alliance will also help the BJP by splitting the anti-incumbency vote. Given these factors, we expect the NDA to remain politically dominant in the forecast period (2018-22).

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