The BJP has frequently used the phrase ‘double engine government’ during campaigns for various state assembly elections, The party first used the expression during the 2014 Haryana and Maharashtra Assembly elections, which took place after six months of the Lok Sabha elections: BJP leaders appealed to voters to choose the same party (BJP or NDA) in these states as the one ruling at the Center for better development of their states. The same appeal was echoed in subsequent Assembly elections. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has repeated the need for a ‘double engine government’ for better development of the states during his election campaigns in Tripura, Assam, West Bengal and most recently in Uttar Pradesh and Goa, where elections are scheduled during February-March 2022 .
Since the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, 40 Assembly elections have taken place, and Lokniti-CSDS has conducted pre- or post-election surveys during 31 of these. In 22 surveys, voters were asked a question on ‘double engine government’: whether they believed that “for the development of their states, it is necessary that the ruling party at the Center and the State should be the same”. Using Lokniti-CSDS data, this article looks at voters’ opinion on the subject.
Views and votes
At the time of the 22 surveys, the BJP or its allies were heading the incumbent governments in four states — Punjab, Goa, Rajasthan and Assam. But after the elections, the BJP and its allies got elected in 12 states, including Goa and Assam where the BJP was re-elected in 2017 and 2021 respectively. In two states — Punjab (2017) and Rajasthan (2018) — the BJP lost its incumbent position, and the Congress formed the government.
The states where the BJP won the elections were mainly those where net agreement (‘fully agree’ minus ‘fully disagree’) for a double engine government was higher (a difference of 20 percentage points), except for a few such as Himachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Uttar Pradesh. In Himachal Pradesh, voters did not agree that for the development of their state, the same party should be ruling in the state and at the Centre: net agreement here was –21%. The state has followed its tradition of alternating governments. In two Northeastern states, Meghalaya and Nagaland, the net agreement was low, although the BJP went on to become part of the government in both states.
When we look at voters’ opinion on a ‘double engine government’ in elections year by year, we find that in the very first Assembly elections after the 2014 Lok Sabha election, voters in Haryana (45%), Maharashtra (29%) and Jharkhand (41%) fully agreed with the idea that the same government should be in power in the state and at the Center for better development of the state, and only 11%, 10% and 7% respectively wholly disagreed. In all three states, the BJP government was elected.
In 2015, voters of Delhi showed their faith in political pluralism by negating the idea of ’double engine’ — 36% fully disagreed (and fewer agreed) on having the same government as at the Center — and gave a massive victory to a new entrant , Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
In 2016, elections took place in four major states: West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. In Assam, the support for a ‘double engine’ was the highest — with 46% fully in support as against 7% against the idea — and this opinion got reflected in the BJP getting elected to government for the first time in the state. In West Bengal, 29% fully agreed while 40% did not even respond to this question. In Kerala and Tamil Nadu, although voters supported the idea of a ‘double engine; government, the idea did not shape voting choice as Kerala elected the LDF and Tamil Nadu voted in the DMK.
During 2017-2020, support for a ‘double engine’ was comparatively low in Punjab, Meghalaya, Himachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Uttar Pradesh, and quite high in Tripura, Rajasthan, Delhi and Uttarakhand. The BJP won in Tripura and Uttarakhand, but could not win in Delhi and Rajasthan despite voters having expressed strong support for a ‘double engine’. Like Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan also followed a trend of alternating governments — people voted for the Congress despite supporting the idea of a ‘double engine’ government.
The findings from the recently concluded elections in four states — Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal — hint at a decline in acceptance for a ‘double engine’ government. Net agreement on the idea was negative in three of the states, the exception being Assam. The strongest disagreement for a ‘double engine’ was in Kerala (54%), followed by Tamil Nadu (40%) and West Bengal (33%). The disagreement had not been so strong in the 2016 elections in these states. Even in Assam, one can see a slight decline in agreement for a ‘double engine’ government.
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A campaign based on the idea of a ‘double engine’ government may be an attractive strategy, but one cannot notice any correlation between support for the idea and the results of voting. States follow their own traditional voting patterns. Support for the idea was higher among those states where the BJP has a strong electoral presence, and not as strong in states with significant regional parties —although exceptions were seen in Assam and Tripura.
Uttar Pradesh, where a ‘double engine’ government already exists, will be an interesting case as the BJP faces the electorate as an incumbent, rather than as a challenger.
Jyoti Mishra is with Lokniti-CSDS