There are political pundits who appear to be eager to bring sports analogies into the political sphere. The 2022 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, for example, were widely designated as a semi-final for the 2024 Lok Sabha. Whoa, two years really is a long enough period in electoral politics, isn’t it? Even if 80 Lok Sabha members are provided by that State. But the semi-final theory is kept alive. It reappeared during the elections in Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka.

And many people dubbed the just-concluded elections in five States the Lok Sabha semi-final. Apparently, this makes more sense this time round, though. They were conducted within five or six months before the Lok Sabha elections, and there isn’t another opportunity to conduct a study of this kind to gauge public opinion before the general elections.

However, semi-final? A semi-final loss in sports, of course, makes one ineligible to compete in the final. Ask the men’s cricket team in South Africa, for example, if you want to know what a semi-final is. The Proteas played in two T20 World Cup semi-finals in addition to five ODI World Cup semi-finals; however, they were eliminated in each. For them, the finale remained elusive.

Sport, not quite

On the other hand, if a political party loses a State Assembly election, it is not prohibited from running in the general elections. Therefore, the semi-final analogy is quite flawed.

But that’s not the only reason. We see time and again that the country’s electorates can make a clear distinction between State and general elections. Many voters push buttons with different symbols on the two EVMs, even in States like Odisha or Andhra Pradesh, where the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections are held simultaneously.

While not all voters take that action, in our first-past-the-post system, a small percentage of such voters may make a significant difference. For instance, in the 2019 Lok Sabha election for Odisha, the vote shares between the BJD and the BJP differed by 4.4 per cent, yet in the Assembly poll, which was conducted simultaneously, the disparity was greater than 12 per cent.

In the Assembly elections, the BJD received 2 per cent more votes than in the Lok Sabha, while the BJP received 6 per cent fewer votes than in the Lok Sabha. Therefore, it might be oversimplifying to use the Assembly election as a semi-final, or a clear indicator, for the Lok Sabha vote, even though it’s only five or six months before the general election.

Well, do the outcomes of the Assembly elections held five or six months prior to the Lok Sabha, at the very least, determine the course of how those States’ Lok Sabha results turn out? Apparently not. Take into consideration once again the three States in the Hindi heartland, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh, where, like now, Assembly elections were held towards the end of 2018 and also in 2013.

In Rajasthan, the INC and BJP secured 100 and 73 seats out of 200 Assembly seats in 2018 and 163 and 21 seats, respectively, for the BJP and INC in 2013. Nonetheless, the BJP was able to win each of the State’s 25 Lok Sabha seats in both the 2014 and 2019 general elections.

In Madhya Pradesh, the BJP won 109 and 165 seats in the 230-member Assembly in 2018 and 2013, respectively, while the INC won 114 and 58 seats, respectively. However, the BJP defeated the INC in both the 2019 and 2014 Lok Sabha elections in this State, with skewed results of 28:1 and 27:2, respectively.

The situation in adjoining Chhattisgarh is similar. In the 90-member legislature, the ratio of the BJP and INC’s share of seats was 15:68 in the 2018 election and 49:39 in the 2013 election. In contrast, the BJP received 9:2 and 10:1 seat advantages in the State’s 2019 and 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

Different matches

So it’s abundantly evident that the five- or six-month-old Assembly results had little bearing on the Lok Sabha elections, at least in these States. As a result, 2024 probably won’t have much to show from these Assembly polls. That’s a different matter entirely, whatever the electorate decides in 2024. Assembly elections are obviously not a semi-final for that, though.

Does that really mean that these Assembly elections have no significance for the coming Lok Sabha? Not at all; they’re really important. It was the final opportunity before the general elections to gauge the mood of the people and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of one’s own party and rivals.

This knowledge could be quite helpful in formulating the strategy for the upcoming months. Even if the semi-final analogy might fail, it was undoubtedly an important net practice.

The writer is Professor of Statistics, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata