The two main national parties - the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) - are going to take a long time to digest the bitter medicine that they have had to swallow in the recent assembly elections held in five states. Apart from the fact that these election results have once again shown the declining popularity of national parties, they have also shown the declining popularity of these parties among the youth and women, specially in Uttar Pradesh.

The Election Commission classifies the Congress, BJP, CPI, CPM, BSP and the Nationalist Congress Party as national parties. These are parties which cross a minimum threshold of votes in at least four states. In the Lok Sabha election held in 2009, national parties secured 63.58 percent of the vote, with a good chunk of the remaining 36 percent going to state parties.  In the assembly elections held in 2007, the national parties had a vote share of 56.50 percent in Uttar Pradesh. In 2012, their share of the votes is down by about 3 percent. This still looks like a decent figure because the BSP is classified as a national party. If not, the share of national parties would be just 28 percent.

Similarly, there is a marginal drop of about 2 percent in the vote share of national parties in Punjab as compared to 2007. A detailed analysis of the results from Uttar Pradesh throws up the following trends: In a majority of the constituencies in this state, the Congress and the BJP were fighting for the third and fourth positions. Out of the 403 assembly constituencies in this state, the contest was mainly between these two parties only in 11 seats namely Mathura, Bilaspur, Govindnagar,Tamkuhi Raj, Suar, Varanasi Cantt, Varanasi South, Kidwai Nagar, Lucknow Cantt, Pharenda and Saharanpur Nagar. Everywhere else, the fight was mainly between the SP and the BSP and this left the two main national parties in dire straits. A high percentage of candidates (around 60 per cent) belonging to these two parties have forfeited their deposits. Several of them have suffered humiliating defeats. For example, in Bah constituency, out of the 1.83 lakh votes polled, the Congress secured 2411 votes and the BJP, 2131. This means each party got just over 1 per cent of the total votes polled! There are many such examples. In Aliganj, the BJP has polled less than 1 per cent of the 1.96 lakh votes polled. The Congress has done marginally better with 4 percent of the votes.

Again, in Akbarpur, the Congress managed just 4 percent and the BJP less than 2 percent of the 1.72 lakh votes polled. There are dozens of such examples, which show how irrelevant the two parties had become in this election. The BJP also lost Ayodhya, a seat held by the party continuously for 20 years. There are other factors which are equally worrisome for both the Congress and the BJP. The disappointment is certain to be much more when the parties take into account the following factors: 1) This election saw a huge jump in first time voters; 2) A higher percentage of women voted in these elections and 3) Although there are more urban seats now than before, the Samajwadi Party stormed into the urban citadels of these two parties. In 2012, 1.37 crore new voters were registered in Uttar Pradesh, as compared to 2007.

Secondly, since the voting percentage shot up this time, 2.39 crore more votes were cast in this election compared to 2007. In Punjab and Uttarakhand also, the number of voters went up by 11 lakhs and 3.80 lakhs respectively. But the most interesting and intriguing bit of statistic which should interest political pundits is that in all the five states which went to the polls - Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa, and Manipur – the percentage of women who voted this time was higher than that of men by 2 to 3 percent. The difference was the highest in Goa. In that state while 79.67 percent of male voters exercised their franchise, the turnout of women voters was 85.97. This means that both first time voters and women found the Congress and the BJP not worthy of support in Uttar Pradesh. The BJP can feel good that the new voters and women have given it and its ally the thumbs up in Goa and Punjab. The Congress can similarly see Manipur, which witnessed a similar trend, as a consolation prize. But the truth is that none of this can obliterate the disturbing message from Uttar Pradesh for these two parties.

Prior to the delimitation of assembly and Lok Sabha constituencies in 2008, the demarcation of assembly and Lok Sabha constituencies was illogical. Some Lok Sabha constituencies like Outer Delhi had over 15 lakh voters while some like Chandi Chowk had less than 2 lakh voters.

However, the Delimitation Commission set much of this right by redrawing the boundaries of assembly and Lok Sabha constituencies on the basis of population. Since there has been a steady migration of rural population into urban areas in the 30 years preceding this exercise and since the constituencies were redrawn on the basis of population, there is a jump in the percentage of urban constituencies in both the vidhan sabhas and the Lok Sabha. When the Delimitation Commission completed its work and the constituencies became more urban than before, the first impression was that this would benefit the BJP, because the urban middle class was considered to be its vote bank. The Congress too was pleased with the exercise because with the arrival of Rahul Gandhi on the political scene, it thought it could do better in urban pockets. Since the party had already fared well in Mumbai and Delhi in the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections since 2004, it was confident of doing well if more constituencies became urban.

In any case, neither the BJP nor the Congress ever perceived a threat from regional or caste-based parties like the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party in urban constituencies. But Elections 2012 has changed all that. Much to the shock of both these parties, SP has made a confident entry into urban pockets in Uttar Pradesh. For example, in Lucknow, SP has edged out these parties in three of the five seats. It has also made inroads into many other urban constituencies.

Finally, a word about anti-incumbency. Whenever there is talk of an anti-incumbency wave during elections to state assemblies, everyone presumes there is only one incumbent - the party in power in the state. They seem to forget that there is another incumbent - the party that runs the union government - which is also under close scrutiny and which is also a contender for power in the state. In the recent elections in five states, the Congress Party was either trying to retain power (as in Goa and Manipur) or wrest power from other parties (as in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Punjab). However, the image of the Manmohan Singh government at the Centre has taken such a beating over the last 18 months because of scams that the Congress Party's campaign against governments run by other parties failed to carry conviction in four states. The anti-incumbency sentiment against the union government was so strong that this eventually prevailed in all the states except Manipur. If this be so in elections to state assemblies, one can well imagine what awaits the Congress Party in a Lok Sabha election!