[UPDATE: Second paragraph is new]
In one of India’s largest states, West Bengal, where elections are due in the spring, the upcoming budget session of the state legislative assembly is expected to see a no-confidence motion put forward by the opposition All-India Trinamool Congress, which won 60 seats in the 2001 election. The governing Communist Party of India (Marxist) won a large plurality (143)–but not a majority–of the 294 assembly seats in that election. The significance of West Bengali politics for the federal government can hardly be overstated: Not only is the state large and important in its own right, but also the CP(M) is one of the Congress Party’s formal support partners in the multiparty minority government at the national level.
I should also note that the votes of those top two parties in 2001 split 36.6%-30.7%, or almost precisely how the Conservative and Liberal parties split this week in Canada. But the West Bengal result, while, like Canada’s, not giving one party a majority of seats, resulted in a much wider disparity between the two parties in seats: 48.6-20.4. In terms of the seat-vote equation that I discussed with respect to Canada, the West Bengali state assembly is an almost perfect comparison: almost identical in assembly size and the top two parties vote shares, but about two-and-a-half times as many voters. The West Bengali result was a greater divergence in seats between the two leading parties than we would expect, whereas the Canadian result was a smaller divergence. The reason is most likely that West Bengal (and India more generally) is a more extreme version of Canada: party fragmentation and regionalization beyond the norm for FPTP systems. All the parties in West Bengal are quite concentrated in their support, but the CP(M), as a largely urban party, has strongholds that comprise more of the districts in India’s most urban state.