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2019 Lok Sabha Election: Why Narendra Modi is in trouble

At a conservative estimate, BJP is liable to lose 110 of the seats it holds in the Hindi belt and the western coast

In electoral terms, India is one extra-large state, namely Uttar Pradesh (80 seats), four large states like Maharashtra (48 seats), West Bengal (42 seats), Bihar (40 seats) and Tamil Nadu (39 seats), seven medium sized states such as Madhya Pradesh (29 seats), Karnataka (28 seats), Gujarat (26 seats), Rajasthan (25 seats), Andhra Pradesh (25 seats),Odisha (21 seats) and Kerala (20 seats) besides six small states—Telengana (17 seats), Assam (14 seats), Jharkhand (14 seats), Punjab (13 seats), Chhattisgarh (11 seats) and Haryana (10 seats) and other mini states or union territories.

The Lok Sabha comprises 543 elected MPs and two who are nominated by the government. With 423 of them hailing from the extra-large, large and medium categories, winning such states is clearly crucial. Winning two-thirds of these ensures an absolute majority. Success in the small states is icing on the cake.

225 of the seats emerge from Hindi-speaking states—201 of which Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies won in 2014. NDA then swept Rajasthan and grabbed 73 out of 80seats in Uttar Pradesh.

Over and above, BJP cornered all 26 seats in Gujarat and with allies 42 of the 48 seats in Maharashtra. In Karnataka, too, it was victorious in 17 of the 28 constituencies. In short, the Hindi belt and three western states alone rendered BJP an absolute majority.

2014 was an unusual election. A key segment of the electorate, convinced about Congress’ corruption and economic mismanagement as propagated by BJP, cast both a negative and a positive vote. Besides, the quotient of unity among non-communal parties was at an historic low.

The combination of the two factors, not to mention the staggering and extraordinary amount of money spent by BJP—with no questions asked by any statutory anti-corruption body or the judiciary till date as to where this came from—resulted in an unprecedented outcome. BJP’s electoral support rose dramatically from 18% to 31%, with a section of economic liberals, not necessarily sectarian in their outlook, keen on a faster pace of reforms, opting for BJP for the first time. Politics in India is presently in a particularly fluid state. Therefore, to pass judgement on how people will vote in the next general election—as surveys are doing—is not merely premature but motivated and an attempt to misguide and manipulate voters.

Indeed, to presume the so-called National Democratic Alliance will remain intact and a United Progressive Alliance will not reunite is a fallacy. If at all a projection is to be made, it should take into account Telugu Desam severing its ties with BJP. Indeed, if Shiv Sena parts company with its age-old partner, BJP will be left with the meagre numbers of Ram Vilas Paswan’s party in Bihar and Akali Dal in Punjab, which could dwindle further. Equally, an assessment ought to have factored in the formidable closing of ranks against the BJP that is underway.

In the states stormed by BJP in 2014, its vote share in subsequent state elections declined by 5.44% in Bihar, 14.44% in Delhi, 1.64% in Haryana, 9.45% in Jharkhand, 9.52% in Uttarakhand, 2.96% in Uttar Pradesh, 5.05% in Himachal Pradesh, 11.01% in Gujarat and 7.17% in Karnataka. It did not gain ground in Maharashtra by the same measure. By the law of cycles, the tables could turn in Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh later in the year.

BJP, given its reunion with JDU, could theoretically retain at least two-thirds of its seats in Bihar. However, in the event Yashwant Sinha decides to lend his moral support to a Tejashwi Yadav-led RJD, this has the potential to even the scales. Similarly, Sinha, who hails from Hazaribagh, could narrow the gap between BJP and its opponents in Jharkhand.

In every other state where it performed so handsomely in 2014 it faces a decisive downturn. Indeed, if recent bye-elections in BJP’s bastions of Gorakhpur and Phulpur are any indication, it could be stripped of up to 50 seats in UP in a face-off with a united SP-BSP-Congress-RLD. Even in BJP’s hitherto impregnable fortress of Gujarat, last winter’s state election shows Congress is up for a fight.

If the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance remains unimpaired in Maharashtra, it would continue to be a force to be reckoned with. A split between them, though, would open the door for a Congress-NCP charge. And in Karnataka, a Congress-JDS understanding would make life very difficult for BJP.

At a conservative estimate, BJP is liable to lose 110 of the seats it holds in the Hindi belt and the western coast. It has little prospect of winning a seat in southern India other than In Karnataka. It is being touted the party will make amends in eastern India. The fact is its allies are unhappy in Assam and Congress is the largest single party in Manipur and Meghalaya, while the CPI(M) will most probably win at least one of the two Lok Sabha seats in Tripura. In West Bengal, local elections mirror BJP’s progress, but Trinamool Congress is still far ahead. Perhaps in Odisha there are a few seats up for grabs; but too few to make much of a difference.

Even without Shiv Sena disassociating itself from NDA, one fails to fathom how the alliance can muster 200 MPs in the next Lok Sabha. There is much chatter among the faithful that those who didn’t vote for BJP in state elections will do so in the national election because of Narendra Modi. The truth is voters reposed their faith in him even in the provincial polls. The net result was, notwithstanding the deeper and wider effort on his part in state elections, BJP’s vote share declined. As a general election draws closer, the microscope is likely to shift focus to Modi’s showing, his un-kept promises; vitally his failure to generate employment and with a hardening in oil prices unavoidable inflation.