The BJP’s remarkable success in the three Hindi heartland states, particularly its impressive reversal of fortune in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, has led to a widespread belief that all obstacles hindering its path to the 2024 Lok Sabha polls have now been removed.
The forceful and, at times, warning-laden victory speech delivered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the party cadre after the poll results is being regarded as evidence of its confidence, and is accepted at face value. That “hat-trick” assertion, suggesting a pathway to a sequence of three consecutive Lok Sabha victories, is embraced as gospel. The newfound confidence projected by the BJP leadership, now predictably highlighted, starkly contrasts with the web of self-doubts that seemed to entrap it in recent months.
The party’s political fortunes witnessed a downturn in January, triggered by the Hindenburg report’s allegations of irregularities by the Adani group of companies and its promoter, Gautam Adani’s links with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The anxiety within the BJP leadership intensified from March onwards. Initially, 14 parties unsuccessfully filed a petition in the Supreme Court, accusing investigating agencies of unfair targeting through raids. Subsequently, the Opposition parties initiated the process of formulating a seat adjustment formula for around 400 seats.
In the aftermath of his party’s triumphant performance in the three states, Mr. Modi persisted in denigrating the INDIA alliance by once again labeling them as “ghamandia,” a slur initially used in the group’s nomenclature. In the wake of these victories, which have significantly boosted BJP cadre enthusiasm, the threat potential of the alliance remains evident. Although cracks emerged immediately after the alliance’s verdict, it is anticipated that these fissures will be patched up in the coming days, paving the way for one-on-one contests against the BJP.
If we aim to comprehend whether this recent string of victories will propel the BJP beyond its 2019 Lok Sabha tally of 303 seats or bring it close to that mark, a revisit to the previous tally and a thorough analysis become crucial. It is imperative to scrutinise the origin of these seats and explore the potential for augmenting the final tally.
In 2019, the BJP’s region-wise tally stood as follows: North 146, Central 37, West 51, East and Northeast 40, and South 29. The verdict underscores the belt where the BJP’s political influence thrived the most — in North, Central, and West India — and the regions where it faced challenges — in East and South India. Even after this election, the BJP maintains its dominance solely in its stronghold, while lagging behind in other regions.
The BJP clinched victory in 61 Lok Sabha seats among those in the north and central regions, where the Assembly polls’ verdict was announced on December 3. Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh collectively contribute 65 seats, with the Congress managing to secure only three seats in 2019, while a regional party, unaligned with either major party, secured one seat in Rajasthan. In 2019, the BJP garnered 58 per cent of the votes in MP and over 60 percent in Rajasthan.
The BJP has achieved nearly 49 per cent in the MP Assembly polls, but it fell below the 42 per cent mark in the popular vote in Rajasthan. Realistically, the party faces a challenge in winning all four seats that were not in its possession in 2019, and in the best-case scenario, it may secure two or three additional seats. Effectively, this implies that the BJP is unlikely to augment its previous tally in these states.
The BJP, in various states, either attained the highest possible result, as seen in Gujarat, Haryana, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand, or dominated with the lion’s share — Uttar Pradesh (62 out of 80) and Jharkhand (11 out of 14). In India, only two states can be deemed as those where the BJP is electorally a dominant party, signifying that comprehensive Opposition unity has been imperative for over a decade to counter it: Gujarat and now Madhya Pradesh.
The label of electoral dominance cannot be unequivocally affixed to a state like Uttar Pradesh, as the party has asserted electoral hegemony only since 2014, spanning four elections — two parliamentary and two Assembly polls. In 2019, Opposition parties displayed improved performance compared to 2014, and currently, the outcome is not decisively in favour of the BJP. The unfolding developments among Opposition parties will be closely observed.
The 2024 parliamentary polls pose a colossal challenge for the BJP, primarily due to the absence of a comprehensive nationwide political narrative at this juncture. The factors that contributed to the BJP’s victory in this round — namely, the Modi factor, Hindutva, welfarism, and party machinery — may not have universal applicability across all states.
The big question looming over the BJP is whether it will be able to retain the seats it won in East and South India in 2019, especially with a grand idea, like the one triggered by the Pulwama terror attack, not yet in sight. Additionally, the party faces a tricky situation in western India, encompassing Maharashtra, Gujarat, and a few Union territories.
The party’s dominance in Gujarat remains unchallenged; however, uncertainty clouds its performance in Maharashtra, where it secured 23 Lok Sabha seats in 2019, owing to the reshuffling of the NDA. A comparable situation exists in Bihar, grouped together with other northern states. The biggest challenge for the BJP lies in retaining the current tally of 69 seats from the South, East, and North East. Specifically, there are concerns about the party replicating its success in Karnataka, especially following the Assembly poll sweep by the Congress.
The BJP’s distinct Hindi tilt is evident in the overt promotion of the language over others in the names of the criminal law bills scheduled for passage in the Winter Session. The simple predicament for the BJP is this: if it maximises votes and seats in North and Central India, it risks alienating or even intimidating voters elsewhere due to its chauvinistic approach.
In this scenario, the Opposition parties face their most significant challenge: reaching an understanding and nominating a single candidate in as many constituencies as possible to enhance the level of the Index of Opposition Unity. Despite the head-start the BJP has regained, it is clear that the game is still on. However, to transform the 2024 Lok Sabha poll into an aggregation of polls, the Opposition parties — especially the Congress — must exhibit greater astuteness than demonstrated in this round.
(The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)