Opinion: Lok Sabha Polls: For BJP, Phase 6 Is About Maintaining - And Gaining

The Congress needs to up its game in this phase as it couldn't even open its account in 2019. For the BJP, it's largely a matter of maintaining, as well as gaining.

May 24, 2024 - 18:30
Opinion: Lok Sabha Polls: For BJP, Phase 6 Is About Maintaining - And Gaining
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Voting is over for as many as 80% of the Lok Sabha seats, and two phases remain to conclude the general election this year. Social media is abuzz with claims and counterclaims. While the Opposition says that what appeared to be a done deal is turning into a tight contest, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) maintains that it will accomplish its 'Mission 370'. To put the numbers in perspective, till the fifth phase in 2019, the BJP had won 238 seats. The remaining phases are thus crucial. 

Fifty-eight seats across eight states will go to polls in the sixth phase of the election. This includes eight seats in Bihar and West Bengal, seven in Delhi, 10 in Haryana, four in Jharkhand, six in Odisha, 14 in Uttar Pradesh, and a single seat in Jammu & Kashmir. Thus, poll-bound constituencies are mostly spread across Hindi heartland states and in eastern India in this phase. Anantnag (Mehbooba Mufti), Rohtak (Deepender Singh Hooda), New Delhi (Bansuri Swaraj), Kurukshetra (Naveen Jindal), Puri (Sambit Patra), Sambalpur (Dharmendra Pradhan), Sultanpur (Maneka Gandhi), Gurgaon (Raj Babbar), Azamgarh (Nirahua) and North East Delhi (Manoj Tiwari) are set to witness high-profile contests.

The 2019 Performance

From the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the BJP is contesting 51 seats, the Janata Dal (United) four, and the All Jharkhand Students Union one. From the opposition camp - which also includes parties that haven't aligned with the INDIA bloc - the Congress is vying for 25 seats, the Samajwadi Party (SP) 12, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) five, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) four, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) nine and the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) six, and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) 54 seats.

In 2019, of the 53 seats the BJP contested, it had won 40. The Congress, in turn, couldn't even open its account in the 44 seats it contested. In total, the BJP-allied parties won 45 seats, today's INDIA bloc constituents five, while non-aligned parties netted eight seats. In contrast, in 2009, the Congress had won 22 of these 58 seats, while the BJP was able to get just seven. The NDA's average victory margin was 21%, while INDIA constituents' was 12%. The BJP, on average, won three of the four seats it contested from this phase. On 47 seats, the party recorded a vote share of over 40%. Congress, in turn, got such numbers in just one seat, but it lost even then.

The BJP's overall strike rate in 2019 was 69%, while the Congress's was 12%. On 29 seats, the BJP's average winning margin was more than 10% votes, while on 11 seats, it was less than this. The average turnout for the seats in this phase was around 64% in both 2014 and 2019. 

While the voter turnout declined initially in this year's election, it has improved with respect to 2019 in the last two phases. In 2019, on 27 seats, the turnout had increased compared to 2014. In 12 of these seats, the incumbent party had lost. Of the 31 seats where the turnout had declined, the 2014 winners lost in five. 

Compensating For Saturation

This time, the BJP will have to retain its 2019 performance while also making gains in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Odisha, where it hopes to compensate for the losses in states it has maxed out in. The Jat bastion of Haryana is also giving it some jitters. 

In Bihar, the NDA won all eight seats (four went to the BJP, three to the JD-U, and one to the Lok Janshakti Party, or LJP) in 2019 with a handsome margin of 26% on average. This time, the RJD is giving a tough fight to BJP allies JD(U) and LJP, capitalising on the issue of unemployment and Tejashwi Yadav's popularity amongst youth. Additionally, due to the animosity between the LJP's Chirag Paswan and JD(U) supremo and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar during the 2020 assembly polls over the latter's allegations that the LJP damaged its prospects in 28 seats, vote transfer between the two partners is also likely to take a hit this time.

In Haryana, the BJP is facing the ire of the Jat community, which accounts for 27% of the population. Resentment has been brewing since the farmers' unrest, the introduction of the Agnipath scheme, and the wrestlers' protests. The Congress is attempting to revive its traditional Jat-Dalit-Muslim vote here; the three communities constitute almost half of the state's population. The BJP, in turn, is hoping that the Jat vote will split between the Congress, the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and the Jannayak Janta Party (JJP), containing the damage in the state to some extent.

The UP Contest

In eastern Uttar Pradesh, the BJP had won 12 of the 14 seats going to polls in 2019. Seven of these 12 seats were clinched with less than a 10% vote margin, which can be considered a close contest. In fact, Machchlisahar was won by just 181 votes. The BSP and the SP had won a single seat each. 

Eastern Uttar Pradesh has a significant Dalit population, and how the BSP performs here could shape the results to a considerable extent. The SP with its tweaked strategy has managed to woo non-Yadavs, OBCs and Jatavs. Smaller parties, such as the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP), the NISHAD party and the Apna Dal, will also play a role in this region as they have pockets of support. 

In Delhi, the AAP, buoyed by the possibility that a sympathy wave for convenor Arvind Kejriwal could benefit the party, is hoping to prevent a BJP hat-trick. It has entered into an alliance with the Congress, and the two hope that the transfer of votes will be seamless among the poor, Dalits and Muslims. 

Delhi usually sees split voting. That is, its people tend to vote for the BJP in Lok Sabha elections and the AAP in assembly polls. Yet, there are around 36% swing (or 'non-aligned') voters in Delhi whose choices fluctuate. They voted for the BJP (18%) and the Congress (18%) in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, and for the AAP (36%) in the 2020 assembly polls. It's these non-aligned voters that Kejriwal's party hopes to win over. 

An Interesting Battle In Bengal

Meanwhile, in West Bengal, voting will be held in eight seats spread across five districts in the southwestern parts of the state, popularly known as' Jangal Mahal'. This includes the coastal district of Purba Medinipur too, where the BJP's Suvendu Adhikari holds considerable influence. Interestingly, in 2019, his relatives won the district's Kanthi and Tamluk seats on Trinamool tickets. The area has witnessed clashes between the supporters of the TMC and the BJP in recent days.

In 2019, the area had emerged as a BJP stronghold, with the party winning five of the eight seats here. In total, there were five seats where the contest was close (less than 10% vote margin); the BJP had got three of these five seats, and the Congress won two. If you add the two Adhikari family seats, the BJP, in total, won seven of the eight seats. The party is hoping to repeat this performance. The TMC, on the other hand, is seeking to dent its tally, energised also to an extent by its wish to extract revenge from Suvendu, who defeated Mamata Banerjee in the recent assembly polls.

All in all, the Congress needs to up its game in this phase as it couldn't even open its account in 2019. For the BJP, it's largely a matter of maintaining, as well as gaining.  

(Amitabh Tiwari is a political strategist and commentator. In his earlier avatar, he was a corporate and investment banker.)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author

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