By Nitya Chakraborty
Just eighteen months are now left for the holding of the next Lok Sabha elections in March/April of 2024. BJP has been talking of a “Congress-mukt Bharat”, while the Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao called for “BJP-mukt India” in Patna on Wednesday in the presence of the Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. The latter has already declared that he would start meeting all the opposition leaders to form a viable front to fight the BJP in the coming polls.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal is most angry against the BJP now as both the CBI and ED are haunting the senior AAP leaders. Already searches have been made at his deputy CM Manish Sisodia’s residence and the LG of Delhi V K Saxena is up in arms against the CM. The AAP government is under siege by the BJP-led centre. Kejriwal in his own way has given a call for the overthrow of the Narendra Modi government at the centre in the coming Lok Sabha polls.
So, where do all these developments lead to? Already some media publications and poll forecasting agencies have carried out some surveys about the mood of the nation, one and half year before the Lok Sabha polls. The projections naturally vary but there is one meeting point — the BJP will lose seats, though Prime Minister Narendra Modi might be forming the government with a small majority. Even the BJP poll trackers, as per the sources, are reported to have given varying assessment about the BJP’s fortunes ranging from slim majority at the upper end to between 240 and 250.
This writer has made some zone-wise estimates on the basis of the 2019 poll results along with the changes evident through rural and urban bodies polls in the states as also the by polls that have taken place in the last 39 months since the 2019 polls. My submission is that in 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP reached its peak with 303 seats out of the total 543, and now this figure can only go down, but the question is to what extent? The Congress under Rajiv Gandhi got 404 seats in 1984 Lok Sabha polls, but the figure came down to less than 50 per cent in the next polls in1989. Rajiv failed to form the government at the centre.
I am starting from the southern zone where the BJP is weakest. The southern states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka have a total of 129 seats, out of which BJP has 29 seats — 25 from Karnataka and 4 from Telangana. As of now, there is no question of BJP getting any seat from TN and Kerala. In Andhra Pradesh, the BJP has its stronghold in two districts, but the YCSRC led by the Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy has done extensive work in those districts which have been reflected in the local body elections some months back. Jagan is solidly entrenched, and neither the BJP, nor the Congress is in a position to create any crack in his support base. As regards Telangana, the BJP has made some inroads in urban areas, but the TRC chief KCR has checked its advance. All reports suggest that there is no question of BJP gaining any additional seat above the present four. In fact, the figure may go down by one.
Now the real battlefield state in South, Karnataka, is going to witness a fierce battle in both the coming assembly elections in early 2023 as also in 2024 Lok Sabha polls. In 2019 polls, the BJP got 25 seats out of the total of 28, the Congress got one, JD(S) one and an NDA supported candidate got one. The Congress formed ministry in Karnataka after the last assembly elections, but the defections organised by the BJP led to the fall of the government and the formation of the BJP ministry. Presently, the BJP government in Karnataka is in a mess. The ministers are openly making money and for the first time, the contractors association have come out against the government alleging that no order could be received from the Karnataka government departments without giving 40 per cent of the amount as bribe. Astounding indeed.
I have checked with my old sources in IT industry in Bengaluru, the Silicon Valley of India. The IT honchos who supported Narendra Modi in the last Lok Sabha polls are worried. The social harmony in the state is at stake as the fringe Hindutva groups are on a rampage in Karnataka with no control from the state government. The fear is that the state BJP will go to its extreme to play the communal card, just as the party played in state assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh. The Congress has good base in rural areas in Karnataka. Presently, the two top leaders —former chief minister Siddaramaiah and the state president D K Shivkumar—are working jointly. That’s a good sign. If the Congress organization can be properly galvanized, the Party is expected to do well in both assembly and the Lok Sabha polls. The Congress has the potential to extract another ten seats from the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls if everything goes well for the Party.
Now about the eastern region including Bengal, Bihar, Odisha and Jharkhand. In Bengal, by all counts, BJP will be losing minimum 12 seats in the next Lok Sabha polls. In 2019 polls, the BJP got 18 seats from four seats in 2014 polls. In the period since the last Lok Sabha polls, all poll results including assembly, civic polls and by polls show continuing decline in the BJP support base. Mamata Banerjee and TMC are presently bogged in the corruption related issues of former minister Partha Chatterjee and powerful Birbhum district president Anubrata Mandal, but this will not affect at all the TMC prospects in the coming panchayat elections in 2023 and the Lok Sabha polls in 2024. Prashant Kishor’s agency I-PAC has silently done the groundwork to build a robust poll machinery and as of now, and BJP is no match to it. Mamata Banerjee’s traditional base among the Muslims, village and urban poor and women is intact.
Bihar is another state which will help in sealing the fate of the BJP. Out of 40 seats, BJP got 17 seats in 2019 polls while the JD(U) got 15 as its NDA ally and LJP 6. The present combination of Mahagathbandhan in Bihar is based on a widest social composition in the state covering 70 per cent of the electorate. BJP will be lucky to get even two to three seats from this state. BJP that way will lose minimum 14 to 15 seats in Bihar, Nitish Kumar’s projection as the potential PM will also have its impact on the BJP masses as Bihar has never had a Bihari PM. In other two states, Odisha and Jharkhand, the BJP will make all efforts to improve but in Odisha, with BJD led by Naveen Patnaik in complete control, the BJP hopes may not materialize. In fact, BJP seats may go down from the present 8 out of the total seats of 21. In Jharkhand also, the BJP got a maximum11 out of the total seats of 14. The BJP seats may go down, if the alliance led by Hemant Soren sticks together and works jointly.
For BJP, the northern states are the main route to its road to power at the centre. This region has 192 seats and in the 2019 poll, the BJP got 156 seats, an unusually high number taking account the fact that the BJP got 28 out of 29 seats in Madhya Pradesh, 25 out of 26 seats in Rajasthan and 9 out of 11 seats in Chhattisgarh. The 2019 Lok Sabha poll results were unusual taking into account the strength of the Congress in these three states. Kamal Nath, Ashok Gehlot and Bhupesh Baghel are seasoned leaders and they are fully involved in organisational work also. There is a good possibility of BJP losing at least 25 seats out of the present total of 62 seats at present.
As regards Uttar Pradesh which sends 80 members to Lok Sabha, BJP got 62 seats in 2019 elections, BSP 10, SP 5 and the Congress 1 the sole seat of Sonia Gandhi. In UP, now BSP is on a decline and a major part of its base has gone to BJP and the Samajwadi Party. The SP is working hard and it has the potential to grab the seats earlier held by the BSP. But the fact is that the UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath has been able to vastly improve his administration compared to two years back. The delivery system of services has improved and this is having impact. This along with Hindutva drive should help BJP in Lok Sabha elections. SP may improve but that may not be much. The BJP high command knows the importance of UP and that is why the BJP duo Narendra Modi and Amit Shah are prompt in taking corrective actions, when these are needed. BJP will seek to improve its position in UP. Now it depends on Samajwadi Party and its leader Akhilesh Yadav how he meets the challenge.
In Punjab, BJP has only two seats out of the total of 13. The party is in such pathetic condition in the state that they may even lose both the seats. Then in Delhi, BJP got all seven in the last Lok Sabha polls. Now the situation is completely different. Despite some amount of melodrama in the behaviour of the Delhi Chief Minister and AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal, AAP has been able to prove its worth to the Delhi electorate. It will not be surprising if AAP gets about five out of seven seats in the next Lok Sabha polls. Then in Haryana also, the BJP cannot maintain the level of the present 10 seats out of ten. The Party can lose one or two. For AAP, the Lok Sabha polls in Punjab will be a big test for improving its tally. It will be at the cost of the Congress and the BJP.
In Western region, the two major states Maharashtra and Gujarat have a total of 74 seats out of which BJP got 49 seats 23 in Maharashtra and all 26 in Gujarat. Right now, Maharashtra political scene is in fluid state, It is not clear to what extent Eknath Shinde has been able to take the Shiv Sena base in his favour. BJP-Eknath combination will be formidable if Eknath is able to take over Uddhav. Base some idea will be available after the Mumbai corporation elections shortly. In any case, the BJP got maximum in 2019 polls, its scope for gaining is not much.
In the North East region, out of the 25 seats, the BJP has got 12 and the regional parties the remaining 13. The BJP has got 9 seats in Assam out of 14 in last poll. The Assam Congress is still not in best shape, but if it allies with the regional anti-BJP parties in 2024 polls, it has some possibilities. Trinamool Congress will also try to be a part of anti-BJP alliance before the 2024 polls. But still the advantage is with BJP as Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sharma is a cunning political leader and he will use all tricks to get the opposition divided in Assam. In any case, there is little scope for BJP gaining much in NE states. The regional parties in NE always support the ruling combination at the centre, whether it is BJP or the Congress. If there is a hung Parliament after the Lok Sabha polls, the BJP cannot be sure that the present NDA parties will stick to it. In Tripura also, the BJP has got all two seats but if there is an alliance between the CPI(M) led Left Front, Congress and Trinamool, BJP will lose both the seats.
Overall, the position is that the ground situation is fit for making the BJP lose around 80 to 83 seats nationally, if only the Congress plays its role properly. The Congress is the main opposition party facing the BJP in 170 to 180 seats. The Party has to ensure the defeat of BJP in additional 50 seats out of these as against the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The Congress will lose its two seats in Bengal and also more than five seats in Kerala to the Left Democratic Front. The Party has to make up this loss by its gain from the other states. The anti-BJP regional parties are set to do better against the BJP, now it is the Congress and the Congress alone on whose performance depends whether the BJP will be a minority party. The Congress has to touch the figure of 100 in 2024 polls as against 52 in 2019 polls to make a non-BJP coalition possible. If the Congress fails, the BJP will be at the centre for the third time after 2024 polls. (IPA Service)