The numbers game in the ongoing elections needs to be studied in the context of an interesting bit of statistics put out by the Election Commission. In the 2009 polls, 114 Lok Sabha seats were won or lost by margins of 3 per cent or less.
Uttar Pradesh topped the chart with 19, followed by Andhra (11), Gujarat (9), Maharashtra (9) and Karnataka (9). Also figuring in the list are Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Assam, Haryana, Jharkhand, Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, J&K, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, West Bengal and Odisha.
The race is crowded in UP and Andhra. But the BJP and the Congress are locked in a direct contest in the remaining top five states. The question is whether Modi’s magic would work for his party in the closely fought seats where the BJP came second or won by a whisker.
The saffron camp has been claiming a pro-Modi wave in the country. That might not be entirely true. But there’s an unmistakable Modi buzz in the sense that he’s the most discussed contestant; recognised by face and name. A commonly heard refrain in urban centres: “We’ve seen others. What’s the harm in trying him out?”
If not an affirmative sentiment, it is, without doubt, a proof of the curiosity triggered by his campaign blitz. As an optional choice of a section of the electorate, notably the aspiring city youth, Modi’s utility could be in his ability to force-multiply.
And what better test of it can be than closely fought constituencies where his party barely won or narrowly lost. Then there are seats such as Muzaffarnagar where the BJP was non-existent five years ago but is in the reckoning in a big way now.
The situation is best illustrated by the 2009 outcome in Agra, Aonla and Varanasi, where the BJP managed wafer-thin victories. Equally small were its margins of defeat in Bareilly and Gautam Budh Nagar.
It’s understandable therefore that amid a surfeit of Modi, the BJP candidates have come to bank on him to augment the party’s vote base -- be it for enhancing victory margins or for that extra push in a photo finish.
A case in point here is Firozabad — a seat for which Mulayam Singh’s party has fielded his brother Ram Gopal’s 27-year-old son Akshay.
His main rival in the keenly watched electoral match is SP Singh Baghel, who quit the BSP and his Rajya Sabha membership to enter the fray as a BJP nominee.
Baghel is no babe in the woods in Firozabad, from where he thrice won on the SP ticket. He parted company with Mulayam Singh on being denied re-nomination to accommodate Akhilesh Yadav.
A self-styled crusader against the powerful Yadav clan’s ‘hegemony’ in the area, Baghel has stitched on the ground a social alliance capable of defeating the SP’s Muslim-Yadav combine. “In a fair and transparent poll, I should be through,” he says, banking on the Modi charisma coupled with support from Kalyan Singh’s Lodh-Rajput community.
If that seemingly elusive victory does come about, Firozabad would reject Mulayam the second time in five years -- the first loss happened in the 2009 bypolls. After Akhilesh vacated the seat, the Congress’s Raj Babbar defeated his wife Dimple in what’s remembered as the “people’s election” transcending caste and party loyalties.