The political variables that will shape the 2024 verdict
The prevailing circumstances in the country — a raging pandemic, slow pace of vaccinations, derailed economic recovery and strained government finances — entail turbulent times for incumbents both at the Centre and in the states
The 2024 general elections are almost three years away. But then, thanks to intermittent state elections, India is in perpetual election mode. The prevailing circumstances in the country — a raging pandemic, slow pace of vaccinations, derailed economic recovery and strained government finances — entail turbulent times for incumbents both at the Centre and in the states. How will it translate into results? HT analyses what a countdown to 2024 might look like from here on.
West Bengal has already put the BJP on a back foot
There was a lot riding for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the West Bengal results. It had won 18 Lok Sabha segments in the state in 2019, which played an important role in pushing up its overall tally despite a loss of nine seats in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) scored a massive victory over the BJP in the recently held elections in the state with a vote share of 48% and seat share of 73%. The BJP actually suffered a decline of two percentage points, when compared to 2019, in its vote share. Because the TMC’s vote share increased, it cut into the support base of both the BJP and the Left-Congress alliance (especially the latter), and seat shares changed disproportionately compared to vote share.
If the 2021 assembly results are extrapolated at the Lok Sabha level, the BJP would get only 10 out of the 42 Lok Sabha segments in the state. To be sure, existing trends need not hold until 2024 and there is an increasing disjunct between national and state polls. The BJP is the only opposition voice in the state now and it would seize any opportunity given by a misstep of the Mamata Banerjee government. At the same time, the BJP organisation will be vulnerable to the TMC’s renewed hegemonic status in the state. However, between now and 2024, it is the TMC which will be seen as having a political edge in the state.
Uttar Pradesh in 2022 will set the mood for 2024, BJP has a massive lead there
The 2022 assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh will be the most important political contest before the 2024 general elections. This is so for two reasons. One, Uttar Pradesh sends the largest number of MPs to the Lok Sabha and the BJP has swept the state in both 2014 and 2019 elections. It won 71 and 62 out of the 80 Lok Sabha segments in the state in these polls in 2014 and 2019 respectively. Uttar Pradesh is also one of the biggest success stories of the BJP’s polarisation politics.
The BJP’s 2014 and 2017 victories in Uttar Pradesh came against a divided opposition. The two regional heavyweights Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) contested the elections separately. Their coming together in 2019 made the BJP look vulnerable in terms of pre-2019 arithmetic. But the BJP increased its vote share significantly and managed to cut its losses to just nine Lok Sabha segments. It is this massive lead in Uttar Pradesh which makes an upset in 2022 extremely unlikely for the BJP. The fact that an SP-BSP alliance is also unlikely in 2022 will only add to the BJP’s political advantage. To be sure, it could be the case that the BJP faces massive headwinds against the Yogi Adityanath government in the polls.
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HT has analysed how different levels of swing at the AC-level could affect BJP’s tally at the state level. This shows that compared to the 2017 election, a swing of up to 5 percent of total votes at the AC-level away from the BJP and to its nearest rival in the AC would still leave the BJP with 211 of the 403 ACs in the state. The BJP had won 312 out of the 403 ACs in the 2017 election. At a swing of 10 percentage points, the BJP would not win a majority of ACs, but neither would any other party. To be sure, a 10 percentage points swing compared to the 2019 election disaggregated at the AC-level would make the SP, BSP alliance in that election a winner (but not a 5 percentage point swing).
The anti-BJP baton will be with the Congress in the last lap
Four out of the last five major state elections before the 2024 contest will see a direct contest between the BJP and the Congress. These are the states of Gujarat (which will go to poll at the end of 2022) and Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh elections (scheduled for the end of 2023). To be sure, Karnataka, which will have elections in first half of 2023 could also see a Congress-BJP contest in most parts of the state. The Janata Dal (Secular)’s pocket of influence is mostly confined to a few districts in southern Karnataka. It is these states which saw the most radical upsets between latest assembly election and Lok Sabha results in 2019.
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The BJP’s seat share – calculated at the Lok Sabha level – increased from 47% to 92% between the state and national polls in these four states. This was achieved on the basis of a significant increase in vote share. The BJP’s ability to bounce back from these assembly elections upsets in 2019 is what created a big question mark on the Congress leadership’s ability to create a narrative against Narendra Modi. The BJP’s success or failure in the penultimate round before 2024 will be inversely dependent on the Congress’s ability to put its house in order.
The latest election cycle has triggered talks of a federal front in the 2024 elections once again. The TMC, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) led Left Democratic Front in Kerala and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) led alliance in Tamil Nadu has won 78 out of the 101 Lok Sabha Seats in these states. The BJP might face a stronger opposition in the Maharashtra on account of a combined alliance of Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress and suffer headwinds in Haryana because of the farmers’ movement. But it needs to be remembered that 182 out of its 303 Lok Sabha seats in 2019 came from the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Karnataka. The National Democratic Alliance managed to retain Bihar in 2020. Without any serious reverses in the forthcoming state polls in its strongholds, the BJP will enter the 2024 contest as the favourite.