Lok Sabha elections 2024: How will the lack of momentum in polling affect BJP, INDIA bloc? | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Lok Sabha elections 2024: How will the lack of momentum in polling affect BJP, INDIA bloc?

May 08, 2024 06:56 AM IST

A relatively slow start to the Lok Sabha elections seems to have dampened spirits across the political spectrum.

The voting percentages of the first two rounds of elections have the ruling party and the opposition worried – both for different reasons. Opposition parties were up in arms about the Election Commission announcement on voter turnout in the first two phases, held on April 19 and April 26. The first phase was pegged at 66.14 per cent and the second at 66.71 per cent of the ongoing Lok Sabha polls.

Ahmednagar: Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses a public meeting for Lok Sabha elections.(PTI)
Ahmednagar: Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses a public meeting for Lok Sabha elections.(PTI)

Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh summed up the INDIA block sentiment saying, “For the first time, even 11 days after the first phase of the polls and four days after the second phase, the final voter turnout has not been published by the ECI. In the past, ECI used to publish the final voter turnout immediately after voting or within 24 hours.”

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For the BJP - declared victors even before the first ballot was cast – a win is pretty much a foregone conclusion, with a third term for Narendra Modi on the cards. A few weeks later, it has now come down to numbers – will the BJP get an absolute majority, a simple majority or would the party need the help of its NDA allies to put a government in place?

The lower-than-usual voter turnout in western UP, Bihar, Rajasthan, the Hindi heartland, had some experts suggest that the usual high-decibel BJP presence and alacrity at poll booths – where it finally matters the most was missing, as compared to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Why? One in four BJP candidates in this Lok Sabha election is a defector while many of them switched their allegiance from the Congress, an analysis of the background of 417 party candidates this general election done by The Print said.

To accommodate so many outsiders, some long-time Sangh activists have had to give way, leading to a degree of lethargy – not to mention dissidence – among party workers, who matter the most on the day of the polling.

Says former Union minister Yashwant Sinha, whose son Jayant Sinha, sitting MP from Hazaribagh, was denied a party ticket this time: "I would not be surprised if the results this time are a repeat of the 2004 Lok Sabha results. (where the Atal Behari government was voted out, quite unexpectedly). There is no wave in this election. Modi has become unpopular, and he has lowered the discourse in his speeches; you just need to follow the social media to know what is going on, and the BJP worker, who has slogged for the party for years, has been shown the door in favour of outsiders. Naturally, there is great resentment.Citing the example of his son Jayant, himself a former Union minister, he told this reporter: "In 2019, he won Hazaribagh by a bigger margin than Prime Minister Modi, but he has been denied a ticket this time. Instead, the BJP candidate is a man, who has no support in the constituency and is certain to lose."

There are other party veterans who have been left out, members who command the total loyalty of the Sangh workers and have nurtured their constituencies and cities for decades. Former Union Minister Harshvardhan from Delhi, Santosh Gangwar, eight-time MP from Bareilly, Poonam Mahajan, daughter of late Pramod Mahajan from Mumbai. The list is a long one.

Hundreds of BJP workers had hit the streets in Bareilly to register their protest after Gangwar, who belongs to the influential OBC Kurmi caste, was denied renomination. Things reached such a pass that Prime Minister Modi had him sit beside him during his election rally, to show that there was no rift.

Of the 33 sitting MPs, the high-profile exclusions of Harsh Vardhan, Meenakshi Lekhi and Ramesh Bidhuri in Delhi, Pratima Bhowmik in Tripura, and Sadhvi Pragya Thakur in Madhya Pradesh, created a flutter.

While the BJP’s decision to induct non-party politicians may be driven by its desire to expand its footprints, particularly where its base is weak, like in eastern India, it has not gone down too well with long-term party loyalists and reports appearing from states does suggest spreading disaffection.

In Gujarat’s Sabarkantha for instance, BJP leaders are up in arms against the decision to drop the sitting MP Bhikhaji Thakor in favour of the wife of a former Congress legislator who joined the party recently.

In politically crucial UP, which is the party’s key that can open many locks, there is dissension over the selection of candidates on several Lok Sabha seats. At Fatehpur Sikri, the son of the local BJP legislator Choudhary Babu Lal, is in the fray as an independent candidate against the official party nominee and sitting MP Rajkumar Chahar. Choudhary had sought a ticket for his son Rameshwar Choudhary and after it was denied, he entered the fray as an independent candidate.

Yogendra Yadav, activist and psephologist in his latest essay suggests that the BJP’s success in 2024 depends upon its results in UP. In the last two elections, the BJP won 71 and 62 seats from this state respectively, which sends 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha, the largest number.

After touring UP during the second phase, Yadav is convinced that with a little vote shift, and given the mood of the electorate, the BJP could be hard pressed to touch the 50-mark.

If that were to happen, it would be bad news for the party.

Other experts, however, do not see a relatively low turnout as a sign of mutiny in the BJP ranks. Sanjay Kumar, Professor and Co-Director of Lokniti at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), whose core area of research is electoral politics, told this reporter: "The BJP is much perturbed about the turnout, but I do not read too much into it. We are comparing this turnout with 2019, but the fact is that in most general elections, the turnout is 60 percent or thereabouts. I believe that the BJP will get a majority on its own."

In an electorate that is notoriously fickle and unpredictable, no survey or sentiment can convey with any degree of scientific accuracy. With over 950 million voters, a survey with even 50,000 respondents could be wide off the mark! If it turns out to be accurate, its sheer happenstance.

Even as late as a month ago, major opinion polls had predicted that the BJP and its allies could win three-fourths of parliament's 543 seats on Modi's soaring popularity, strong economic growth, and the inauguration of the Ram Temple.

Those optics appear to have changed. Some believe that there could be a problem for the party if there are systemic differences between the BJP and RSS, which they claim took place after the first round of polling.

"There appears to be some differences of perception between the two sides on the question of voter turnout," one party source said.

But such interpretations can hardly be confirmed – or denied.

Manisha Priyam, senior academic and researcher, who holds a doctorate from the London School of Economics and Political Science, believes that there could be problems on individual seats "but the RSS and the BJP are working in consonance. In Maharashtra, the RSS is working closely with both Gadkari and Devender Fadnavis. In Madhya Pradesh, it is the same story. Chief Minister Mohan Yadav is the RSS’s choice. In Rajasthan there are signs of dissonance. Former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia is nowhere on the scene, but again, there is no sign of any Sangh disagreements on the final list of candidates. "

According to Election Commission data, of the BJP's 303 Lok Sabha members who won in 2019 elections, 131 were first timers and this list includes party President, Amit Shah. The inventory of winners was a rather eclectic one: celebrities from sports to film fraternity like Sunny Deol, Ravi Kishan, Gautam Gambhir and Hans Raj Hans. There were several MPs like Pratap Singh Sarangi (Balasore), Tejasvi Surya (Bangalore South), Rajdeep Roy, Jyotirmoy Singh Mahato (Purulia) who emerged from humble backgrounds and won unexpected victories.

"As for dropping sitting MPs, that has been done before, so that’s not a great deal. I don’t think that dissidence would have any major impact on BJP’s poll prospects. I would say that they will get a majority on their own," says CSDS’s Kumar.

So, there is nothing to suggest that dropping the old guard this time could be counterproductive – at least on the face of it.

In Priyam’s estimate, the low turnout in the first two phases could be attributed to voter fatigue and too many alliances. As opposed to Yogendra Yadav’s views on UP, she believes that the BJP could gain seats from the state and offset losses elsewhere in the country."

Of the phalanx of Indian politicians who have dominated the Indian landscape in the last seven decades, Modi knows more than anyone else about winning elections.

With five more phases to go, he still holds the upper hand, using poll tactics that have confounded analysts and laity alike.

For instance, the Prime Minister is making good use of 'mobilizers' for spreading the good word, as he did at a recent meeting. Just who are these mobilizers, who are neither party members nor partisans? Pradeep K.Chhibber and Susan L. Ostermann, writing in 2014, put these neo-age activists in perspective. "Our data indicate that BJP mobilizers are more likely to be wealthy and/or first-time voters…In other words, people who have either time or money to donate to a campaign. Our data also indicate that BJP mobilizers are more likely to be found in rural areas, indicating that they are well placed to convince other rural voters, who are more difficult and expensive for parties to reach, of the merits of a pro-BJP vote."

Such profound tools at its disposal makes the BJP war machine formidable. Explains political analyst, Amitabh Tiwari: "In the BJP, one-third vote is the committed party vote; one-third is the Modi factor and one-third is for the individual candidate. So even if we assume that the individual candidate, not from the BJP pantheon is a lousy one, the party and Modi vote is intact. It could, at best, reduce the BJP’s victory margin. For the Congress or a Samajwadi Party to make a dent into the BJP vote bank, they would need to snatch votes from the ruling party. Is that happening? I don’t think so."

Tiwari has a point. The BJP has many places to offer to a disaffected member. A denial of a party ticket does not mean the end of the world; there are many vacancies, at various levels, where a person can be accommodated.

So, can 2024 be a repeat of 2004, as some pundits seem to suggest? Yashwant Deshmukh, Founder of polling agency, C Voter, does not buy that argument. "In 2004, the difference between the Congress and BJP vote share was four percent. Today, that gap has widened to 22 percent. It is a distance that is impossible to cover."

He says there could be differences and "aberrations in some constituencies, for instance in Rajasthan, but the BJP and Modi’s overall trustworthy quotient is much higher. Look at it anyway, I see the BJP getting a majority on its own steam."

Tiwari is quick to point out that "elections remain tricky business in India and no one quite knows the outcome, hence the deep concern over the lower voter turnout in the first two phases of this election." Clearly, this promises to be the steamiest May in recent history, with the political thrust and parry matching the scalding Indian summer.

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