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The three states that dealt the biggest blow to BJP

ByDhrubo Jyoti, New Delhi
Jun 05, 2024 08:41 AM IST

The story of the BJP’s inability to cross the 250 mark in terms of seats, is really the story of its failure in the three electorally most important states in the country

They are the three biggest states in the Union that together send 170 parliamentarians to the 543-member Lok Sabha, roughly making up a third of the strength of the Lower House. Stretching from the north of the country to its western and eastern extremities, they’re a microcosm of the country’s political dynamics, representing its diversity of regions and religions, a complex web of caste and class politics, and a mind-boggling cornucopia of political personalities.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with defense minister Rajnath Singh and home minister Amit Shah at the Bharatiya Janata Party headquarters in New Delhi on Tuesday. (AP Photo)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with defense minister Rajnath Singh and home minister Amit Shah at the Bharatiya Janata Party headquarters in New Delhi on Tuesday. (AP Photo)

When the results streamed in on Tuesday, it was these three provinces — Uttar Pradesh (UP), Maharashtra and West Bengal — that dealt the biggest blow to the Bharatiya Janata Party and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). In UP, the BJP dropped from 62 to 35, its worst showing since 2009; in Maharashtra, the party slipped from 23 to 12; and in Bengal, it declined from 18 to 10.

In total, the BJP won only 57 of the 170 seats on offer, almost half of its 2019 tally of 103. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance won 36 in UP, 19 in Maharashtra and 10 in Bengal — a total of 65, again roughly half of the 123 seats the alliance won in 2019.

In contrast, the Opposition’s Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) posted superlative results in each of these three provinces as it got caste arithmetic and ticket selection right (UP), cashed in on the ground connect of its leaders and their welfare and organisational network (Bengal) and successfully pinned down the BJP on key local issues and questions of regional pride (Maharashtra).

INDIA’s tally ballooned from 42 in 2019 to 100 in 2024 in these states as each constituent of the bloc held its own against a BJP onslaught, skillfully countering the incumbent’s pitch on welfarism, communalism and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity with its own unique campaign focussed on local issues and charisma.

In Uttar Pradesh, India’s most-populous state, the SP-Congress alliance stunned the NDA by posting its best results in 15 years. SP chief Akhilesh Yadav focussed on expanding the caste base of his party beyond its traditional Yadav and Muslim communities as he nominated a large chunk of leaders from smaller groups of both other backward classes and scheduled castes — two demographics the BJP co-opted in its two victories in assembly elections in 2017 and 2022, and two Lok Sabha wins in 2014 and 2019. The SP’s approach to widen its caste coalition played huge dividends as it smashed through the BJP citadel in the old Mandal playground of eastern UP and picked up critical seats in central and western regions. The party, along with its ally Congress, spoke about unemployment among young people and raised fears of the BJP amending the Constitution if it came back with a two-thirds majority — drawing a sharp contrast from the BJP’s campaign rife with pitched communal rhetoric with Modi alleging that the Opposition would give reservations away to Muslims.

In Maharashtra, which saw two regional powerhouses split vertically in the past three years, the elections were uniquely complex with six major parties in the fray. Since no polls were conducted since the 2019 assembly elections, the 2024 Lok Sabha exercise was also a referendum on which faction of the Shiv Sena or the Nationalist Congress Party would inherit the legacy of the parent.

Uddhav Thackeray and Sharad Pawar went into the elections battling significant odds. Their Maha Vikas Aghadi government was toppled and the Election Commission awarded their rivals — Eknath Shinde’s faction and Ajit Pawar’s faction — the poll symbols and party names mere months before polls were called.

But the results clearly showed that the people had decisively backed the original leaders over their rivals. Out of 12 seats where the two Sena factions were pitted against each other, Thackeray won eight and Shinde won four. Sharad Pawar won both seats where his faction faced Ajit Pawar, including the prestige battle of pocket borough Baramati, where his daughter Supriya Sule defeated Ajit Pawar’s wife Sunetra Pawar.

The Congress, too, posted superlative results, winning back its old bastion of Vidarbha on the back of discontent among cultivators and anger in the hinterland over incomes. Especially in seats such as Nanded, where senior leader Ashok Chavan switched to the BJP ahead of the polls, the victory will give heart to a party that ruled Maharashtra in coalition with the NCP for 15 years.

“The results have changed the national scenario and Maharashtra has played a big role in this,” Sharad Pawar said. “The results in Uttar Pradesh had given a new direction to the INDIA alliance.”

And in West Bengal, where a fierce campaign unfolded with the BJP making a huge push to maximise seat count in a state where it has slowly but surely built a base, chief minister Mamata Banerjee held her own. Despite being hamstrung by two adverse high court orders — one that cancelled the appointment of 26,000 teachers and another cancelling OBC certificates awarded to 77 Muslim groups — Banerjee crafted a campaign that focussed on her unique connect with the state’s electorate, especially rural women and her expansive welfare net, including direct cash transfer schemes such as Lokhhir Bhandar. The BJP attempted to attack her directly and fanned communal rhetoric, hoping to cash in on anti-incumbency to break the TMC’s hold over south Bengal.

The results, however, showed that the TMC not only held its bastion of south Bengal but also damaged the BJP in the western regions of Jangalmahal and north Bengal. The BJP was locked in close fights even in seats such as Balurghat, held by its state chief Sukanta Majumder and lost Coochbehar, held by Union minister of state Nisith Pramanik. Banerjee’s charisma and local pitch helped her replicate her 2021 assembly triumph and better her 2019 showing.

Addressing a press conference, Banerjee said she would try to ensure that Modi is out of power from the Centre, and the “INDIA bloc is in”.

“PM Modi has lost all credibility, he should immediately resign. India has won, Modi has lost. The PM broke many parties and now people have broken his morale. Modi is now falling at the feet of TDP and Nitish (Kumar) to form the government,” she said.

The story of the BJP’s inability to cross the 250 mark in terms of seats, is really the story of its failure in the three electorally most important states in the country.

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