Lok Sabha elections: BJP’s 2019 challenge is threefold
The BJP’s 2019 seat tally will depend on what happens in 353 Lok Sabha seats, 74% of which went to NDA in 2014
How many seats will the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) get in 2019? Electoral predictions are always hazardous, and more so in a first-past-the-post (FPTP) system. The final seat tally for any party is an outcome of two factors. Change in vote share and consolidation (or lack of it) of opposition votes. Diversity in India’s political geography also means that such factors vary significantly at the state level.
An HT analysis shows that the BJP’s 2019 tally will depend a lot on what happens in 353 Lok Sabha seats across 13 states, 74% of which went to the NDA in 2014. The BJP’s political challenge on these seats can be classified into three broad categories.
CATEGORY I: DIRECT NDA VERSUS UPA CONTESTS IN 162 LOK SABHA SEATS
The first category comprises eight states, where the BJP and the Congress, with or without allies, are in a direct contest. They are Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Jharkhand.
In 2014, the NDA won 151 out of the 162 seats in these states. Here the BJP’s main challenge is to ensure that its 2014 voters, or a significant part of them, do not defect to the Congress and its allies.
Except in Maharashtra, the BJP fought on its own in these states in 2014. The Congress had alliances in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Jharkhand. The NDA had a huge lead vis-à-vis the UPA in terms of vote share in these states in 2014.
Will a section of the 2014 NDA voters shift to the UPA in 2019? Looking at parliamentary constituency (PC) wise extrapolated results from assembly elections held after the 2014 Lok Sabha can give some idea about this question.
To be sure, voters might choose differently in state and national elections.
Also, in two (Maharashtra and Jharkhand) out of the eight states listed above, the 2014 alliances did not continue till the subsequent assembly elections.
The BJP emerged the single largest party in both these states and formed governments with post-poll alliances.
An analysis of six out of these eight states (excluding Maharashtra and Jharkhand) shows that the NDA’s lead in terms of both seat share and vote share has dropped significantly after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. While the BJP won 96 out of the 100 Lok Sabha seats in 2014, its extrapolated tally came down to 58 in the assembly elections held after 2014.
Even the seats which the BJP won, its lead in terms of vote share came down significantly compared to 2014.
CATEGORY II: BETTER OPPOSITION UNITY THAN 2014 IN 148 SEATS
The second category has three states where the BJP is likely to face a more united opposition. These are Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Karnataka. The NDA won 121 out of the 148 seats in these states in 2014.
Both in the 2014 Lok Sabha and 2017 assembly elections the combined vote share of the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) was almost equal to that of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh.
If the vote shares of the two parties were to be added together, the NDA’s 2014 tally would come down to 37 from 73 in Uttar Pradesh.
In Bihar, the Janata Dal (United) contested outside the NDA and UPA in the 2014 elections. While it could win just two seats, it played a spoiler in 22 seats, out of which 17 went to the NDA. With the JD (U) now back in the NDA fold, it remains to be seen whether it manages to transfer most of its 16% vote share 2014 to the NDA, or a large part of goes to the UPA.
The latter cannot be ruled out ex-ante as Nitish Kumar contested the 2014 elections from an anti-Modi plank after having walked out of the NDA over Narendra Modi being the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in 2013.
While the opposition might be expecting major gains due to a better index of opposition unity in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, Karnataka might be a different story.
An HT analysis by Abhishek Jha shows that even if the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) had contested the elections together in 2014, the BJP’s tally of 17 would only have come down by two seats.
Extrapolating the 2018 assembly election results however gives 21 out of the 28 seats in the state to the Congress-JD(S) alliance.
CATEGORY III: BJP AS THE ANTI-INCUMBENCY CHAMPION IN 63 SEATS
The third category comprises the two states where the BJP hopes to make major gains in 2019. They are West Bengal and Odisha, which gave only 3 out of the 63 seats to the BJP in 2014.
While the BJP’s political rhetoric in these states is against the dominant regional parties, the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) in West Bengal and the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in Odisha, it could make major gains by eating into the support base of the existing opposition, the Left in West Bengal, and the Congress in Odisha.
A simple set of calculations using 2014 vote shares can explain the importance of this point.
If there were to be a complete transfer of Left votes to the BJP in West Bengal in 2014, it would have won 32 out of the 42 seats in the state.
If half of the Left votes were to be transferred to the BJP in West Bengal, the latter will win 11 seats in the state. If 25% of the Left votes were to be transferred to the BJP and another 25% to the AITC, the BJP’s tally would be just 4, not very different from what it was in 2014.
While the first example is an extreme case, the 2019 outcome could lie somewhere between the second and third scenarios, with a section of Muslim voters deserting the Left for the AITC and Hindu voters shifting to the BJP.
Similarly, if the BJP were to usurp the entire Congress vote in 2014 in Odisha, it would have got 13 out of the 21 seats in the state. If half of the Congress voters were to move towards the BJP, it would have got five seats in the state.
To be sure, these calculations could be drastically different if the BJP is able to make a large dent in the voter base of the AITC or the BJD as well.
The local body elections held in West Bengal and Odisha can give some idea about this.
The BJP was able to inflict a significant loss to both the BJD and the Congress in Odisha in the 2017 local body polls compared to 2012.
The seat tally of the BJP, Congress and the BJP changed from 654, 128 and 36 in 2012 to 473, 60 and 297 in 2017.
However, the AITC has retained its dominance in the local body polls held in West Bengal in 2018. The West Bengal panchayat elections have added credibility to the BJP’s claims of being the dominant opposition party in the state.
There are others states/union territories in the country such as Delhi, Haryana and Assam where the BJP performed really well in 2014. It won 21 out of the 31 seats in these three states. Nothing as changed in terms of arithmetic to boost the opposition’s prospects in these areas.
However, it will not be an exaggeration to say that it is the 353 seats across these three categories which will matter the most for the BJP’s prospects in 2019.