This the first instalment of a three-part series on how the BJP looks to offset losses in the North with gains in the East
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is hoping to make electoral gains in the eastern, southern and northeastern regions of the country to offset some of the losses it is expected to make in the ‘Hindi heartland’, in the upcoming Lok Sabha election.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the Narendra Modi-led party swept through the Hindi-speaking belt. Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Chandigarh and the National Capital Region (NCR) of Delhi have a total of 226 parliamentary seats. The BJP won 191 of these seats in the previous parliamentary election. Its partners from the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) won 11 seats there.
However, in December 2018, Congress was able to wrest Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan from the BJP in one-on-one contests in the assembly elections, largely banking on local anti-incumbency and agrarian distress.
The saffron party is now facing similar anti-incumbency in many other northern states, leading observers to believe that it is likely to face substantial losses. Observers also highlight the lack of a ‘Modi wave’ that had swelled BJP’s vote share in 2014.
Opinion polls concur with these observations. Multiple polls have predicted BJP making heavy losses in the Hindi-speaking belt.
The Samajwadi Party (SP)-Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) alliance could cut down BJP’s tally to half in Uttar Pradesh alone, the surveys show.
The East and Northeast have been untapped regions for the BJP as far as parliamentary constituencies are concerned. So, it is here that the saffron party is desperate to make gains.
The region, comprising Odisha, West Bengal, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura, has a total of 88 seats. The BJP had won just 13 of these Lok Sabha seats in 2014. Its allies had won two.
In Odisha and West Bengal, BJP won one and two seats respectively, leaving scope for a major expansion.
History of Odisha politics
Except for brief governments led by Janata Dal, Janata Party and Swatantra Party, Odisha was governed by Congress until 2000.
The Biju Janata Dal (BJD) was founded in 1997 by Naveen Patnaik. The following year, it forged an alliance with the BJP which lasted until 2009.
Since 2004, the assembly and Lok Sabha elections in Odisha have happened simultaneously.
Patnaik has been the state’s chief minister since 2000. The Congress has played the role of the main Opposition party. The BJP’s expansion has, however, gathered steam since 2014. This growth has been at the cost of Congress.
Having been in power for 19 years, Patnaik is facing anti-incumbency despite his personal popularity being very high.
BJP is now hoping to harness this anti-incumbency factor to not only win the assembly elections but also win a significant number of Lok Sabha seats.
In 2014, the BJD registered its highest seat count in the state in both elections — 117 out of 147 assembly seats and 20 parliamentary seats out of 21. This effectively pushed Congress to the margin. BJP won one parliamentary seat and 10 assembly seats.
BJD’s vote share sprang to 44.77 percent for the Lok Sabha polls. Congress and BJP secured 25.71 percent and 17.99 percent, respectively. BJP’s vote share however was highest since 1999 while that of Congress plummeted from what was over 40 percent in 2004.
BJP replaced Congress as No. 2 in state
In 2017, the BJP registered an unprecedented jump in its panchayat election's seat share. The saffron party won 297 seats to finish behind BJD’s 473 seats. Congress finished a distant third with 60 seats.
With a 725 percent jump in its tally against the 2012 panchayat polls, BJP effectively replaced Congress as the number two party in the state. In 2012, the BJD had won 654 seats followed by Congress with 128 and BJP with 36 seats out of 854.
Opinion polls have put BJP in the lead against the BJD in the Lok Sabha polls. Congress is seen finishing third, across surveys.
Two opinion polls — ABP News-CSDS and ABP News-CVoter from October 2018 and January 2019, respectively — have given BJP a clear lead.
The ABP News-CSDS survey predicts BJP to win 13 seats and the BJD to win six. The Congress comes distant third with two seats.
The ABP News-CVoter survey predicts BJP to win 12 seats and the BJD to win nine. The Congress draws a blank, according to the survey.
Harnessing local anti-incumbency
The concern for the BJP, however, is if it will able to translate anti-incumbency against the state government into a vote for itself.
Partha Das, psephologist and analyst at political consultancy Chanakyya, told Moneycontrol that BJP’s performance in the simultaneous polls would depend on whether split voting happens.
If there is no split voting, the anti-incumbency built against BJD could also work against it in the Lok Sabha polls.
According to Das, the BJP stands to gain the tribal seats of Odisha, including Sundargarh — which it won in 2014.
Traditionally, Odisha has not seen split voting. Since 2004, when simultaneous polls started in the state, voters have largely voted for the same party in both the Lok Sabha and assembly polls.
A closer look at election data shows a trend showcasing the rise of BJP in Odisha. In 2014, BJP finished second in 10 out of the 21 Lok Sabha constituencies. In 2009, it failed to win a single seat and was placed second in just one constituency.
Reports earlier suggested Prime Minister Narendra Modi could contest the general election from Puri, Odisha besides either his current constituency Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh or a seat in Gujarat.
The prime minister contesting from the temple town could boost BJP’s chances in the state, party leaders believe. However, it could also ruffle feathers of Patnaik, who could be a potential source of support if the election yields a hung House.(This the first instalment of a three-part series on how the BJP looks to offset losses in the North with gains in the East)