The Bharatiya Janata Party has reason to be greatly pleased with the results of the recent assembly election in
four northern and central Indian states. It
swept 163 of Rajasthan’s 200 seats, taking
an unprecedented 12-plus percentage-point lead over the Congress party.
In Madhya Pradesh, the BJP won a convincing two-thirds majority.
In Chhattisgarh, where it was expected to
lose, it won albeit by a whisker.
And in Delhi, it kept the Congress party
out of power.
Its seat tally in the four states has risen
from 50 percent to 69 percent of the total.
This could translate into 50 of these states’
72 Lok Sabha seats for the BJP, up from 30.
Yet, the impact of the BJP’s success has
been blunted to some extent by the Aam
Aadmi Party’s spectacular performance in
Strange as it seems, AAP Chief Minister
Arvind Kejriwal, not the BJP’s Narendra
Modi, is leading the battle for the national
popular imagination. Kejriwal’s ‘new politics’ has inspired large numbers of people.
Has Kejriwal eclipsed Modi?
Has Modi, with his aggressive high-pro-file campaign, peaked too soon?
Has his macho style put off potential supporters?
Has his belated, strained expression of
‘misery, pain, anguish, agony’ at the 2002
violence won him Muslim sympathy?
It is difficult to give a definite answer to
all these questions just yet. But two things
are clear. Modi’s feigned ‘hurt’ at the anti-Muslim pogrom convinces nobody.
Second, the AAP’s entry has introduced a
new variable and enlarged the shadow of
uncertainty over the BJP’s ‘target’ of reaching the 272-seat halfway-mark on its own
by fielding Modi.
Modi or no Modi, the BJP lacks the support base to reach this. But can the
National Democratic Alliance do so?
The NDA has shrunk from 23 parties to
just three: The BJP (116 Lok Sabha seats),
the Shiv Sena (11) and the Shiromani Akali
Dal (4). It must more than double its present seat tally to reach the halfway mark.
This means raising its percentage share of
the national vote from 21.2 to over 30.
This is a far bigger task than the highest
jump in seats and votes ever achieved by
the BJP, when it rose from 161 seats and
20.3 percent (1996) to 182 seats and 25.6
percent (1998) and collected enough allies
to form an opportunist coalition, which
expediently put all trademark Hindutva
issues in abeyance.
The NDA has lost — probably irrevocably
— major allies like the Janata Dal-United,
the Trinamool Congress and the Biju
Janata Dal, besides ethnic-Tamil parties
and the Telugu Desam Party, which quit
For the NDA to come to power in 2014,
the BJP must win about 200 (if not 210 to
220) Lok Sabha seats to create a nucleus
around which smaller parties can coalesce
and form a winning alliance. Winning 200
to 220 seats, up from 116, is a tall order.
Unlike in the 1990s, when the BJP rode a
Hindutva wave, it has no social-mobiliza-tion tailwind behind it. So where can the
seats come from?
Cold arithmetic, for which thanks are
partly due to public-policy consultant
Manish Dubey, suggests that the BJP’s success will hinge primarily on making huge
gains in three major states — Uttar Pradesh
(80 seats), Bihar (40) and Maharashtra
In addition, the BJP must further
improve on its 2009 performance in states
which it has ruled in alternation with the
Congress party: Madhya Pradesh (29),
Gujarat (26), Rajasthan (25) and
Only then can the BJP boost the NDA
sufficiently to attract willing allies who
agree with its policies, and indifferent ones
who join it for the loaves and fishes of
Consider India’s political arithmetic from
the BJP standpoint. India’s 35 states and
Union Territories fall into four categories.
First are the big states like Andhra Pradesh
(42), West Bengal (42) and Tamil Nadu
(39), somewhat smaller Kerala (20), and
the tiny northeastern states barring to an
extent Assam, where the BJP has no effective presence.
In this big chunk of 168 Lok Sabha seats,
the BJP’s score has always been in the low
single digits, and is unlikely to improve.
Second, home states like Karnataka (28),
Orissa (21), Punjab (13) and Jharkhand
(14), where the BJP has a limited or
unsteady presence via alliances, and the
smaller states and UTs each with less than
10 seats, which account for 40 seats, making a total of 116 Lok Sabha seats.
These are unlikely to add substantially to
the BJP’s tally. It has to share Punjab with
the Akali Dal, and Jharkhand with region-
al groups. It is marginal in Orissa after it
broke with the BJD. And given the AAP’s
ascendancy in Delhi, the BJP cannot score
handsomely in the UTs either.
What of Karnataka? After B S
Yeddiyurappa’s disastrous performance as
chief minister, his break with the BJP — he
has since announced his decision to return
to the parent party — and the Congress’s
recent assembly victory, it is unlikely that
the BJP will win anywhere near the 19 seats
it bagged in 2009.
So in the states and UTs listed above,
which send 284 MPs — or more than half
the Lok Sabha’s total — the BJP’s tally will
on balance of probability be about the same
as earlier: 40 seats.
Then comes the third category of states,
comprising Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat,
Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. The BJP won
45 of its 91 Lok Sabha seats in 2009, and
did well in the assembly elections held
The BJP can legitimately hope to do better vis-à-vis the now-weakened Congress
party in Rajasthan (where it won only four
of 25 Lok Sabha seats in 2009), Gujarat
(15/26 in 2009) and MP (16/29 in 2009),
but not in Chhattisgarh, where it took 10 of
11 seats in 2009, but didn’t do too well in
the last assembly election.
Modi will draw in some votes both in
Rajasthan and Gujarat — although his strident Hindutva rhetoric could prove counterproductive beyond a point to the BJP by
further alienating Muslims and secular voters, and creating new opportunities for the
However, even if the BJP repeats its best-ever performance in MP (25), Rajasthan
(21), Gujarat (20) and Chhattisgarh (10),
that would still fetch it 76 of 91 seats. More
realistically, it could win 55 to 60 seats.
This would bring it about 100 seats, with
a maximum of 115, from the first three categories.
The BJP would still need to reap 85 to
100 seats from the fourth category (UP,
Bihar and Maharashtra) which send 168
Lok Sabha MPs. In 2009, it won just 31
seats from these.
These states are politically complex,
marked by strong local-level organizations
and candidates, and well-cultivated vote-banks. They have multi-cornered contests,
whose outcomes are hard to predict.
In 2004, these states returned 115 non-Congress-non-BJP MPs, and in 2009 a
In a super-optimistic scenario, the BJP
might win 24/40 seats in Bihar with a
strike-rate of 60 percent — way above its
best-ever score of 23/54 in undivided
Bihar, a 43 percent strike-rate.
In Maharashtra, the BJP could end its
alliance with the Shiv Sena and risk going it
alone. Even if it creates a ‘wave’, which
seems extremely unlikely, it can maximally
repeat its best-ever performance (18/48 in
1996). That entails an improbable doubling
of its present tally.
Even then, the BJP would need to win 55
to 60 seats from UP. It crossed the 50-seat
mark in undivided UP’s 85 seats only twice,
in 1998 and 1999, in the wake of the
Ramjanambhoomi mobilization, and when
it came to national power, but shrank to 10
seats in both 2004 and 2009.
To exceed the old performance won’t be
easy for the BJP in the face of the strong
caste and other social-group coalitions
forged by the Bahujan Samaj Party and the
True, the BJP stands to gain from the
communal polarization recently created by
the Muzaffarnagar violence, its renewed
emphasis on the Ram temple, and the
shrinking of the Congress party’s and the
However, the BJP in UP lacks both a
broad social coalition — as distinct from
upper-caste support — and a convincing
development agenda. It is relying on mobilizing fringe groups around the BSP and
the SP’s coalitions.
It is far from clear if this and Modi’s
‘charisma’ can override the appeal of traditional leaders and help the BJP win more
than 30 to 40 seats.
In an optimistic scenario, the BJP’s three-state gamble may pay off. More realistically, it may not. The BJP has the advantage of
having emerged as an urban winner in a
few states. For instance, in Gujarat, it
bagged 58 percent of city votes, to the
Congress party’s 28 percent. But Gujarat is
The BJP can’t replicate its performance
in Bihar and UP, with their 11 and 22 percent urbanization rates.
Besides, a new, quintessentially urban
challenge has arisen — in the shape of the
AAP. Despite its flawed start and many
problems including near-silence on communalism, the AAP could eat into the BJP’s
votes in many cities, wrecking Modi’s
Praful Bidwai is a veteran commentator
on Indian politics.
Will Kejriwal wreck
The latter may have peaked too soon, the former’s politics may find new takers
AMI T DAVE/REU TERS
January 17, 2014