No Cake Walk: The BJP has its task cut out for 2019
 Source : NewsBharati  Date : 28-Jan-2018
Dayanand Nene

2018 is going to be the big year in this term of the NDA govt. The year will be largely dominated by assembly elections. There are 8 states that go to polls this year and most of them are major ones. This is the year when 8 states – Meghalaya, Tripura, Mizoram, Nagaland, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh shall be going to polls. These polls, in fact, would be a precursor to the big 2019 Lok Sabha elections as these eight states will send 99 MPs to the 17th Lok Sabha in 2019 elections.

In most states, it is going to be a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) vs Congress show.
Of these eight states, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Tripura and Nagaland are likely to be in BJP's kitty. However, Karnataka may not be an easy ride for BJP, with incumbent Congress giving a tough fight.
Rajasthan, too, may prove to be a difficult deal for BJP. Going to Gujarat polls, which witnessed BJP being reduced to double digits, a similar scenario might arise in Rajasthan. The party is facing tough political opposition due to unrest by farmers, unemployed youth, and Gujjar agitation.
With the 2019 general election now just 16 months away, the BJP will try its level best to win both Karnataka and Rajasthan – so that it approaches the Loksabha elections with greater confidence. However, a loss here will seriously dent its preparations and be a booster for the Congress.
So, the big question. What will happen in 2019? What are the prospects of BJP returning to power on its own?
These are questions most political pundits are trying to grasp an answer.
To understand what can happen in 2019, let us have a look at what happened when the last BJP Govt. led by Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee faced a re-election in 2004.
BJP had then launched its election campaign with the slogan India Shining, in an attempt to reach out to the voters and persuade them regarding the achievements of the NDA coalition government.
The key strengths of the Vajpayee government were:
1) The immense popularity of the Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee- he was one of the most respected Prime Ministers of India with amazing coalition management skills and great oratory skills.
2) The really strong economy: India's GDP grew by 8.2% in 2003-04 and even the agricultural sector had done well.
3) In December 2003, state assembly elections in the four major states were held. These were Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh. BJP performed very well registering three registering landslide victories in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh.
The BJP at this time was brimming with confidence and the Prime Minister was sure of being re-elected for a second term, first to do so after Indira Gandhi. Opinion polls were conducted in January 2004, just after assembly elections, and they predicted that NDA would win 330-340 seats in a 545-seat parliament. Some experts even said that the NDA could even win a two-thirds majority.
However, the results came as a huge shock to everybody: the BJP lost by winning only138 seats down from 182 – while the Congress won 145 and emerged as the single largest party and then dislodged the BJP to form the govt at the Centre.
Why and how did the BJP lose, in spite of everything seemingly going in its favour
Elections were politically fought over local issues instead of the national issues, contrary to what BJP had expected.
BJP became complacent, NDA shrank while UPA grew
With opinion polls suggesting an easy victory for NDA, BJP's complacency was understandable. BJP's complacency made it increasingly high-handed towards its allies. In the run-up to elections, BJP lost seven allies while Congress, expecting a defeat, was keen on dealing with allies.
So, NDA unexpectedly lost crucial seats and the election, because of loss in the number of allies, and loss of minority support.
The reason was bringing the 2004 situation in this discussion is the many similarities which exist between then and now.
Atal ji was the tallest Indian leader then; Narendra Modi is the most popular leader in the country now. NDA had a comfortable majority in the Loksabha then, BJP / NDA have an absolute majority now.
The economy was on a firm footing then and now. The opposition was in disarray in the run-up to elections then and now. All political pundits were predicting a cakewalk for BJP/NDA then as they are doing now.
But more interesting is the statistic: distribution of seat vis a vis vote share. Let us have a look at what had happened then.
Let’s see how the numbers fared in the 2004 general polls –
  • In the 1999 polls, the BJP had attained 182 seats while the Congress got 114. The BJP got 8.65 crore votes (23.75%) while the Congress got substantially more – 10.31 crore votes (28.30%).
  • In 2004, the vote shares were as follows – BJP 8.63 crore (22.16%), Congress 10.34 crore (28.53%). Clearly, neither did the BJP lose many votes in comparison to the 1999 polls nor did the Congress gain heavily. Yet, with almost a similar vote-base the BJP ended up with 44 seats less and the Congress gained 31 in comparison to 1999.
  • The number of people who voted for Congress & BJP had almost remained the same in 1999 & 2004.
  • 10.3 crore people had voted for Congress in 1999 and even in 2004, around 10.3 crore people voted for Congress.
  • 8.6 (crore people had voted for BJP in 1999 and even in 2004, around 8.6 crore people had voted for BJP.
  • But look at the number of seats won.
  • In 1999, through 10.3 crore votes, Congress had won 114 seats but in 2004, using almost the same number of voters, it won 145 seats!!
  • In the case of BJP, in 1999, it had won 182 seats by 8.6 crore votes but in 2004, in spite of having the same number of votes, could manage only 138 seats.
Let’s have a look at what happened in the recently concluded Gujarat election:
  • The BJP got 49.1 percent of total votes polled, a slight increase from 48 percent it had in 2012. The Congress had got 39 percent vote share in 2012, which has increased to 41.4 percent in 2017, according to figures available from the election commission. But look at the seats – BJP down from 115 to 99 and the Congress up from 61 to 77.
  • How does this happen? This is so because of our Westminster Electoral system. In this system, more votes need not always assure victory. What really matters is how these votes are actually distributed across constituencies which in turn can determine the winner of each constituency. 
  • The concept is called “First Past the Post” which means in each constituency, the party has the highest votes wins that constituency seat and the rest of the votes going to other parties in that constituency are not considered at all. These votes cannot be carried forward to other constituencies because each constituency is completely isolated from each other in terms of vote counting.
  • This is what exactly happened to BJP in 2004. It won many seats in a particular city where the minimum threshold for vote required to win was surpassed and there were surplus votes as their victory margins were big, but in some places, they had even less than minimum threshold votes required to win an election.
How does that augur for the BJP in 2019?
As of today, the BJP juggernaut looks invincible. Modi is easily the mlike-mindedr leader in the country. The BJP /NDA is in power in 19 states and will surely add a few in the coming assembly polls. The
Congress – as of today – does not inspire much confidence amongst people to project itself as an alternative. So by all yardsticks, 2019 is predicted to be a cakewalk for the BJP.
But is it really so?
Let us properly analyse and understand the political situation in the country today.
There are many regional players such as Nitish Kumar, Laluprasad Yadav, Naveen Patnaik, Mamata Banerjee, Chandrashekhar Rao, Arvind Kejriwal, Mehbooba Mufti. Each one of them is very popular in their state. Some of them can win an election in their states without any alliance. In some of these states where these regional satraps are, there BJP is nonexistent or a marginal player as of now.
  • In all the states other than the one the ones mentioned above, Congress will be the main adversary of the BJP in 2019.
  • Congress of 2019 will be completely different and will try to align with like-minded parties, because of its necessity. Further Congress is fast losing its space to other parties; however, BJP's gain at the expense of Congress is limited.
  • The parties constituting the present NDA may not stay together. Shiv Sena may leave. History shows that Telugu Desam Party is not reliable and may withdraw from the alliance if the going is not to its advantage or NDA is weakened.
  • There is also a possibility that NCP may join NDA. Either of the two Dravidian party may jump on the bandwagon. Even Naveen Patnayak may be coaxed into it if the BJP becomes stronger than what it is now in Odissa. If Naveen popularity weakens, he may try aligning with BJP.
  • If SP joins the regional satraps to form a rainbow coalition, then BSP may contest alone. If BSP finds contesting alone is detrimental to its interests, it may align either with the coalition of regional parties or even join NDA. This is only a possibility.
  • In the northeast, BJP may do better than during 2014. In the south except in Karnataka, in all other states, BJP may get a good number of seats only if it is in alliance with local parties.
Possible scenarios:
In 2019 Congress will try for a Mahagatbandhan – rainbow coalition against the BJP across the country. It will also try to divide the election campaign on caste basis.
Hypothetically, it could be SP+BSP+CONGRESS in UP, JDU [ Sharad Yadav group]+RJD+CONGRESS in Bihar, AAP+CONGRESS in Delhi, NCP+SS+CONGRESS in Maharashtra, CONGRESS + JD-S in Karnataka, CONGRESS+TMC or CONGRESS + LEFT in West Bengal and so on.
Options before the BJP.
  • First, the party should be clear who is their alliance partners? And who are their adversaries in each region? They also need to assess their strength and weaknesses.
  • During 2014 general election the key to success was its performance in UP where it won 73 of the 80 seats. A repeat of the same looks difficult, even after its stellar performance in the assembly polls. 
  • In other major states like Bihar, Maharashtra, Chattisgarh, Rajasthan, and even Madhya Pradesh - BJP has reached a saturation point and can only lose out. In Bihar, now with Nitish back in the alliance, it can possibly repeat its 2014 performance. In Maharashtra, SS may ditch NDA. BJP has an option with NCP and handle it carefully. In the other states, BJP needs to contend with Congress. As of now Congress is in a very decaying trend. 
  • BJP as a party should coopt different sections, castes and communities. One thing is clear, that is, Muslims will never vote BJP and spending time on them is a waste. If they are against BJP, that may be converted to be its strength, to win the election.
BJP has a huge challenge ahead and must learn the right lessons from the Gujarat scare.
First, it's the economy. In the last three-and-a-half years, the central government has not been able to reverse the slowdown or enable jobs creation. It simply has not come to grips with this challenge. This has to be priority No 1 in 2018.
Second, the party has been taking its core Hindu and business vote for granted - which is why the PM had to tug at the Hindu chord and rush to fix the GST pain points towards the end of the Gujarat election campaign.
Third, the BJP has to learn the same lesson that the Congress has refused to learn: State’s need visible state leaders and leaders should not be imposed from above. 
Core ideas must not be neglected.
Gujarat elections also serve an important lesson: Never Neglect your CORE IDEALS. BJP, which is known for its aggressive nationalism and Hindutva agenda was surprisingly soft on these very grounds. This softness has been disastrous for BJP, be it the Delhi elections or the Bihar elections of 2015, where despite having a majority share in the votes, they had to saw seemingly weaker opponents like Aam Aadmi Party and Rashtriya Janata Dal take away all the glory and ultimately the seats. The same explains BJP’s drubbing in Somnath in Gujarat.
So if BJP wants to increase their base, and continue their victorious march in 2019, they need to make sure that they resort to the aggressive nationalism and Hindutva that has been their inherent strength, and not just limit it to the election campaigns. Unless BJP strikes hard on the issues of Ram Mandir, Article 370 and Uniform Civil Code, such lapses are bound to happen. These were the core ideas that had propelled them to a comprehensive victory in 2014, it was this aggression that gave them a massive victory in states like UP, Assam, Uttarakhand etc. Being defensive is not an option for the BJP!
Different possible results in 2019.
Post-Gujarat, the Congress seems to be in a belligerent mood. Assuming that all the Congress machinations click then this could be a Scenario no. 1:
In 2014, the BJP had swept through UP [73/80], Maharashtra [43/48], Gujarat [26/26], Delhi [7/7], Rajasthan [24/26], MP [26/30],Chattisgarh [9/11] and Bihar [30/40].
This means they won 238 seats of a possible 268 in these 8 seats.
A repeat of this is extremely difficult. Anti-Incumbency and other caste configurations can alter the scene. Even if BJP loses 40 seats from this basket, its own majority will come down from 282 to 240 – exposing it to the whims and fancies of others to remain in power.
Second possible scenario:
I have divided all Loksabha seats BJP strong / not so strong states and let us see how many seats the BJP can get:
1] BJP strong states:
  • Uttar Pradesh- Even if all its rivals form a mega BSP-SP-Congress alliance, it will affect BJP's vote share, but after its strong assembly election performance, BJP may win still 60/80 seats.
  • Bihar- After the home-coming by Nitish Kumar, BJP can win about 25/40 seats.
  • Madhya Pradesh- BJP is doing great here. People are happy with the leadership. But considering anti-incumbency will affect it ( real picture will emerge only after the assembly polls), BJP can still win about 19/29 seats.
  • Chattisgarh- There might be slight anti-incumbency against BJP lead state government. Still, BJP may win at least 8/11 seats. Again real picture will emerge after the assembly elections.
  • Rajasthan- Solid anti-incumbency here. BJP tally will be reduced to 16/25 seats. Again real picture will emerge after the assembly elections.
  • Gujarat- Post the solid Congress resurgence in the assembly polls, BJP will win 18/26 seats.
  • Maharashtra- Toughest state to predict. Lately, voters have shown faith in BJP, instead of Shiv Sena. They may win 30/48 seats, which would be a great achievement.
  • Jharkhand- All the regional parties are having tough times, therefore BJP may sweep 12/14 seats.
  • Uttarakhand- Clean sweep 5/5.
  • Karnataka- Political pundits expect BJP to win state elections in 2018. But still, Congress will be a tough competition and will not be washed out. BJP can win 18/28 seats here.
  • Himachal Pradesh- Clean sweep 4/4.
  • Assam- Tough state to predict although BJP won the state election. BJP may win 10/ 14 seats.
  • Delhi- People are happy with the CM as well as PM. So, BJP tally may go down to 5/7 seats.
  • Haryana- The opposition is weakening here and they may form a coalition, but BJP may pick 7/10 seats here.
  • So out of the 14 states where the BJP is strong, they can bag 214 seats.
2] States in which they will win seats through an alliance with regional parties
  • Punjab- BJP in alliance from Akali Dal and can win 5/13 seats, 
  • Jammu and Kashmir- Jammu has given BJP good support. Along with PDP, they may bag 4/ 6 seats.
  • Odisha- Very tough to predict, because it is a BJD is stronghold state. Congress also has a good presence here. Still, BJP may wrest 8/21 seats.
  • Andhra Pradesh- Along with TDP, BJP will enjoy great success due to the fall of rivals Congress and YSR Congress, who may join hands. NDA can win 20/25 seats here.
  • BJP/ NDA may pick 37 seats from these states.
3] States where regional parties reign supreme
  • Telangana- BJP will fight alone.TRS is the ruling party and popular.Congress, TDP and AIMIM also have good vote share, BJP may get just 2 -3/14 seats.
  • West Bengal- The Bengalis will still love Didi. BJP will try hard but may manage only 2/42. 
  • Tamil Nadu- Impossible to penetrate, allies of BJP may win 1/39 seats.
  • Kerala- I don't see even any of BJP allies getting a seat here. 
  • BJP will get 5 seats from these states.
4] Small states and Union Territories
  • In Goa and North Eastern states, BJP can win 5 seats out of 11.
  • In Union Territories, BJP can win 3 of the 6 seats.
  • In these states, total 8 seats can be won.
So, cumulatively, if the Scenario 2 happens, the BJP will win about 264 seats – leaving it precariously close but still short of the 272 mark. These scenarios can happen to assume that ALL the opposition parties unite under the Congress banner to fight as a Mahagatbandhan against the BJP. This is unlikely to happen as almost all parties have their own compulsions.
So, moral of the exercise is that there is no Cakewalk for the BJP in spite of Modi’s popularity and the BJP leadership and cadre must pull up their socks and get down to business if they want to prevent another 2004 from happening.
 
*Author is political analyst
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of NewsBharati.