For Prime Minister Narendra Modi to make it to the top again it is extremely important that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) should muster a large share of seats in at least four large States – Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar and Maharashtra.
In 2014, barring West Bengal, BJP had performed exceedingly well in these States. A repeat performance is the only way that BJJP could return to power. Anything below par would make Modi’s chances of returning to South Block, fluid.
What will hold the key this time is West Bengal where the political fight between Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress and BJP is fierce. In fact, in many parts of the State during its seven-phase polls, there has been violence outside and inside polling booths. Banerjee during her election campaigns has also charged Modi of “running a parallel State government and we will pay you back in the same coin and take revenge as Modi has insulted West Bengal”.
Also recently a controversy had erupted over Modi's failure to get in touch with Banerjee to discuss the situation in the wake of the cyclone. As of now she is mired in several controversies, be it the arrest of people chanting “Jai Shri Ram” slogans and the arrest of a lady who morphed Priyanka Chopra’s picture with Banerjee’s face. West Bengal is probably the hottest bed this election and will continue to be so till the last phase of polling gets over there.
Uttar Pradesh, which sends the largest number of 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha, is the main battle field where BJP will face an acid test. With Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) stitching up an alliance keeping Congress out of it and Congress preparing to go it alone, the stage seems set for a multi-cornered contest. However, political pundits feel the SP-BSP alliance can pose a serious challenge to BJP and may create hurdles to its return to power.
Even though the party cadres have not yet resigned to the fact that SP-BSP have come together to contest 2019 elections, it is considered the biggest development in national politics, and may give a major jolt to BJP as it had profited earlier from the divide. The two came together to succeed in the Lok Sabha by-elections in Gorakhpur, Phulpur and Kairana last year. The SP won two seats while Ajit Singh-led Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) won Kairana. In 2014 the BJP had swept winning 71 seats out of the 80 on its own and two more went to its ally. That was BJP’s best performance ever in Uttar Pradesh. The Congress and SP managed to save their strongholds, but BSP was wiped out.
Bihar with its 40 seats in Parliament has turned out to be a battlefield which is no less interesting than Uttar Pradesh as new political equations have emerged. The opposition, led by Tejaswi Yadav of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), has formed a ‘mahagathbandhan’ with Congress and other regional parties like RLSP of former Union Minister and the Hindustani Awam Morch of former Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi to take on the NDA that is led by Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal-United (JDU), the BJP and the Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party (LJP).
In the last Lok Sabha polls, Kushwaha was part of the NDA but last year he parted ways. The BJP had won 22 seats, LJP six and RLSP three in 2014 when the JD-U fought separately and could get only two seats. The RJD won four seats and Congress two. BJP, JD-U and LJP have already announced a seat-sharing formula with BJP and JD-U to contest 17 seats each, leaving six seats for LJP. In fact, in Bihar just to strike a balance, BJP had to let go three winning seats in favour of JDU. In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP and JD-U contested together and won 32 of the 40 seats while the RJD won four. The Congress got two seats. However, it remains to be seen in 2019 in whose favour the elections go as caste plays an important consideration for voters in the Hindi heartland.
This election the caste equations appear to be even for NDA and the ‘mahagathbandhan’. While the upper castes and backward Kurmi and Koeri communities are expected to back the NDA, Yadavs, minorities, Dalits and Mahadalits are expected to back its rivals. The most backward classes, which account for 24 per cent of the population, are also expected to play a key role. Whether this time there will be a voting for PM or MP is yet to be ascertained.
Maharashtra is another big State where the alliance between the opposition parties may hit BJP’s prospects. In the Assembly elections held in October 2014 following the Lok Sabha polls, BJP and Shiv Sena had contested separately. By winning 122 seats in the 288-member Assembly, almost twice the seats the Sena got, the BJP showed that it was no longer the junior partner in the alliance. The Sena has not come to terms with this change in dynamics and is said to be keen on rewriting the alliance seeking the Chief Minister's post and more Assembly seats for it to come to a pact in the Lok Sabha elections. In 2014, the BJP contested 24 of the 48 Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra and the Shiv Sena 20 seats. Riding high on the ‘Modi wave’, the BJP won 23 seats and the Sena 18.
The EVMs will open on May 23 to reveal the true mood of the voters. Political pundits too are polarised. Whatever be the results, for Modi it is mandatory to perform well enough in all the above four states for a comeback.