The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is finding it tough to retain what it had achieved in 2014 general elections. In fact, they clearly swept the Hindi heartland. In Uttar Pradesh BJP mustered 71 of 80 seats, while in Rajasthan they got all the 25 seats and in Madhya Pradesh they bagged 27 of 29 seats and in Jharkhand 12 of 14 and a clean sweep of 10 on 10 in Chhattisgarh. In Gujarat which is not necessarily a Hindi belt, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home State, BJP got 26 of 26 seats. It was a dream performance nearly four and half years ago but given the anti-incumbency, unemployment, the non-starter Ram Mandir construction, farmers and middle-class unrest, it is likely to give a dent to a repeat of 2014.
BJP had won 282 seats in the 2014 general election, giving them a simple majority in the lower house of Parliament. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) had won 336 seats out of 543. Already, BJP is now down to 272 seats. What ultimately will matter is the number in Parliament which will finally emerge after a mud-slinging match between the NDA and the UPA or Mahagathbandhan.
The BJP is also aware that southern states like Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, etc, are not going to fetch them seats which will matter in the House of Parliament for government formation in May 2019. Hence, the theory of rainbow coalition is in the offing as BJP has no choice but to go for it. In all likelihood, the BJP will try to rope in K Chandrashekhar Rao of Telangana and YSR Congress leader YS Jaganmohan Reddy to make them a part of this rainbow coalition. While Telangana has 17 seats in Lok Sabha, Andhra Pradesh has 25 seats.
The BJP is also well aware that making inroads into states like Tamil Nadu and Kerala, especially after the Sabrimala episode in Kerala, is a steep uphill task. In Karnataka due to the present ‘unrest’ in the State governance and bickering among the coalition parties like Congress and Janata Dal Secular, BJP may see the gains. Also with the passing away of Union minister and Karnataka leader Ananth Kumar, Yadurappa, the veteran BJP leader in the state will have a more free hand to play. In Goa too the mood is not very favourable for the BJP for several reasons, primarily the unsolved issue of mining ban which has led many jobless.
However, they do see a ray of hope in the state of Odisha where they are expecting some gains as the Biju Janata Dal of Navin Patnaik is showing some sparks of dissent among its own party leadership. Odisha has 21 seats in Parliament and BJP is expecting at least 8 seats from the State which has one of the longest serving Chief Ministers Navin Patnaik after Pawan Chamling of Sikkim.
As against the 2014 political rallies, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s movement in the eastern part of India, including West Bengal, shows that he has smelt the coffee and will concentrate more in the East than the Hindi heartland. The recent debacle of the BJP government in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan Assembly elections adds testimony to this fact. West Bengal has 42 seats in Parliament and BJP in 2014 had mere two from the state but expects to garner 7-8 seats from Mamata Banerjee’s backyard. As against any other state in India, the fight is going to be fierce in the state of West Bengal.
BJP is now looking for a rainbow coalition for all states. This is evident when BJP had to backtrack itself while negotiating seats sharing in Bihar. In fact BJP had to contain Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal United by offering JDU the seats which were won by BJP in 2014. The concentration of the BJP is now on northeast. This is strategically very important for the BJP to gain in northeast on the losses expected from the Hindi heartland in the upcoming 2019 general elections. The BJP is enthused by its recent performance in Tripura in the bastion of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM) and believes that this could be the gateway for the entry of the BJP in the northeast.
Addressing a rally in Assam during a two-day Northeast tour recently, Prime Minister Modi who was shown black flags assured the crowd that the Citizenship Bill, which has triggered protests in the state, will not cause problems there. During his visit to the northeast, Modi also inaugurated development projects worth Rs 4000 crore and laid the foundation stone for the construction of a greenfield airport at Hollongi in Arunachal Pradesh. As the elections draw close, and the imposition of the Code of Conduct is imminent, one can expect more doles and sops by the Prime Minister for the States which are showing signs for BJP upswing.