Dr. Satish Misra
Five southern states- Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Telangana, along with the Union Territory of Puducherry, have always been an electoral headache for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party that is adopting all possible ways and means to cover the loss of its seats in northern states in general and in Hindi heartland states particularly from the south.
While the BJP has been struggling for decades in south barring Karnataka to spread its electoral base, it electoral tally in 2014 general elections despite the then challenger Narendra Modi’s huge popularity, the saffron party was able to get 21 seats out of total 130 seats in five states and one UT.
What has added salt to the old wounds of the BJP was the announcement of Congress president Rahul Gandhi to contest from Wayanad in Kerala. Reaction of the BJP and its leaders was as if it was the most affected party of the decision of its arch–rival the Congress. It was unbelievable because the ruling party questioned Rahul Gandhi for contesting from two seats –Amethi in UP and Wayanad in Kerala. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, himself, had contested from two seats-Vadodara and Varanasi- in 2014 general elections.
Desperation of the BJP was evident when it began to spread rumour giving a communal tone on the social media that Rahul Gandhi was running away from Amethi to a seat, which had a majority of Muslims. A check of the census figures of the Wayanad district reveals that Hindus are around 49 percent while Muslims are 28 percent with Christians being around 21 percent.
Notwithstanding tall claims of the ruling party’s leadership that the BJP was going to improve its 2014 electoral rally of 282 seats, it appears that southern comfort is going to remain elusive or a distant dream.
The BJP had won two seats in Andhra Pradesh piggy riding the Telgu Desam Party but this time it has not been successful in finding an alliance partner and a result its score in most likelihood going to be a zero. Even its vote share is going to be down from 8.5 percent of 2014 because there is a palpable anger against it for the failure of the Modi government to grant a special package to the state.
In Karnataka where the BJP in 2014 had won 17 seats in a triangular contest with a vote share of 43 percent. Repeat of the last performance is well neigh impossible because of a simple fact that the contest this time is direct between the BJP and the Congress-JD (S) alliance. The two had a combined vote share of over 51 percent.
While in northern Hindi speaking states, the BJP’s electoral narrative of threat to national security in the wake of terrorist attack at a CRPF convoy at Pulwama has some traction and even some appeal, southern states are far from the jingoism of the north. Even Modi’s popularity compared to north is far below the national average there.
In Tamil Nadu and Telangana where the BJP had two seats, the BJP is contesting five seats in of its alliance with the AIADMK. It is expecting to improve its number of seats but it seems difficult because of host of factors. Absence of a charismatic leader like Late J Jayalalitha on the side of the AIADMK alliance is a serious setback.
In Most likelihood, the BJP’s tally in the south is not going to improve rather it is going to be poor and for that, it would have to improve its tally from northern, western, eastern states or northeastern states. A look at the 10 northern states- Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand- the BJP had won 205 seats out of total 240 seats in the last general elections. It was, undoubtedly, a spectacular electoral performance.
Notwithstanding the BJP’s claim of improving performance through its jingoistic and aggressive campaigning, it is literally impossible to repeat the 2014 electoral feat. Close contests are being reported from each of the 10 states with the BJP struggling hard to retain its electoral territory. A safe guesstimate of experts is that the saffron party is going to lose minimum of 100 seats bringing its score to around 104 seats.
In country’s west, in states of Maharashtra and Goa, the BJP had 25 seats out of total 50 seats. It is going to be an uphill task for the ruling party both in the states as well as at the Centre to repeat the performance. A loss of around 10 seats in expected in these two states. In Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh, the BJP had 10 seats out of 24 seats.
In four eastern states-Assam, Odisha, Tripura and West Bengal, the BJP had won 10 Lok Sabha seats out of total 79 seats. The BJP leaders particularly party chief Amit Shah is very hopeful of improving the party’s tally but a close look reveals that increase is not going tobe substantial. While in Assam, the ruling party is likely to lose couple of seats, it may gain around a dozen seats in West Bengal, Tripura and Odisha. A maximum gain of 10 seats appears possible.
Remaining Lok Sabha seats are in north-eastern states and union territories of Daman & Diu, Delhi, Dadra & Nagar Haveli, Lakshadweep and Andaman & Nicobar island that count for about 20 seats. The BJP had 11 seats from these states and UTs.
The BJP is entering into the electoral phase with its back towards its wall as is evident in campaign speeches of most of its leaders that are aggressively trying to corner the opposition. Lack of confidence and winning poise is missing on the faces of its leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The contest from all counts and every calculation is evenly poised and there seems to be a hung parliament when results are declared on May 23.
Dr. Satish Misra is a Veteran Journalist & Research Associate with Observer Research Foundation.