With just a few days to go before the first phase of voting takes place on April 11, questions are being asked about whether the National Democratic Alliance will return to power or will there be a change of government.
Before the Pulwama attack and the Balakot airstrikes, it seemed as if the BJP-led NDA government might face a challenge from the Congress, which showed some signs of revival after its win in the three Assembly elections of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. But after Pulwama, things seemed to have changed in favour of the BJP, and it could minimise its possible losses in the Hindi heartland. From the question of whether the BJP would win in 2019, after Pulwama the question seems to have shifted to how many seats the BJP could win.
Even before Pulwama, the BJP remained the frontrunner in the 2019 electoral battle, but after that it has taken a decisive lead over the Congress in the Hindi belt. People may still think unemployment is the biggest issue for them, but Pulwama and Balakot helped to build the image of a government which can give a befitting reply to Pakistan. What also goes to the BJP’s advantage is the absence of any viable alternative to Prime Minister
Narendra Modi’s “strong” leadership. A sizeable number of voters would like to vote for the BJP only as they want a “strong leader” as Prime Minister, and for them Narendra Modi is the only one who fits this image.
Some people believe that if a popular Prime Minister like Atal Behari Vajpayee and his government could be defeated by a weak Congress and fragmented Opposition in 2004, Narendra Modi, an equally popular PM, can also be defeated in 2019. The 1999 Lok Sabha election was also held after the Kargil war. My answer to that is simple — the 2019 elections can’t be compared with 2004 simply because the Congress went into these two elections with a vastly different support base. When the Congress was contesting the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, it had a 28 per cent voteshare, but today the Congress is down to a 19.6 voteshare... Even if the Congress can add another six to seven per cent votes, it may not be enough to take the party beyond 100 seats in the Lok Sabha.
In order to defeat a popular government like that of the BJP, either the Opposition needs to push the ruling party in a corner by asking difficult questions or it has to form alliances to avoid splitting the anti-BJP vote. The present political situation seems far from any of these scenarios.
The Congress doesn’t seem to be strong enough to defeat the BJP on its own, nor has the Opposition managed to form alliances as successfully as it should have. The Congress failed to be part of the “Mahagathabandan” in Uttar Pradesh and till now has failed to form any alliance with the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi. The Congress has an alliance with the Nationalist Congress Party in Maharashtra, but not in Gujarat. With the Opposition failing to form alliances, it seems extremely difficult to defeat Mr Modi in 2019.
Before Pulwama there were some indications of the BJP suffering losses in the Hindi heartland states where it had peaked in 2014, but it seems to have covered a lot of ground after the Balakot airstrikes. It’s true that the BJP can’t improve upon its 2014 performance in the Hindi heartland states that see a bipolar contest, but it has managed to minimise the losses that it suffered in Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Himachal, Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Let’s not forget that even after its defeat in the recent Assembly elections in MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, the BJP has an edge over the Congress if these results are looked at as parliamentary elections.
The BJP led in 17 parliamentary seats and the Congress led in 12 in MP, while in Rajasthan it was 13-12 for the BJP and the Congress. It is only in Chhattisgarh that the Congress has a decisive lead over the BJP. Pulwama can only add a couple of percentage votes more to the BJP.
The Congress’ voteshare will increase in 2019 compared to 2014, but it will need a massive swing against the BJP to raise its voteshare in the Hindi belt states. Even a 5-6 per cent swing against the BJP may not affect the saffron party’s chances in many of these states. The wide gap in the voteshare of the BJP and the Congress makes the task of the Congress extremely hard to push the BJP on the backfoot.
There are many states like UP, Bihar Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand, Punjab, J&K and Delhi where the BJP did very well in 2014 either due to its alliances with regional parties or because it managed to benefit from the division of the anti-BJP vote as regional parties fought elections each other. It is true an alliance of the Opposition parties could push the BJP on the backfoot in many states, like UP, Delhi, Punjab, Jharkhand, Haryana, Maharashtra and Bihar. The Congress did form alliances in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Bihar, but Pulwama and Balakot generated a mood of nationalist fervour among a large section of voters which has weakened the impact of such alliances.
In states like West Bengal and Odisha, where the BJP did not do well in 2014, it has the potential of emerging stronger in 2019. Recent reports suggest the BJP has emerged stronger in these states in the last couple of years. The BJP can improve its tally of seats in these states, but the only question remains by how much?
In a few more states, mainly in the South, like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, the BJP’s presence remains more or less as it was in 2014, except in Kerala, where it may have expanded its support base, but not enough to win Lok Sabha seats. In these states, it may be status quo for the BJP. Given this scenario, the BJP seems set to triumph in 2019 — unless something dramatic happens in the weeks ahead....