Battle for the heartland

One-man Army: Can Modi swing it for the party in the region that will decide this election?
Last Updated 27 April 2019, 18:39 IST

The BJP faces a big challenge in repeating the over 90% strike rate that the party achieved in the 2014 LS polls in the Hindi heartland states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Jharkhand. It faces a daunting task making up for the losses it is expected to suffer in these states in the eastern states of West Bengal and Odisha.

To be able to do so, the party has fallen back completely on the Modi factor, making him the ‘mudda’ or the issue in this election, hoping that its “Modi hain tho mumkin hain’ slogan is enough to divert people’s attention from the jobs and rural crises facing the country, especially in these states, and the suffering inflicted on millions by demonetisation and the botched-up implementation of the GST.

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The BJP desperately needs Modi to campaign in as many constituencies across these eight states as possible, and the 7-phase, back-and-forth polling schedule across the country allows him to do exactly that. A look at where all Modi is campaigning gives a sense of where the BJP sees its chances and threats and why. Can he turn the election decisively in his favour?

Uttar Pradesh

Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP had won 71 of 80 seats in 2014, could be its Achilles heel. Hence, the party is desperately trying to re-create the 2014 Modi magic. Apart from his massive road show in Varanasi on Thursday, Modi addressed rallies in Kannauj, Hardoi and Sitapur on Saturday.

Modi is scheduled to address over a dozen rallies in this region in the days to come. What may queer the pitch for Modi, however, is the combined might of the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the BSP, given their committed vote banks. On many seats, the combined vote-share of the SP-BSP was more than that of the BJP in 2014. Congress, too, appears to be strong in at least 8-10 seats in the region, which is why its star campaigner Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is focussing on eastern UP.

West Bengal

To make up for the losses in UP, the BJP is betting big on Bengal, eyeing its 42 Lok Sabha seats, although it won only two of those in 2014. If one looks at Modi’s campaign venues in the state for the fourth phase, it is clear that he wants to make it a straight contest between himself and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress here.

During his election rallies in Asansol, Bolpur and Ranaghat seats, Modi focused his attack on Mamata, rather than on Congress, the BJP’s rival on the national stage, and the Left. The reason is that the BJP does not have a leader of stature in Bengal to take on Mamata. Modi targeted her on the chit fund scam, the Narada sting operation and dubbed her ‘speed-breaker Didi’, saying she was obstructing Bengal’s development.

While BJP holds the Asansol seat, the TMC had won the two other seats where Modi campaigned for the third phase of the election with thumping margins in 2014. But the BJP has built muscle power in Bolpur and has made in-roads into a key political family in Ranaghat. On these rest its hopes.


In Odisha, where it had won only one LS seat in 2014, the BJP is betting big. Modi addressed two election rallies in Balasore and Kendrapara on April 23, even as polling was being held elsewhere for the third phase of the election. He campaigned for the party nominees in the north and coastal belt of the state, which go to polls in the fourth and last phase in Odisha on April 29.

In both rallies, Modi attacked the long-reigning BJD chief and Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik. The seats are in a belt known as the BJD’s pocketborough but where the BJP has made in-roads. The BJP’s nominees in these seats are both defectors from the BJD.

Yet, the challenge it faces is clear. In 2014, the BJD has won all the six LS seats in the coastal and northern belt that go to polls on April 29, and 37 of the 42 assembly seats in the region. Modi screamed, “Aap ka jaana thayr hain, Naveen babu” (Your defeat is certain, Naveen Patnaik). But that may well be a pipe dream.

Madhya Pradesh

A day before campaigning ended for six seats going to the polls on April 29, Modi addressed two rallies in Siddhi and Jabalpur. Of the six seats, four are in Mahakoshal region where Chief Minister Kamal Nath is the tallest leader. State BJP chief Rakesh Singh is locked in a keen battle with Congress’ Vivek Tankha in Jabalpur; Kamal Nath’s son Nakul Nath is fighting from Chhindwara; in Siddhi, former leader of the opposition and Congress stalwart late Arjun Singh’s son Rahul Singh is pitted against sitting BJP MP Riti Pathak. Based on its showing in the assembly polls in December, the Congress looks confident of winning Mandla and Shahdol (both ST) seats, Modi’s rallies notwithstanding.


The BJP is finding itself in a tight situation, especially after Congress won two Lok Sabha bypolls in 2018 in Alwar and Ajmer, followed by the victory in assembly polls. So far, Modi has addressed four rallies -- at Barmer, Jodhpur, Chittorgarh and Udaipur, which will go to polls on April 29. For seats that go to polls on May 6, Modi will campaign in three more constituencies -- Jaipur, Karauli and Bikaner.

In Barmer, it is being seen as a Modi versus Jaswant Singh (who is in a comatose state since August 2014) battle, with the latter’s son Manvendra Singh taking on the BJP as a Congress candidate.

In Jodhpur, Congress has fielded CM Ashok Gehlot’s son Vaibhav against Modi’s man, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat. Both seats are a matter of personal prestige for Modi.


In Bihar, where the Narendra Modi-Nitish Kumar (JDU)-Ram Vilas Paswan (LJP) combine faces a challenge from a caste alliance of Yadavs, Kushwahas and Mushahars (RJD, Congress, Rashtriya Lok Samata Party and Hindustan Awam Morcha), plus Muslims, it is personality versus caste arithmetic.

Modi and Nitish, bitter rivals between 2014 and 2017, have addressed joint rallies. But the coming together of all those who are inimical to the BJP under the roof of the ‘Mahagatbandhan’ may well prove to be enough to stop the NDA in its tracks.

On April 24, BJP chief Amit Shah addressed half a dozen rallies in Samastipur, Munger, Begusarai and adjoining regions. Rahul Gandhi addressed a rally in Samastipur two days later. It’s a prestige seat for NDA, considered the ‘cradle’ of socialist politics and ‘the land of Karpoori Thakur’ a former Bihar chief minister belonging to the barber community, where Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan’s brother Ramchandra Paswan is contesting the seat against Congress leader Ashok Kumar Ram.


Shortly after polling ended for the third phase of elections on April 23, Modi flew to Ranchi, where he held a massive roadshow to boost the morale of BJP workers who had been demoralised after sitting BJP MP Ram Tahal Choudhary was denied the ticket.

Ram Tahal has been winning from Ranchi since 1991, except in 2004 and 2009, when Congress’ Subodh Kant Sahay defeated him. Modi has replaced Ram Tahal, a known Advani protégé, with a new face, Sanjay Seth. Other than Ranchi, BJP is focusing on Hazaribagh (Jayant Sinha, son of Yashwant Sinha), Dhanbad (PN Singh), Palamu (BD Ram) and Koderma (Annapurna Devi, who till recently was Jharkhand RJD chief).

The ‘Mahagatbandhan’, comprising Congress, JMM, Babulal Marandi’s JVM and the RJD, is contesting unitedly. Unlike in 2014, when the JMM could win only two seats while the BJP took the remaining 12, the 2019 battle is evenly poised, with all the non-BJP partners joining hands to avoid a split in anti-BJP votes.

(Sanjay Pandey, Soumya Das, ST Beuria, Rakesh Dikshit, Tabeenah Anjum, Abhay Kumar)

(Published 27 April 2019, 18:22 IST)

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