Hindi heartland holds the key to power in 2019

 Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress President Rahul Gandhi. PTI file photo

The die is cast for the big political fight of 2019 with Election Commission announcing dates for the seven-phased Lok Sabha polls, which will elect India's next Prime Minister.

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress President Rahul Gandhi leading the alliances led by BJP and Congress remain the main contenders, the alliances or regional parties can also throw up a challenger as calling it 'mahagathbandhan' or 'mahamilawat”, the groupings of regional parties are poised to win a substantial number of the 543 Lok Sabha seats in 2019.

The election will decide whether the Congress is in for a substantial comeback after its shock 44 performance in 2014 especially after its 3:0 victory in assembly polls in Hindi heartland states-Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh months back or whether the BJP, which breaking jinx had become the first party to get single a party majority after 30 years in 2014, still holds its sway on masses.


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The BJP, which had won 282 seats in 2014, is down by 14 and currently has 268 MPs. It has lost at least eight seats in different Lok Sabha by-polls which it had won in 2014. Out of 27 Lok Sabha seats that went to polls after 2014, the BJP could win only six.

2018, in particular, had been a bad year for the ruling party as it lost three Lok Sabha seats consecutively in Uttar Pradesh, where it had won 71 seats on its own in the last Lok Sabha polls. 

While for Congress, it is a first Lok Sabha polls under formal leadership of Rahul Gandhi, the BJP like 2014 is totally banking on the persona of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to sail through in polls, which till a month back was being considered a tough one for the saffron party before Pulwama terror strike happened and Modi government retaliated by carrying out aerial strikes across the border on a JeM terror camp.

Taken aback by the nationalism narrative buidling up to the benefit of BJP after strikes, Opposition parties have been trying to bring back the focus on issues like joblessness and agrarian distress to put the Modi government on mat while the BJP believes if the election is on the plank of “strong decisive leadership”, Opposition do not have a candidate to beat Modi.

The Left is now more of an ideological force and is in a disarray after having lost badly in West Bengal and Tripura while the block of socialist parties of the Janata Parivar are splintered like the Samajwadi Party in UP,JD (U)and RJD in Bihar, Indian National Lok Dal in Haryana, Biju Janata Dal in Odisha and JD (S) in Karantaka.

Mayawati, whose party BSP could not win a single Lok Sabha seat in Uttar Pradesh in 2014, is contesting polls in half a dozen states, hoping for 1996 like scenario when HD Devegowda of JDS from Karnataka had become Prime Minister as Congress decided to back him to keep BJP out of power.

As indications have emerged the political landscape could change in Hindi heartland, which had held the key to power in 2014 when the BJP had won nearly 200 seats from this particular region itself.

Congress was down to around 19 per cent votes in 2014 from 29 per cent in last Lok Sabha polls. The drop of 10 per cent vote share of Congress coincided with 12 per cent rise in vote of a percentage of BJP, which got 31 per cent in 2014 as its 19 per cent it had got in 2019. The outcome will depend on how much Congress gains and BJP loses and whether the fall in one's vote percentage essentially benefits the other.

The stupendous success that the saffron party got in central, western and Northern India, is a difficult repeat for this time but many in the BJP believe that the aerial strike against Pakistan has changed the political narrative and BJP will get vote overcoming caste and alliance challenges.

In 2014, when Congress had lost, it was handicapped by the 10-year-long anti-incumbency of UPA I and UPA II governments. Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam had then famously commented that had even PM Narendra contested as Congress candidate in 2014, he would have lost the polls. There is a change of perception after Hindi belt state election results and Congress is now focusing on over promise and under delivery of Modi government to browbeat it.

Moreover unlike 2014 when the fight was primarily between the two--BJP as a resurgent force and Congress a condemned entity after a series of scams 2019 Lok Sabha polls has left the field wide open--either BJP or Congress leading alliance governments or either of them propping up some regional outfit to form government to keep the other away.

Facing a tough electoral scenario in Northern India, BJP is also focusing big this time on Southern India and North East. Meanwhile, the perception of post-Pulwama scenario tilting in favour of the ruling BJP has also triggered kind of a re-thinking in Congress and regional parties to rework the alliance formula.

There is also a change in the political scene in Uttar Pradesh post entry of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. While Congress hopes to improve its performance, BJP feels a triangular contest could work to its advantage as in a direct fight. Otherwise, caste calculations could favour the Opposition alliance.


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