Can BJP-led NDA win 80 Lok Sabha seats from UP?

For the BJP-led NDA to win 400-plus seats in the general elections, it must win all the seats from Uttar Pradesh. Reality could be different if the SP-led Opposition gets part of its act right.
Last Updated 23 February 2024, 05:43 IST

There’s something odd about the numbers being touted these days in New Delhi’s political circles and the media. Now, we are being told that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) could win up to 370 Lok Sabha seats in the upcoming general elections. In 2019, when it contested only 437 seats, it won 303 seats with 37 per cent of the national vote. The halfway mark for a simple majority in Parliament is 272.

What is also being stated, quite emphatically in some quarters, is that Uttar Pradesh with its 80 Lok Sabha seats could now be unattainable for the Opposition after the January 22 inauguration of the Ram temple and the popularity of both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.

Is this indeed true?

An alliance has finally been announced between the Akhilesh Yadav-led Sanajwadi Party (SP) and the Congress, where the national party will contest from 17 seats, while the SP and smaller parties that remain with it will fight from the remaining 63). The Jayant Chaudhary-led Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), which till the other day was part of the SP front, has shifted to the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), and in the last two general elections, it did not even win a single seat. The grapevine has it that the RLD will contest from two Lok Sabha seats with the BJP’s support, thereby improving its chances of having elected MPs.

Odd developments

Meanwhile, developments that go against the grain of political commonsense are taking place in other parts of India. The BJP has risked incarcerating an Adivasi Chief Minister, Hemant Soren, of Jharkhand; it is inducting members from the Congress, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), and the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, even as old-timers in BJP’s state unit run the risk of losing their seats/bastions/spaces to these lateral entries; and, the tough police action on the farmers’ protests could alienate the Jat community in BJP-ruled Haryana. The BJP’s alienation in Punjab does not translate into electoral loss because the party is not a major force in the state.

The saffron party must, therefore, have a 100 per cent strike rate in the Hindi heartland states, and Uttar Pradesh lies at the heart of this strategy. The school of thought that gives the NDA 400+ seats comes to that number by giving a clean sweep of 80 seats for the NDA in Uttar Pradesh.

Splitting the pie

Since Narendra Modi shift to New Delhi From Ahmedabad, Uttar Pradesh has indeed delivered the bulk of MPs to India’s ruling party. In 2014, the BJP won 71 seats on its own and two seats went to its ally, the Apna Dal led by Anupriya Patel. In that election, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), got 19.77 per cent of the votes but zero seats, revealing how the first-past-the-post system is frequently a winner-takes-all one. The SP won five seats, and the Congress won two.

In 2019, the BJP’s Uttar Pradesh vote share touched nearly 50 per cent, but it won 62 seats. The BSP, then in alliance with the SP, won 10 seats, and the SP won five seats.

There is no formal announcement of whether Congress leader Rahul Gandhi would contest from two seats as he did in 2019: he lost from Amethi and won from Wayanad in Kerala. Former Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who won the only Lok Sabha seat for the Congress from Uttar Pradesh in 2019, has moved on to the Rajya Sabha. Will her daughter and Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra make her Lok Sabha debut from either Amethi or Rae Bareli? It’s likely, but not certain.

Strong on technical aspects

That leaves us with the SP at this point being the main Opposition force that is aligning with other parties in Uttar Pradesh. There are seats where specific demographics make the party traditionally strong, but with both the Centre and state under the BJP’s rule, the SP needs to be strong on the technical aspects of the elections. That would include monitoring voter lists, ensuring deletions do not happen, and ensuring that the strongrooms where EVMs are kept after voting are guarded in a staggered national election. The SP may also be better served by putting all its resources — and unlike the Congress it has an organisational structure — on select seats that could number from 20 to 25.

The SP must also know that it could face indifference among its traditional Muslim voter blocs (who form ~20 per cent of the state population) that may in several locations opt out of being posited against in a polarising contest. After all, the ‘bulldozer raj’ template comes from Uttar Pradesh, and members of the minority community have been especially targeted.

The Gyanvapi mosque dispute has also been activated. Although the issue is sub-judice, no less than Adityanath recently offered prayers at the site claimed to be the ruins of the Kashi Vishwanath temple in Varanasi. With the Ram temple issue now settled, the Gyanvapi dispute appears to be the new mandir-masjid frontier.

Uttar Pradesh is not Gujarat

Contrary to superficial comparisons about Uttar Pradesh being the new BJP fortress like Gujarat, the BJP would know that it is not a uniform state. It has different zones, dialects that change, and large swathes of poor and jobless people who can vote for an Opposition were it to appear strong and offer a narrative. Till then, they would settle for the promise of free ration that is offered by the BJP. What the BJP has managed in Uttar Pradesh is the psychological perception that it is too strong to be defeated.

But there are odds and ends to the story that remain baffling. For instance, the Mayawati-led BSP has chosen to be dysfunctional as it is believed that she lives under the threat of corruption cases being activated. Sections of BSP voters have in the process drifted to the BJP. If she were to whole-heartedly contest again, her voters could again be galvanised. For all the dysfunctionality on display in the Modi era, Mayawati is an individual who is almost a metaphor for Dalit rights and can be a disrupter. Unless she has chosen to slowly kill off her party.

Uttar Pradesh today is undoubtedly a BJP-dominant state where one can anticipate one-sided contests in about 55-plus seats. But a fight in even 25 seats would matter given the sheer numbers involved.

(Saba Naqvi is a journalist and author)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

(Published 23 February 2024, 05:43 IST)

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