BJP’s Tally in Hindi Heartland Could Plummet by 70% in 2019

There is unanimity that the keen contest resulting in a photo finish in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan has thrown open the race for 2019. It makes sense therefore, to examine electoral statistics from the past and visualise emerging trends.

Needless to say that in addition to the two states, Chhattisgarh – in which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lost too – is part of the Hindi heartland of north India. It is one of the two regions that propelled Narendra Modi to power in 2014. When we talk about the Hindi heartland, it refers to ten states – Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and the Union Territory of Chandigarh.

Although not really a separate region, the two other states in northern India – Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir – have to be treated separately while discussing politics in a general framework. But within the context of the BJP’s performance in 2014, these can also be clubbed with the heartland region for calculations in the run up to 2019 polls.

These dozen states and the lone UT account for a total of 245 Lok Saha seats, of which the BJP won 196 in 2014. In addition, if you add the seats won by its allies in Bihar and UP, the total is a difficult to repeat 211. Essentially, in this block of states – which elects almost 45% of Lok Sabha members – the BJP’s opponents won just 34 seats at the height of the “Narendra Modi wave”.

On the basis of seats won, the vote shares of the BJP and the Congress in the recent assembly polls and most importantly, the swing away from the BJP from the levels of the 2013 assembly elections (7%-9%) and 2014 Lok Sabha elections (14%-17%), it is certain that there would be significant fall in the BJP’s tally in these states.

In 2014, the BJP won 62 of the 65 Lok Sabha seats in the three heartland states that elected new state governments recently. Based on its current performance, the fall will be dramatic. Media analysis shows the number of BJP seats would come down to 18 (10 from Madhya Pradesh, eight from Rajasthan and none from Chhattisgarh).

It has been argued, especially by BJP supporters or those who believe that Modi still has the capacity to personally bolster his party to previous levels, that these elections were fought on local issues. A campaign rooted in the argument of ‘Modi and prime minister’ versus ‘someone at helm of a khichdi’ would gain acceptability among voters and swing the verdict in BJP’s favour, they say.

Yet, these states thrice voted in the same direction in the Lok Sabha elections following assembly polls in 2003-04, 2008-09 and 2013-14. On the basis of the current political narrative, the BJP appears unlikely to alter the narrative that resulted in major losses for the party in rural and urban areas.

It is unlikely that voter sentiment will remain unaltered in the other Hindi speaking states. It’s possible that the BJP will witness nearly a 70% erosion in its seats held. If these calculations turn out to be true in 2019, the BJP’s tally in these states will fall from 196 to 59 – a loss of 137 seats. These seats would be mainly picked up by the Congress, BSP-SP-RLD combine in UP, RJD in Bihar and a few by AAP in Delhi.

Because the bulk of seats that the BJP may lose is likely to be picked up by the Congress, it would dramatically alter its leveraging capacity among opposition parties. DMK president M.K. Stalin perhaps recognised this and floated the idea of Rahul Gandhi as prime minister.

The BJP’s performance in western India was also superlative in 2014. On its own, the BJP secured 53 seats. If the alliance with Shiv Sena is taken into account, the party held 72 of the 78 seats. Even if the two parties eventually bury the hatchet, the alliance is expected to suffer losses, further reducing the BJP tally. The party expects to gain seats in eastern India, but it is unlikely to compensate for losses elsewhere.

This brings another set of engaging figures: since 1996, when the coalition era set in, the combined seats of the BJP and Congress has ranged between 283 (2004) and 326 (2014). The gap between the two was narrowest in 2004. The BJP won 138 seats, while the Congress bagged 145 and went on to form the government.

Unless the political narrative is significantly altered – leading to reconfiguration of the electoral equation – the BJP and the Congress are collectively expected to reach a tally in the range of 280 to 330, leaving the rest to the regional parties.

In the coming months, while weighing possible outcomes and the nature of the next government, it would be important to keep these figures in mind.