This is a guest article by an avid IndiaFacts reader and supporter.
Marathon man Narendra Modi began his record breaking campaign for the 2014 general elections across India. This will take Modi’s quest for the Prime Minister’s job arguably to its most crucial battlegrounds. While UP and Bihar are going to see multi-cornered battles in 2014, other states in north and west have a straight fight with congress. Together, these states (Bihar/Jharkhand – 54, UP/UK 85, Delhi/Punjab 20, Gujrat 26, MP/Chattisgarh 40, Rajasthan 25 and Maharashtra 48) account for 298 seats, which translate to 55 per cent of the total Lok Sabha tally.
Over the past two years at least, the demand for change is loud and glaring, and the demand spans the entire nation. Equally, it is clear that Narendra Modi fits the bill as both the leader and deliverer of this change. Even giving credence to the thinking in some circles that an overtly pro-Hindu sloganeering can spoil the mood for change, especially among the floating voters in UP and Bihar, the powerful anti-incumbency mood and the overwhelming anger against the ten-year long disastrous UPA rule will be enough to defeat the Congress. This was proven by the last assembly election results in the state of Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh where BJP fought directly with Congress. But the battle in the heartland is not only against congress.
The ability of a wave to overcome obstacles and spread out into unforeseen territories is what redefines its strength. The joining of forces with Paswan’s LJP and Udit Raj has provided a big boost to BJP’s efforts in the heartland to woo Dalit voters, while RPI has also added that crucial vote-pocket in Maharashtra.
Modi himself hailing from a backward caste and his agenda of development politics seems to have created a positive vibe among the Dalit voters who saw BJP as essentially a Brahmin-Baniya party in the heartland. Some amount of polarization along the Hindu-Muslim fault-lines due to the Muzaffarnagar effect in UP and due to open clarion call by Mullaas/Maulvis of Seemanchal in Bihar seems to have percolated to the Dalit sections of the society too. Also in UP, dalits look at SP as their main enemy and usually consolidate against Mulayam’s party, so this time sensing that BJP is in the best position to defeat Mulayam, a large section of Dalits is voting for the saffron outfit.
While the Young India embracing Mr. Modi’s development agenda, the disinterested Muslim Vote and the Saffronization of Dalit Votes is the real phenomena of the 2014 elections. Let us see what’s happening state-wise in the Hindi heartland in the chronology of importance.
UP + Uttarakhand – 85 Seats
Amit Shah’s role in UP is likely to make or decimate the political fortunes of his boss, Narendra Modi. Currently, while Modi, in rally after rally, is selling the dream of development, Shah is mobilizing the RSS/BJP cadre to bring Modi-sympathizers to the booths. The trend is towards total change. There is tremendous anti-incumbency against the Samajwadi Party, and anger against both SP and BSP for supporting the corrupt rule of the UPA at the Centre. The general trend in UP from 1967 to 2013 has been that people have veered in one direction to bring about change and vote out a government. It is likely to be severe in 2014.
Muslims (18%) and OBCs (27%) are key segments. With the recent riots in Muzaffarnagar, SP was hoping to benefit if the Muslim votes got polarized. Unfortunately for them, it seems that the plan has backfired in both the state and centre. This has left Muslims utterly confused. Mulayam Singh will still be able to hold a bigger chunk in the other regions of UP, but their overall vote share will decline with withering OBC votes. BJP’s success will depend on how smartly it plays up the backward caste and the humble origins of Modi, and at the same time manages to hold on to the upper caste votes.
In a quadrangular fight in UP, a small vote difference can lead to a dramatic shift in seats. Multi-polarity will help the cause of the BJP as there is a new generation, which is fed up with the gross misrule of India under the watch of the Congress-led UPA Government. This new-generation voters could potentially cut across all caste lines, and decide the fortunes of BJP in the heartland. Modi seems to have broken this Mandal barrier.
In UP, Brahmins are a crucial section of voters who constitute nearly 1.3 Crore voters or roughly about 10 to 11% of the total electorate of the state. This numerical strength has made them a much sought after vote bank, and been chased even by Mayawati in order to add that extra winnable percentile to her already formidable vote-share of 20% Dalits. But this time Brahmins are returning back to the BJP sensing a revival of the party in UP like they did during Ram Janam Bhoomi Movement days.
In UP the first two phases of western region voted overwhelmingly for BJP as a result of major polarization which was so strong that even Dalits who are traditional Mayawati voters chose BJP in sufficiently large numbers to send alarm bells in the BSP camp. Yadavs who were till now voting for the BJP in sufficiently large numbers due to the OBC pitch by Modi seem to have consolidated behind Mulayam in some SP bastion.
It must be remembered that whenever there has been high voter-turnout in this belt BJP has done extremely well. This time the historic turnout of 24th April, the highest ever in independent India, may spell doom to SP once again. A small shift in the aforementioned groups may lead to a dramatic shift in the number of BJP seats, which could rise from its current tally of 10 to 60. Prediction – 62 Seats
Bihar/Jharkhand : 54 Seats
In Bihar, initially there was a triangular fight. The Congress joined Lalu. While BJP made very tactical alliance with LJP. Muslims, nearly 16% in bihar but are primarily concentrated in 10 constituencies of Bihar are old loyalists of Laloo and majority will be backing the Laloo-Congress alliance. Though some of them are gone with Secular Kumar and some still confused and hence disinterested. The Modi wave in Bihar is at the level of frenzy. The bomb blasts in the rally and the incidents after that have reduced Nitish Kumar’s standing in the eyes of people of Bihar. Political death of Nitish Kumar and JD(U) as an entity was certain since then, but this seems to have been now sealed with Sharad Yadav trailing at no. 3 in Madhepura, Bihar, where entire secretariat of Bihar Govt is camping to see through Party President and only possible seat can be saved. Such is the nature of politics that a man who was virtually invincible just a year ago and was being projected as a real prime ministerial possibility is today staring at political oblivion just for his one misstep provoked by secularism.
The game plan in Bihar is to tailor this group’s political positioning into the caste matrix. For example, about 40 of the BJP’s current 91 legislators in the state are either OBCs (23%) or Mahadalits (10%). BJP focuses on Modi’s popularity and his background of being a ‘Garib Chaiwaala’ from a backward class added with Paswan and Kushwaha’s inclusion, is attracting the Mahadalits and most backwards(21%) who are currently vacillating between Lalu and Nitish. Initially, at the time of ticket distribution, there was some dissatisfaction among Upper caste but gradually that has faded away. Mr. Modi’s grip on this section of voters is unchallenged.
There is a great deal of curiosity about Mr Modi and he has galvanized the youth looking for hope across caste. Congress and others ranting against BJP and it’s prime ministerial candidate has helped electorate getting polarized to some extend and this will ensure a rise of Laloo again and complete decimation of JD(U).
The one clear indication from ground that tells the story of Bihar is that Muslims aren’t voting for BJP/NDA any more, unlike the first two phases when BJP got a significant 20% vote share. In this phase Muslim vote polarization was very strong indeed. What this means is that RJD-Congress alliance is giving a big fight to NDA as Lalu still has sway on a significant number of Yadav votes. The one silver lining that BJP has in Bihar is that JDU is not completely missing in action, which has made the contest 3 cornered in some pockets. As a result of Nitish Kumar’s fight, BJP may benefit in an otherwise polarized atmosphere.
BJP’s game plan to woo dalits, mahadalits and most backward seems to have worked. Even at the height of RJB movement such a large number of Dalits are unlikely to have voted for BJP anywhere in the heartland, let alone Bihar. Although JDU is still getting significant numbers of Maha Dalit votes, this almost 50% backing to BJP+ will likely create tectonic shifts in heartland politics going forward.
If the prevailing trend continues, Modi can win a sizeable chunk of votes based on his personality, his background and people’s rising expectations. Most of the opinion polls are projecting that the BJP will get maximum number of seats in Bihar but all are shying from giving BJP a clear majority. However, in my understanding, the NDA in Bihar should get nearly three fourths of the total seats or more which translate to 30 plus seats. Predictions : 40 Seats
Maharashtra : 48 Seats
In Maharashtra, the Mumbai belt was always going to be the toughest because of the MNS-SS dynamics and the fact that Congress was now deeply entrenched here. Among the 6 seats of Mumbai, BJP-SS seems to sweep it with atleast 5-1 margin. All over Mumbai, Muslim consolidation is almost near 100% behind Congress-NCP, but what is important is the Brahmin-Marathi votes have not been divided unlike 2009. Mr. Modi should be thankful to Raj’s MNS for not contesting against the BJP and even where it has put up candidates, it doesn’t seem to have the same traction as last time. But the biggest X factor of 2014 for BJP is the Athawale’s RPI which is ensuring a huge shift of dalit votes to the BJP-SS alliance. This Maratha Manus-Dalit combo is going to be more leathal than Laloo’s MY combination.
Overall in Maharashtra, the BJP+ juggernaut continues to make waves and this could be a historic election for the saffron alliance as it may potentially bring the highest tally ever. This is an election wherein Maharashtra is undergoing a major change possibly for the first time after independence, for even those pockets that certain local leaders controlled in every election are under attack.
Maharashtra watchers would know that no matter what the overall trends of any elections, there are local Maratha and non-Maratha faces who never lose elections because of huge cooperative networks and tacit understanding with opposition, but this time defying all odds people have probably voted for BJP-SS. Only the Konkan belt is seen as the weak link in the BJP-SS story of 2014.
In all, this could well be the election that changes the course of Maharashtrian politics forever. A positive swing of 6% can be huge in parliamentary elections helping the NDA sweep Maharashtra. What has aided the swing seems to be mostly the lackluster performance of MNS and some anti-incumbency against Congress led governments of both the state and the centre. Predictions : 35 Seats
Delhi/Punjab : 20 Seats
These two states are interesting for the reason that AAP is the third party which is still doing surprisingly well by scoring votes which is a huge number for the party. Still the blunders by the party of running away from Delhi and pitching against BJP as the only opponent has made Delhiites dejected and AAP may not be able to add on to their kitty even a single seat from Delhi. BJP should conservatively expect a 6-1 seats from Delhi.
Punjab is interesting too. This could have potentially created a Delhi assembly election like traction for the Aam Aadmi party, but the surge had slowed down to some extent. Still, AAP is doing better than expected, but whatever happens in the end, AAP is probably hurting Congress more than anybody else. SAD-BJP alliance may once again have created a division of anti-incumbency votes to emerge as a clear front-runner. Prediction : 14 Seats.
Rajasthan : 25 Seats; MP/Chhattisgarh : 40 Seats; Gujrat : 26 Seats
The reason why the above four states being clubbed together here is simple. There is no scope of discussion and clarification. The electorate in Gujrat for obvious reasons on a high this election, as they see their favorite leader becoming the Prime Minister of India. Gujrat is a clear clean sweep without any debate. Prediction : 24 Seats.
The other states, MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh gave a verdict that could not have been clearer. The result of assembly polls may mean different to different people, but it is going to make a clear impact on 2014 LS elections. It is quite obvious that BJP was the big winner in assembly polls, for the party got something to the magnitude of 72 lakh additional votes over and above its nearest rival, the Congress party. It might yet be impossible to unite the whole spectrum of Hindu vote, but BJP under its new leadership is now positioning itself towards acquiring large sections of Hindu vote.
The BJP experiment of a united Hindu vote, if ever there was one, is best elucidated in Rajasthan. It is here in this western state that BJP has won 81% of the assembly seats with a whopping 37 lakh more votes or roughly a 13% gap margin over Congress! This happened because of the united Hindu vote, for BJP was able to add to its core votes of Rajputs, Brahmins and trading communities with OBC vote like that of Jats, Gujjars, Ahirs etc. This broad social coalition of upper-castes, middle-castes and OBCs is almost insurmountable in a first past the post system of India. Prediction : 23 Seats.
Similarly in Madhya Pradesh, BJP not only added 4% of the vote-share that it had lost in the last election of 2008 due to Uma Bharati leaving the party, but also added an additional 4% of vote-share because of the Modi-OBC-vote-mobilization factor. BJP’s new found total Hindu vote has the ability to win a lion’s share of LS seats in the heartland. Prediction : 25 Seats.
In Chhattisgarh, where the ruling BJP was facing an impossible task of a loss of large number of seats in the northern and southern tribal belts. The entire game-plan of BJP rested on its performance in Central Chhattisgarh, wherein the party needed to make-good all the losses from north and south. Prediction : 8 Seats.
The Hindi heartland is going to decide that Narendra Modi becomes the Prime Minister of India. The most welcoming thing that is happening this 2014 LS election is that Narendra Modi pitches development agenda, breaks the Mandal barrier and Youngistan embracing it.
IndiaFacts Staff articles, reports and guest pieces