Virtually absent in the east and south, the BJP is trying hard to make electoral gains this time to boost its national ambition
A key part of the BJP’s ambitious 272+ strategy for this general election will involve its new push into the east of India, where it has failed to get a foothold in the past. Party leaders are hoping that a combination of pre-poll alliances, a better showing for the party, and post-poll alliances will help it rewrite history.
Even though the States running along the eastern edge — Assam, West Bengal, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu — contribute between them 158 of India’s 543 Parliamentary seats, the BJP has not had much success there. While the five States account for 30 per cent of all Lok Sabha seats, the BJP has only once won more than 10 per cent of its tally from these States.
That one exception was in 1999, when the BJP swept to power winning 182 seats nationally, 24 of them — or 13 per cent of its tally — from these five States. Even in its best year, therefore, the BJP could win only a sixth of the seats on offer.
What was different first in 1998 and then in 1999 was the presence of allies for the first time in all these States, except Assam — Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, Biju Janata Dal in Orissa, Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and smaller parties in Tamil Nadu. In 2004 as well, the BJP had pre-poll allies in all five States (in Assam it supported an Independent and in T.N., the AIADMK replaced the DMK) but did poorly. In 2009, when the BJP found itself without allies in any of these States (except the Asom Gana Parishad in Assam), it sank to its worst performance in those States in a decade, winning just five seats in all five states put together.
This time, the BJP is counting on dividends from its alliance with the TDP in Andhra Pradesh, the rainbow coalition in Tamil Nadu and the support of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha in Darjeeling, a senior party leader said.
However, opinion polls have projected that the gain is likely to be greater in vote-share than in seats.
The party is also confident that the “Modi wave” will translate into votes in these five States. “It is understandable that in traditional BJP strongholds in North, Central and Western parts of the country, Mr. (Narendra) Modi should draw an unprecedented response at his rallies,” senior party leader Arun Jaitley said recently. “But what does this unprecedented support mean in areas where the BJP traditionally has not been very strong? How is it that in States of the northeast, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala the attendance at Modi rallies is unprecedented and the crowd response is electrifying?” he asked. The “mammoth crowds” that attended the rallies in these States, Mr. Jaitley said, indicate a strong “undercurrent”.
Pre-election tie-ups apart, the party is also confident of the “rainbow coalition” growing bigger post polls.