Going by the BJP’s performance in the last four Lok Sabha polls, it is unlikely that the party will touch the all-time high of 182 seats, leave alone 272
The Bharatiya Janata Party, which is on its “Mission 272 Plus” campaign for the coming Lok Sabha election, may be hoping that “the Modi effect” will help it sail through. Narendra Modi, the Gujarat Chief Minister and the party’s prime ministerial candidate, has been touring different parts of the country and the media reportage about his tour does create the impression among some that the party is on the road to capturing power again at Delhi.
But a study of the BJP’s performance in the last four Lok Sabha polls, starting from 1998, reveals that the party, with its present strength and the existing allies, will find it extremely difficult even to touch its all-time high of 182 seats registered in 1998 and 1999, let alone 272-Plus.
In the last four-and-a-half years since the 2009 Lok Sabha election, there has been no proven demonstration of the party’s growth beyond the regions where the BJP has been a strong force traditionally. There has been no net increase in the tally of States ruled by the party. As on date, the BJP is in power in five States and in Punjab it shares power with the Akali Dal. Significantly, it is no longer in power in Bihar where its 17-year-long ties with the Janata Dal (United) were broken six months ago over the issue of Mr. Modi’s elevation as PM candidate. Its other ally, Shiv Sena, is not as strong as it once was, especially after the formation of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena seven years ago.
This apart, out of a total of 543 Lok Sabha constituencies, there are 205 spread over 14 States in which the party has rarely won without any tie-up or alliance. These States include Assam in the northeast, Haryana in the north, West Bengal and Odisha in the east and Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu in the south. Even when Jaswant Singh won from Darjeeling in the 2009 Lok Sabha election, he had the support of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), the party which is now running the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, a regional autonomous body in West Bengal.
More importantly, it is in these States that the BJP is yet to become a principal political player. The party has also not been able to make much headway in winning new allies or getting back old friends, even after its spectacular victory in the Rajasthan Assembly elections and impressive performance in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. In the weeks preceding the Assembly elections in the northern States, there were some visible overtures towards Om Prakash Chautala of the Indian National Lok Dal in Haryana and N. Chandrababu Naidu of the Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh but, as of now, no announcement has been made about new alliances. Even if the BJP were to strike a deal with the INLD and the TDP, there is no guarantee of a high rate of success in these States in view of the emerging political developments. In Andhra Pradesh, in recent times, the YSR Congress of Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy has become a force to reckon with. In Haryana, though, there is no tangible emergence of any such force, one cannot discount the possibility of the Aam Aadmi Party creating an impact in the coming elections. As for other major regional players, Trinamool Congress president and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has stated that her party would go it alone in the Lok Sabha election whereas the AIADMK, another former ally of the BJP, has not spelt out its strategy vis-à-vis the national party since Mr. Modi’s nomination and the State unit of the BJP is attempting to forge a non-DMK, non-AIADMK alliance.
If one were to look at the big picture, the BJP’s best performance was in 1998 and 1999 when it got 182 seats. In 1998, it polled 25.59 per cent of votes and the next year, 23.75 per cent. On both occasions, it had pre-poll alliances with a host of parties ranging from the Biju Janata Dal in the east to the AIADMK (in 1998) and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (in 1999) in the south. The BJP’s depletion of strength became more marked in 2009 when it could garner only 116 seats with 18.8 per cent of votes. In the coming elections, the party has to engineer a minimum five-percentage-point swing in its favour to even have a chance of reaching 182 seats.
At a time when higher turnout of voters has become the order of the day, the BJP faces the daunting task of winning many more allies and voters, especially in the big States, if it is to match its 1998 or 1999 performance of getting around 25 per cent of votes.