The only way to halt the BJP juggernaut

The stakes are high for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has to ensure that it retains power in four (Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur) of the five States which go to the polls early next year. In Punjab alone, the Congress is in power, albeit in a mess.

Nature of contest

This will be the first Assembly election after the second wave of COVID-19, which resulted in the loss of thousands of lives and attracted a lot of criticism of the BJP government. The ongoing farmer’s agitation and the recent incident in Lakhimpur Kheri, where four farmers were crushed to death allegedly by the son of the Union Minister of State (Home), seems to have only added trouble for the BJP. But if anyone believes that these reasons will cause the BJP’s defeat in these elections, they would be mistaken.


In these four States, the BJP may not be as popular as it was during the 2017 Assembly elections, but the nature of the electoral contest could give the party an advantage. A possible multi-cornered contest in these States could result in fragmentation of anti-BJP votes, which will give the BJP an edge. The Congress will find it hard to attract all the anti-BJP votes and defeat the BJP, but it could emerge as the main opposition party in many States after the 2022 Assembly elections. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Trinamool Congress (TMC), which are making serious efforts to contest elections in some of these States, could damage the prospects of the Congress as they may be able to corner some votes. This will be enough for the BJP to retain power even if its vote share declines. Therefore, what the opposition parties need in order to minimise splitting of the anti-BJP votes is an alliance.

The BJP’s dominance in U.P.

Those who think that Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s protest against the Lakhimpur Kheri incident and her announcement that 40% of the tickets in U.P. will be given to women candidates can be a game-changer for the party are mistaken. It will be impossible for the Congress, which has performed miserably in the State in recent years, to bounce back merely through protests and symbolism. The party’s decision of giving 40% tickets to women is a bold step, but it is too late and too little to mobilise women voters. The Congress may be able to increase its vote share, but it may still be far from posing any challenge to the BJP if it contests the election alone.

The challenge to the BJP can come neither from the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) nor from the Samajwadi Party (SP) if these parties contest against each other. Both these parties command roughly 20% each of the vote share in U.P. The SP’s core supporters are Yadavs, while Dalits, especially Jatavs, constitute the BSP’s core support base. Both these parties compete against each other for the Muslim votes, which results in a split in these votes with the SP gaining an upper hand. At least these two parties need to form an alliance to minimise the splitting of anti-BJP votes in U.P. This alliance should ideally also rope in the Congress and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) to mobilise additional votes. Only a united opposition can defeat the BJP in U.P. in 2022. An alliance of the SP and RLD will not be enough.

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In order to defeat the BJP, which polled 39.6% of the votes in the 2017 U.P. Assembly elections, about 7-8% votes need to be pulled away from it. This can be accomplished only by the largest opposition party, but there is a very remote possibility of the SP, the largest opposition party during the 2017 Assembly election, gaining about 8-9% votes on its own at the cost of the BJP. Only a united opposition can achieve this.

In Uttarakhand, despite getting a massive majority in 2017, the BJP government has been unstable. The State has seen three Chief Ministers since that election. If the 2022 Assembly election becomes a bipolar contest between the Congress and the BJP, the Congress has a good chance of defeating the BJP. But things do not seem so simple for the Congress with AAP’s entry in the electoral contest. The AAP may not be able to win the election on its own, but may poll enough votes to damage the prospects of the Congress, thus giving an advantage to the BJP by default.

The entry of the TMC and AAP in the electoral fray in Goa might result in a multi-cornered contest in the State. A divided opposition will again give the BJP an advantage. Also, the Congress in Goa is no longer the Congress of 2017 as many leaders have left the party and joined other parties, mainly the BJP.


In Manipur, a lot depends on how the BJP manages to form an alliance before or even after the election. The BJP has been ahead of the Congress in forming post-post alliances in many States, even with a lower number of seats.

Lessons from history

In India, whenever a political party has become extremely dominant, it has been challenged only by a united opposition or by pre-poll or post-poll alliances of opposition parties. The Congress received a setback in the 1977 Lok Sabha election when the Janata Party defeated it. In the 1998 and 1999 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress was challenged by the BJP which had formed alliances with various regional parties; the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) won both these elections. The NDA government was challenged by the Congress in the 2004 and 2009 Lok Sabha elections when the Congress formed alliances with regional parties. Thus, the dominant party of the present times, the BJP, can only be challenged by a united opposition. Nothing else can push back the BJP in an electoral race given the current political mood of the people of India.

Sanjay Kumar is Professor and Co-Director of Lokniti, a research programme at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi

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Printable version | Nov 30, 2021 4:15:09 AM |

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