Terms of Trade | A state-wise breakup of the 2024 contest - Hindustan Times
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Terms of Trade | A state-wise breakup of the 2024 contest

May 23, 2024 02:50 AM IST

This column will attempt a breakdown of the national contest into six groups of large states, which have at least ten parliamentary constituencies.

This is the last edition of Terms of Trade before the 2024 election results. It makes no sense to publish the column on May 31; the day the next edition of the column is due, a day before the exit poll results will be published. I have not done any travel during these elections and therefore cannot even pretend to offer some insight from the field as far.

People at an election rally in Chennai, Tamil Nadu on April 17. (AP Photo) PREMIUM
People at an election rally in Chennai, Tamil Nadu on April 17. (AP Photo)

What this column will try and do instead is a breakdown of the national contest into six groups of large states, which have at least ten parliamentary constituencies (PCs). The only exception in this list is Delhi which has just seven PCs. Put together, these states account for 509 out of the 543 PCs in the country. The idea behind this exercise is that a common set of factors might influence the results in each of these groups.

Here we go.

1. Hegemonic states for the BJP: Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Assam (69 PCs)

They account for 69 PCs. There is good reason to argue that the BJP’s political grip over these three states, especially the first two, is the strongest in the country and it is immune to any large electoral upset.

The biggest reason for this is that the Congress, which continues to be the primary opposition party in these three states, is not perceived as capable of mounting a credible political challenge to the BJP. The fact that Congress and its allies saw nominations of three of their candidates being cancelled/withdrawn in the first two states is the biggest proof of this incapacity. In Assam, the BJP will likely make some electoral gains from the gerrymandering – almost all ruling parties do this during delimitation – it has been able to do via the delimitation exercise.

Whether or not the BJP replicates its 26/26 performance in Gujarat, 28/29 performance in Madhya Pradesh and 9/14 performance in Assam, its overall tally will not even be very different from 2019. To be sure, the BJP’s vote share and seat share in Assam will likely be significantly smaller than what it will be in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. But it is largely a reflection of the fact that the BJP has a huge disadvantage in Assam because of the large Muslim population. BJP’s political genius in Assam lies in uniting the hitherto antagonistic Bengali and Assamese Hindus, which is enough to guarantee a big win for it in the states. What the Congress would be hoping for in Assam is to eat into the AIUDF’s – a party of largely Bengali-speaking Muslims – support base rather than the BJP’s.

2. States with troubled allies for the BJP: Bihar, Maharashtra (88 PCs)

What has changed for the BJP in these two states with a total of 88 PCs is the dynamic within the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) between 2019 and 2024.

In Bihar, there is a widespread consensus on the fact that Nitish Kumar’s fortunes are declining in Bihar’s politics. The only question is whether the Janata Dal (United) will dim or destroy NDA’s 2019 landslide victory of 39 out of 40 PCs.

Kumar’s diminished stature in the campaign, and the BJP’s own leadership vacuum at the state level, has given a huge opportunity to Rashtriya Janata Dal’s (RJD) Tejashwi Yadav to establish himself as a leader in his own right. What is even worse from the BJP’s perspective is he is championing the issue of being a job provider which has very different optics from his father’s Muslim-Yadav consolidation politics. This would not have happened had Nitish not walked away from the BJP in 2022 and made Yadav his deputy in the new government.

In Maharashtra, the BJP is relying on the factions of the Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). Because of erstwhile patriarchs of the two parties have gone to the Congress alliance, and acting like anything but junior partners of the Congress, even the BJP’s standard right-wing critique of the Congress might not be very effective. Maharashtra is perhaps the only state in these elections, where the results will likely be a referendum on the recent churn in local politics. Once again, the problem is a creation of the BJP’s refusal to, first offer the chief minister’s post to the Shiv Sena after the 2019 elections, second, BJP allies deciding to usurp their original parties, and third, the NDA government in the state not holding any local body polls scheduled before the Lok Sabha. The second and the third have kept the de facto aura of the de-jure beleaguered Uddhav Thackrey and Sharad Pawar.

In both these states, there is wide unanimity on the fact that NDA’s numbers will go down compared to 2019. The question is its overall and BJP-specific magnitude. The BJP and NDA’s headache in these states will continue till the assembly elections.

3. Modi plus Hindutva versus local factors states: Karnataka, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Delhi (95 PCs)

These are states where the BJP swept the Lok Sabha elections in 2019. However, its performance in state elections is not as good as its national performance because of multiple reasons. They include things such as salience of local issues and welfare schemes, a strong leadership of the opposition parties at the state level, caste and community dynamics within the state and intra-organisation differences within the BJP’s own state units.

In almost all of these states, nobody expects the BJP to win less than half of the PCs in the state, and perhaps do even better. But the BJP’s/NDAs’ challenge is to replicate its 2019 performance of 26/28 in Karnataka, 25/25 in Rajasthan, 12/14 in Jharkhand, 9/11 in Chhattisgarh, 10/10 in Haryana and 7/7 in Delhi.

This can only happen if the BJP manages to subsume every local-level contradiction within its larger narrative of Hindutva and Modi’s personal charisma. In some of these states, Modi’s tailwinds for the BJP will face headwinds from local anti-incumbency (Haryana), a broader caste coalition for the opposition (Karnataka), sympathy for state-level popular leaders being jailed (Jharkhand), and greater index of opposition unity (Delhi). The opposition is fighting these states like an underdog but it is not a pushover like in the states where the BJP is a hegemonic power. The BJP is banking on Modi to cut its losses as much as possible in these states.

4. States where BJP/NDA can gain from anti-incumbency: West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Telangana (105 PCs)

These are the states in which the BJP is extremely confident when it comes to adding to its 2019 tally. The biggest reason is that in two of these, namely, West Bengal (42 PCs) and Odisha (21 PCs), the BJP is the principal opposition party and trying to convert the elections into a state-level contest against the incumbent TMC and the BJD.

In Andhra Pradesh (25 PCs), the BJP has entered into an alliance with the TDP and the Jan Sena and is hoping to piggyback the anti-incumbency against the YSRCP government.

In Telangana (17 PCs), the BJP is hoping to replace the BRS as the opposition party in the state even if it cannot hurt the incumbent Congress by adding seats.

The BJP had won 18 PCs in West Bengal, eight in Odisha, four in Telangana and none in Andhra Pradesh in 2019. If the BJP has to increase, or even maintain its overall 2019 tally, it will have to not just retain but also add to its 2019 performance in these states. It is in the realm of the possible, but not a done deal by any chance.

5. The cultural barrier states: Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Punjab (72 PCs)

Tamil Nadu (39 PCs) and Kerala (20 PCs) have been states where the BJP has struggled to make an impact on its own in any election so far. The biggest reason is, that it does not have a socio-cultural narrative of its own against established political players in the state. Because of the language barrier, its leadership, Narendra Modi included, also faces cultural resistance in the state.

The historical political churn in these states has firmly aligned important social groups behind different political parties in the state. Some of these parties such as the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu and Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab have actually broken ranks from the BJP to preserve their own political base. To be sure, the BJP has been trying hard to push its ideological line with anti-incumbency in Tamil Nadu and Kerala and it has managed a series of defections from the Congress in Punjab (13 PCs), but whether these tailwinds push it beyond a vote share where it can hope to convert votes into seats in Tamil Nadu and Kerala and even preserve 2019 tally in Punjab remain to be seen.

6. Where repeating 2019 will not be good enough: Uttar Pradesh (80 PCs)

This is what makes Uttar Pradesh the most important contest in the 2024 elections. The BJP swept the state in 2014 winning 73 out of the 80 PCs along with its ally the Apna Dal. It survived a major scare against a united challenge by the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party in 2019 to win 64 PCs in the 2019 elections.

Given the fact that the SP and BSP have parted ways and former has teamed up with a much weaker Congress, the BJP is being seen as having a clear advantage in the state. But this also means that even reaching the 2019 level in these elections will not be seen as a good enough performance for the BJP in the state.

Anything below the 2019 benchmark, which is what will happen if the voting is along the lines of the 2022 assembly elections, will generate a massive headwind for the BJP’s overall tally in the parliament. The opposition is primarily banking on a local-level resistance/aspiration for sharing power against what is seen as a double-engine centralised political set-up controlled by the extremely popular Narendra Modi and Yogi Adityanath in the state. It is also hoping to gain some of the BSP’s votes to boost its fortunes without the counter-polarisation trigger of a formal alliance.

Indian politics is not just the sum of states

To be sure, it would be wrong to argue that Indian elections are just a summation of state-specific factors. There are issues which have national salience and can change political fortunes when nobody expects them to. The campaign narrative has listed many of these such as youth unemployment, unease about the BJP changing the constitution, loyal women voters for the BJP etc. But these are factors which cannot be pinpointed without access to real-time polling data. This is what the exit polls will hopefully capture. The eventual result will be shaped by the intersection of such factors with the state-level dynamics described above.

Roshan Kishore, HT's Data and Political Economy Editor, writes a weekly column on the state of the country's economy and its political fall out, and vice-versa

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