India’s ruling party is counting on making significant gains in the country’s east and northeast after recent electoral losses in traditional strongholds put it on the back foot before the 2019 general elections.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party lost power in the states of Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh this month, energizing the main opposition Congress party, which formed government in all three. The setbacks raised questions about Modi’s ability to replicate his landslide 2014 victory, the biggest mandate in 30 years.
Gains in the northeast and east, along with a steady performance in the Hindi-speaking heartland of the country will help the BJP return to power, party President Amit Shah told Republic TV at a gathering in Mumbai on Wednesday.
Despite this confidence, the Congress’s resurgence and attempts by the numerous opposition parties to join hands suggests the BJP may lose about 40 to 50 of the 282 seats it won in the last general election, according to calculations based on trends in state polls and estimates by politicians and analysts. A single party or coalition must garner at least 272 seats in the 543-member lower house of parliament to form government.
In Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, the BJP won 62 of 65 seats in 2014. India Today extrapolated from the results of recently-concluded polls in these states and calculated that the party’s tally could drop to 30 if the trends hold in 2019.
In Uttar Pradesh, which sends 80 lawmakers to parliament, the BJP won 71 seats in 2014 and won state elections last year. Since then, there are indications of a regional alliance between the Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party. That may erode the haul of the BJP and a local ally by between 10 and 20 seats, Home Minister Rajnath Singh told the Economic Times in an interview last month.
Based on the BJP’s performance in assembly elections and the current political situation, the party may lose some ground across Delhi, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Bihar and Jharkhand. The party swept these states in 2014.
To be sure, assembly elections have seen some unique alliances including in Bihar and Karnataka that may not be repeated next year, while state polls don’t always point to voting patterns in the general elections.
The BJP will make up for any losses with gains in West Bengal, Odisha and the northeastern states, Shah told Republic TV. In West Bengal alone, the party will win 23 of the state’s 42 seats, he said.
Trinamool Congress, the ruling party in the West Bengal, said the BJP should focus on retaining the two seats it has in the state, Press Trust of India quoted Trinamool’s Derek O’Brien as saying.
The party will perform well in Madhya Pradesh as the voting gap to the Congress in the state polls was small, Shah said. Uttar Pradesh will benefit from the work done by the government of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, he said.
Overall, the BJP will get a boost from the government’s achievements in raising the living standards of 220 million poor families by providing toilets, electricity, cooking gas and banking facilities, Shah said.
The number of BJP workers has climbed to 94 million from 20 million earlier and the party’s allies have increased to 31 from 25, with more likely, he said.
“We are fighting elections on the strength of Narendra Modi, not on the weakness of someone else,” said Shah.