Analysis: 2024 Polls — 370 Seats For BJP Or 272 For Opposition?

Analysis: 2024 Polls — 370 Seats For BJP Or 272 For Opposition?

Beyond sound and fury, granular reality suggests that the 2024 election is open to three possibilities. A clear victory for the BJP, a weak mandate for Modi (around 250 seats) and a strong mandate for the Opposition (250-plus seats)

A L I ChouguleUpdated: Wednesday, April 17, 2024, 11:07 PM IST
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Representative Image | File

Between 1989 and 2014, India was in a coalition era and even a simple majority for a political party was a huge challenge. The 2014 election was highly significant: it saw the humbling of the Indian National Congress — the party which from the 1880s had been the voice of Indian nationalism — and democratic backsliding. The 2024 general election, which kicks off with the first phase of polling on April 19, may be even more consequential. An important feature of this election is that Narendra Modi is aiming to be Prime Minister for the third straight term. Whether he wins his third successive victory remains to be seen, but Modi has set a whopping target of 370 seats for his party and 400-plus seats for NDA. Is it realistic or plain rhetoric?

Not many people expect Modi to be unseated in 2024, though realistically he should be in a lot more trouble than he seems to be. While some political analysts have called Modi’s 370-mark target a part of his “psychological warfare” to shift the public narrative in the BJP’s favour, Opposition leaders have termed Modi’s projection a plain rhetoric. BJP ministers and party spokespersons claim that Modi’s forecast is a conservative estimate, not an exaggeration. They confidently claim that a decisive victory is already a done deal, but there is great deal of scepticism in the Opposition camp. Some of the senior Opposition MPs are of the view that in 2019 the BJP did “too well” across the Hindi heartland where it is very strong. In their opinion, BJP’s performance peaked in 2019 in many states, and it would only be a “downward slide” now.

It is not the BJP alone which is talking about winning 370 seats, 67 more than it won in 2019. The media — particularly news channels — is saying the same thing. Several opinion polls have also projected a grand show for the BJP and its alliance. Considering their pro-BJP cheering, the narrative on most news channels is that the Hindutva party is certain to return to power with a decisive mandate and the election is only a formality. If BJP’s ambitious projection is part of a perception building exercise to mould elections, the media is happily amplifying this narrative. However, if a decisive victory was indeed assured for BJP, where was the need for it to build an umbrella alliance of as many as 44 small parties? It certainly does not inspire confidence in Modi’s claim but betrays nervousness.

Leave aside opinion polls, which are often unreliable in India, the real picture that emerges is 370 seats is a tall order for BJP and the Opposition’s projection of a downward slide of the saffron party seems reasonable, unless the Hindutva party performs very well in the eastern and southern states. Given that BJP won every seat in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Delhi, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and all but one seat in Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka, there are no more seats left to win in these states for the party. Besides, BJP had also won a large share of seats in Bihar, Maharashtra and West Bengal and it is to be seen how the story pans out in these states. Most mainstream media analysts agree that BJP is most likely to return to power but there are a few who doubt whether it will even get 250 seats.

What also looks difficult is 272-plus seats for the Oppositions that some of its leaders are projecting. For both the BJP and INDIA parties, their performance in Maharashtra, Bihar, Karnataka, West Bengal, and Uttar Pradesh is crucial; it will determine who wins the race to power in Delhi. Besides, for the INDIA block to reach the half-way mark, Congress’ performance in the Hindi heartland where it is in direct contest with the BJP, will also determine whether the seat of power is within their reach. BJP’s dominance in terms of resources, election machinery, political messaging and media support also suggests that it has an edge over the Opposition as of now.

Since the Opposition is hobbled by several factors, including a severe lack of funding and a media environment actively hostile to it, the worries for the Congress and other INDIA bloc parties are many. The Congress has seen a series of desertions to the saffron party, though some political analysts feel that many Congress deserters are not mass leaders. Its social justice plank has not found many takers either. Moreover, it is financially crippled. The earlier promise of all the Opposition parties fighting the BJP together has not materialised. The loss of JD(U) and Jayant Chaudhary’s RLD to NDA and Mamata Banerjee going solo in West Bengal are the setbacks for the Opposition alliance. Yet, despite an advantage the BJP seems to have, its major weakness is its uneven geographical footprint: its core regions of strength are the Hindi belt and western India. So, nervousness in both camps is obvious.

The good thing for the Congress, despite the grand old party being at its lowest point from the peak it enjoyed four decades ago, is that in the last three years it has recovered some of the lost ground. Its leadership issue is sorted, though there are concerns about its central leadership’s ability to win elections. But the fact that it is still holding on to its 20 percent vote share, despite two successive drubbings in general elections and several losses in state polls, means that the Congress brand is still alive across the country. However, it needs a big improvement on its 2019 performance to be seen as a serious contender at the national level, that will help the Opposition mount a serious challenge to BJP and Modi.

Beyond sound and fury, granular reality suggests that the 2024 election is open to three possibilities. A clear victory for the BJP, a weak mandate for Modi (around 250 seats) and a strong mandate for the Opposition (250-plus seats). In every election since 1991, the sum of total seats won by the BJP and Congress has varied between 300 and 360. The rest of the seats have gone to regional parties. In this election, if BJP alone wins 370 seats and the NDA gets 400, the Opposition will be reduced to 143 seats. This raises the question: is it realistically possible to attain such a huge mark? The answer is simple — very unlikely. Now it remains to be seen whether BJP gets 67 seats more than it did in 2019 or goes below the half-way mark in 2024, considering it is going to be a direct fight between the BJP and Opposition in 400 Lok Sabha seats.

The writer is a senior independent Mumbai-based journalist. He tweets at @ali_chougule

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