Analysis: Will The Hindi Heartland Stand Solidly Behind The BJP?

Analysis: Will The Hindi Heartland Stand Solidly Behind The BJP?

One of the oldest and most common sayings in Indian politics is that the road to Delhi passes through UP

SNM AbdiUpdated: Tuesday, April 16, 2024, 03:52 AM IST
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Fridays are usually auspicious for a start. But will the Bharatiya Janata Party get off to a flying start on April 19 when the Lok Sabha elections kick off? The ruling party, particularly Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, have been regaling the nation for weeks with claims of winning 370 seats and the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance’s tally crossing 400 on June 4. But isn’t that just a bridge too far for the BJP and the NDA? Or is it doable?

As I see it, the BJP’s performance will ultimately depend on how it fares in the Hindi heartland, which includes the states known as “Bimaru”. Ten states — Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand — hold the key to the BJP’s future. Demographer and economic analyst Ashish Bose had named Bihar, MP, Rajasthan and UP as “Bimaru” in the mid-1980s because of their poor economic growth and high fertility rates ensuring their backwardness. With three new states having been carved out of Bihar, MP and UP since then, the heartland accounts for as many as 225 seats in Parliament. In 2019, the NDA won a whopping 203 out of these 225 seats. For a simple majority in a House of 543, all that a single party or coalition needs is 272 seats. The terrific performance by the BJP in the Hindi heartland gave it a massive advantage over its rivals and simply took the game away from them.

For the NDA’s tally to cross 400 now, it must repeat its 2019 performance in the heartland states by winning around 200 seats. Only then can it hope to win another 200 seats from the remaining 300-plus to reach the 400 mark the BJP has been bragging about. Similarly, if the Congress party-led Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (I.N.D.I.A) wants to stop the NDA dead in its tracks, it must put up such a spirited fight in the Hindi heartland that the NDA simply can’t repeat its 2019 performance in those 10 states. If I.N.D.I.A somehow succeeds in halting the NDA juggernaut in the Hindi heartland, there is no question of the NDA tally crossing 400, or Modi becoming the Prime Minister for a third straight term which is undoubtedly his life’s goal. And if the NDA performs pathetically in its 2019 bastion, then even a simple majority might prove elusive.

One of the oldest and most common sayings in Indian politics is that the road to Delhi passes through UP. Many a prime minister reached the country’s capital from UP. Even Modi arrived in Delhi from Gandhinagar but via Varanasi. The chief reason for UP’s pre-eminence is pretty obvious. It has more seats than any other state — a mind-boggling 80! And last time, the BJP bagged 62 out of those 80. Its ally Apna Dal won two taking the NDA tally from UP to 64. And in neighouring Bihar, NDA picked up 39 out of 40.

In some other Hindi heartland states, the BJP-NDA won cent per cent seats. In Haryana BJP bagged all the 10 seats. In Rajasthan it won all the 25 seats. In Delhi, all seven, in Himachal Pradesh all four and in Uttarakhand all 5. In Madhya Pradesh which has 29 seats the NDA bagged 28; 9 out of 11 in Chhattisgarh and 12 out of 14 in Jharkhand. All in all, it was a clean sweep — a dream run. The moot question is: Can the NDA do it all over again this time? Will it retain in 2024 all the seats won five years ago? It’s a very tall order by any yardstick — a bit like asking a batsman who has hit six over-boundaries in an over to score 36 runs again in the following over.

Let’s shine a torch on the situation prevailing in UP and Bihar which together gave the NDA 103 seats out of 203 it won in the Hindi heartland last time. First Bihar where the NDA won 39 out of 40 seats. In 2019, Nitish Kumar was a BJP ally and his Janata Dal (United) was a constituent of the NDA. Subsequently, Kumar dumped the BJP and aligned with the Rashtriya Janata Dal, Congress and Communists. He was one of the key architects of I.N.D.I.A but again crossed over to the BJP. His JD(U) is back in the NDA, but will the Bihar electorate stand by Kumar after his flip-flops? Won’t his tainted image rub off on the NDA and have an adverse effect?

In UP, the nation’s politically and electorally most significant state, the BJP had won 71 seats in 2014. In 2019, it bagged 62. It received a windfall in UP in the run-up to the 2024 polls. Much like Kumar teaming up with the BJP in Bihar, Jayant Chaudhary, who heads the Rashtriya Lok Dal, dumped I.N.D.I.A and has aligned himself with the BJP in UP. Chaudhary’s seduction is being hailed as a master-stroke by Modi and Shah. And to get the caste arithmetic right and leave nothing to chance, besides RLD the BJP has allied itself with Anupriya Patel’s Apna Dal, Om Prakash’s Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party and Sanjay Nishad’s Nirbal Indian Shoshit Hamara Aam Dal.

Pitted against this formidable front is the Samajwadi Party-Congress Party alliance backed by Keshav Dev Maurya’s Mahan Dal. The seat-sharing arrangement between the SP and the Congress is 63:17. But the SP is severely handicapped by the absence of RLD and SBSP. Moreover, there is no coordination on the ground between the SP and Congress. The pathetic state of the Congress organisationally moved a seasoned neutral observer, who is no friend of the BJP, to proclaim that the grand old party doesn’t have the wherewithal to contest even 17 Assembly seats. If this assessment is indeed true, nothing can stop the BJP from romping home in UP, lighting up the NDA’s prospects of getting re-elected until 2029.

The author is an independent, Pegasused reporter and commentator on foreign policy and domestic politics

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