A lot of speculation has already happened about the causes behind the performance of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress in the states that went to polls in the past few weeks. Very unexpected results were seen in states such as Chhattisgarh where the BJP did very well and in Telangana too where the Congress party did much better than expected. It would be appropriate to get into some analysis now about what impact all these results in various states will have in the upcoming elections, especially the big Lok Sabha polls of 2024.
Has the BJP really got a shot in the arm because of these results or does the I.N.D.I.A. An alliance formed by the Opposition still have some chances of making a comeback in the future?
If one goes into the statistics there are some surprising things that emerge such as the vote percentage that both parties have got, let's say in a state like Chhattisgarh. There most pundits gave the Congress a clear chance of victory, but the party got about 42% votes while the BJP got 46%. While in Rajasthan where experts said anti-incumbency would be the most effective factor the BJP got 41% which was only 2% more than the Congress which got 39% votes.
In Madhya Pradesh where psephologists predicted a close fight and said that the Congress could beat the BJP, the difference between the two parties was a whopping 8% with the Congress managing to get 40% and the BJP crossing over 48% votes. So, the results have thrown up figures that were not expected. However, in MP as well as Chhattisgarh, in a lot of seats it has been a very close fight between the two parties.
In Chhattisgarh especially dozens of seats have been won or lost by a margin of just a few hundred votes. This means the votes getting split in multiple directions (or going to small political parties) has clearly caused these results.
Impact in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls
How will this make an impact in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls in a state like Maharashtra? Obviously, the answer lies in whether the Opposition vote gets split in multiple directions, or it stays united with the Opposition alliance; in other words, the formula for success for the Opposition I.N.D.I.A alliance is to stay united in the polls and offer a single candidate on behalf of all its constituent parties.
In a large state like Maharashtra which now represents over 9% of India's population, it is crucial that in the 48 seats of Lok Sabha in most of the seats the Opposition stays united and offers one candidate. From the BJP's point of view it is crucial that the party does not get swayed by the success it has got in the three big states of the Hindi belt and keeps its alliance partners – ie Eknath Shinde's Shiv Sena and Ajit Pawar's NCP – close to them and does a proper seat-sharing agreement with them.
BJP may get highly confident
Currently there is some talk in political circles that the BJP may get highly confident because of its recent success in the Assembly polls and may actually adopt a dominating position in the seat-sharing talks for the 48 seats in the state of Maharashtra. Uttar Pradesh which now represents 16.5% of India's population with 80 Lok Sabha seats, and Maharashtra which represents 9.28% population of the country with 48 Lok Sabha seats, will be the states which can make or break BJP's chances of getting a clear majority in the Lok Sabha polls of 2024.
So how the seat sharing happens in Maharashtra will be an interesting thing to watch. The buzz right now is that the BJP wants to contest 23 seats itself and wants to leave 22 seats for Eknath Shinde's Shiv Sena and Ajit Pawar's NCP. Three seats may be left for other small alliance partners of the BJP. But some observers now claim that certain state BJP leaders are now saying that the party should contest 25-26 seats and keep fewer for alliance partners. Whether that actually happens is something to be watched.
Though the BJP has handed over the state chief minister's seat to Eknath Shinde, it is very obvious that the party is effectively in a backseat-driving position, not just in the government but also in the MahaYuti alliance of BJP, Shinde and Ajit Pawar. The party may just resort to asking some of Eknath Shinde's candidates to contest on the BJP's symbol and keep the LS seats with them. Such last-minute tactics will be seen in this closely contested upcoming fight in the Lok Sabha polls.
Impact of polls on Opposition
The impact of the latest Assembly poll results on the Opposition side is also an interesting matter to watch. Some insiders from the MVA or Maha Vikas Aghadi of Congress, Sharad Pawar's NCP and Uddhav Thackeray's Shiv Sena say that the Congress was looking very adamant of late with the seemingly successful Bharat Jodo Yatra of Rahul Gandhi. Congress was seen almost closing its communication with the Opposition alliance partners and practically taking for granted a victory in Chhattisgarh, MP and Telangana. They now expect the Congress to climb down a bit and be more forthcoming with the alliance partners. It seems very obvious that with the BJP stitching an alliance with Shinde and Ajit Pawar the chances for the MVA now hinge only on a robust seat-sharing alliance between its three partners.
One other tactic that the BJP has resorted to in many states is to change the established faces and offer fresh faces in the polls. They did this in Rajasthan and also in Madhya Pradesh, both states where they got a decent majority. In Rajasthan they made several leaders from the Union Government such as Narendra Singh Tomar and Rajyavardhan Rathod get into the assembly contest. Whether this is done in crucial battleground states like Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra will be another interesting factor to watch.
The hope the BJP now has is that the campaign by Uddhav Thackeray's Shiv Sena to try and stamp Eknath Shinde and his MLAs as "traitors" may fizzle out as in neighbouring state of Madhya Pradesh, a leader who crossed over from the Congress to the BJP 17 months after the last assembly polls in 2018 Jyotiraditya Scindia has come out with flying colours in the latest assembly polls there. The BJP hopes that if the voters in Madhya Pradesh could forget about shifting loyalties of a prominent leader, perhaps the same could apply in Maharashtra in case of Eknath Shinde and his men.
Lastly, it’s important to observe that the latest poll results in three out of five states may have boosted the morale of the BJP and its partners in many parts of the country but time and again it has been proved that people vote in the Assembly polls in one way, and they vote in the Lok Sabha polls in a completely different way. In Chhattisgarh itself in 2018 the Congress party got a huge majority in the Assembly polls however in 2019 Lok Sabha polls in the same state the BJP got much more seats than the Congress. Such things keep the Congress and I.N.D.I.A alliance hopes alive and leaders know in their minds that the upcoming Lok Sabha polls will be a fresh new battle open with a level playing field for all.
Rohit Chandavarkar is a senior journalist who has worked for 31 years with various leading newspaper brands and television channels in Mumbai and Pune