Why the 7th phase of polls is critical for BJP, Congress

Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Voting for the seventh and final phase of Lok Sabha elections has begun. The one-and-half-month-long arduous election process is nearing completion. All parties and leaders have given their best shot and now will be eagerly waiting for the exit polls later on Sunday (May 19) and final results on May 23.

Phase 7 has 59 seats accounting for 11% of Lok Sabha strength spanning eight states and union territories, namely, Punjab, Chandigarh, MP, UP, Bihar, Jharkhand, Bengal and HP. The phase is important for both BJP and the Congress to give a final push to their scores. BJP led NDA had won 39 of these seats in 2014, Congress led UPA 7 and regional parties AAP and TMC 13.

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Punjab is witnessing a three-cornered contest between Congress, BJP-Akali alliance and AAP. Newbie AAP had won 4 seats in 2014. It surprised everybody by becoming the second- largest party in 2017 state elections surpassing NDA.

AAP has suffered defections and doesn’t enjoy the same support of the people. It bagged 24% vote share in 2014, and even if it is reduced to half, it still is a big chunk in a three-way fight. On 11 out of 13 seats the third ranked candidate had secured higher votes than margin of victory in 2014 in the state.

The Akalis have been hit by a split, two of AAP MPs have resigned from the party. The Congress is facing ire of public over its failure to curb the drug mafia. It is also caught in a slugfest between Amarinder and Siddhu. Siddhu hasn’t campaigned and his wife has accused Captain of conspiring to deny her a ticket from Amritsar.

Being a border state nationalism is also a key issue here. Ultimately it boils down to seat by seat dynamics with no party having an edge. One thing is for sure that Congress which got only 3 seats in 2014 will improve its performance. By how much? That’s difficult to say at this point.

In Madhya Pradesh, all the seats which are going to polls fall in the Malwa-Nimad region. It used to be stronghold of the BJP. It had bagged 55 seats in assembly elections in 2013 (1/3 of its total strength). However, the fort was breached in 2018, when BJP’s tally reduced to half.

The region is dominated by the SC-ST community which account for 38% of teh population. This region is also the hotbed of agrarian distress, the infamous Mandsaur firing took place in this area. Of the 45 assembly seats which fall within these 8 seats going to polls, BJP had won 19 and Congress 25 in 2018 assembly elections.

BJP candidates had registered big wins in 2014, average victory margin of 22%. It remains to be seen whether Congress is able to maintain the momentum achieved in state polls. There is discontent creeping in among farmers whose loans have not yet been waived, and the urban areas which are witnessing power cuts.

In Uttar Pradesh, all the 13 seats which go to polls are in the eastern part of the state. PM Modi is himself contesting from Varanasi which has a positive rub off impact on other neighbouring seats. This area has a high concentration of upper caste and OBCs.

NDA enjoys a lead of 6% against MGB in these seats basis 2014 numbers. High profile seats include Gorakhpur (Yogi Adityanath’s seat), Deoria (Kalraj Mishra’s seat), Ghazipur (Manoj Sinha’s seat), Chandauli (Anupriya Patel’s seat). UP is key to BJP’s fortunes and party is hoping that seamless transfer of votes between SP and BSP doesn’t take place. It also needs to keep together its flock of NYOBC votes to repeat its performance.

In Bihar, 4 seats each of Western and Central Bihar go to polls. Across these seats the refurbished NDA won 6 seats. RLSP which won two seats of Karakat and Jahanabad has shifted to Mahagathbandhan.

Across seats NDA enjoys an average 15% lead over MGB. While Buxar is dominated by Brahmins, Arrah by Yadavs and Koeris, Karakat by Yadavs and Kushwahas, Nalanda by Kurmis, Patna Sahib by Kayastha, Patliputra by Yadavs and Jahanabad by Yadavs and Bhumihars. In most seats like Karakat (Kushwaha), Patna Sahib (Kayastha), Patliputra (Yadav), Sasaram (SC) both alliances have put up same caste candidates which makes the contest interesting.

Whichever party is able to draw the other castes towards itself in these seats is likely to win. Caste once again is likely to play a key role. RLSP is also facing a rebel in Jahanabad. Nalanda is a JDU stronghold which it won in 2014 contesting independently without support of BJP. There is no Mayawati here and Dalit vote is with Paswan who is in NDA.

In West Bengal, all the 9 seats which go to polls were won by TMC. Some of the seats are in the urban areas in and around Kolkata where BJP received good support in 2014, however the average margin of victory in these seats was huge at 21%.

Whether the BJP would be able to do well or not depends upon the scale of collapse of the Left and the Congress in the state which together garnered 40% vote share in 2014, same as TMC.

Mamata is definitely feeling the heat. If BJP manages to make it a polarized elections and Left votes (which are anti-Mamata) get transferred to BJP, then party can win 10-12 seats, going up to 17, as per my analysis.

TMC won 25 / 34 seats in 2014 due to mere split of votes. That is why BJP is upping the ante with record rallies of Modi-Shah duo. I reckon the vote share of both TMC and BJP will increase in these elections, minority votes of Left-INC going to TMC.

But whether BJP has the organization strength and last mile connectivity to convert them into seats is a big question.

In Jharkhand, MGB will look forward to retain the two seats it won in 2014. In HP, its all about Modi, is the feeling I got when I travelled across the state.

Phase 7 is the last but the most crucial phase for parties to beef up their scorecard and nobody can take it lightly though everybody is tired and bored of these long never ending elections….