Bjp must see writing on the wall

Anti-Incumbency Factor

By Sagarneel Sinha

The 2024 Lok Sabha election is inching closer to its end with two phases remaining and initial trends are changing. At the outset, the talk dominated over the lower voter turnout compared to 2019 elections, but a reversal was seen in the fourth phase with a marginal increase. The same trend of marginal higher voter turnout continued in the fifth phase as well.

Before the election season kicked off, it was assumed that BJP-led NDA would not only easily win the battle of 2024 but would be able to increase the number of seats than the last election. This perception got stronger after Congress suffered a setback in Assembly elections of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh held last November. In addition, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave himself the target of 370 seats for the saffron party and 400+ for the NDA — an attempt to energise party cadres and supporters on the ground.

But with the election season nearing its end, some political commentators are voicing that BJP-led NDA is struggling to cross even the 300-mark. For example, psephologist-turned political activist and commentator Yogendra Yadav has stated BJP is unlikely to even get a majority on its own and has even doubted NDA getting the magical number of 272.

Although it’s very difficult to know whom the voters opted for, a pre-poll survey by Lokniti-CSDS, known for its credibility, says 47.5% of 10,019 voters it reached out to preferred Narendra Modi as the next prime minister. Clearly, he remains the best choice for the top post.

However, the question arises how the mood of the nation with approximately 97 crore voters can be correctly gauged with such a small number of people surveyed? A response could be that the survey offers at least an idea which way the wind is blowing.

Having said that, it can’t be denied that the anti-incumbency mood has started to catch up with the BJP both at the Centre and the states, despite the Modi factor. While anti-incumbency against the Centre isn’t that strong as compared to 2019, it has got consolidated due to the efforts of the Opposition-led INDIA bloc and is growing at the state levels. Exceptions here would be popular state leaders like Chief Ministers Yogi Adityanath and Himanta Biswa Sarma in Uttar Pradesh and Assam respectively.

The BJP’s dream of ruling vast areas of the country is yet to become a reality, although the party has made some big advances of having around 20 states and union territories under the NDA kitty in March 2018. Currently, it is in power in 18 states and UTs. A big drawback being that the BJP is yet to establish itself as a major player in southern states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. However, in Tamil Nadu it is said to have made some advances under the leadership of state president K Annamalai, a former IPS officer, but to what extent will be known on June 4.

In Andhra Pradesh, the BJP is banking on its alliance partner Telugu Desam Party-led by Chandrababu Naidu to come into power, but it is yet to establish itself as a major player.  At the same time, in Telangana it has been able to make some significant advances at the expense of the Bharat Rashtra Samiti, which lost power in Assembly polls last December after ruling the state for 10 years. Insofar as the eastern States are concerned, the BJP is lagging in West Bengal and Odisha

Amid this, there are signs of fissures in states currently under NDA rule. One of these is the western state of Maharashtra, second most populated in the country. The state has 48 Lok Sabha seats and is being keenly watched this time with the split of two major players and the shifting of alliances. The earlier versions, Nationalist Congress Party of Sharad Pawar and Shiv Sena led by Uddhav Thackeray, have split and as a result, this time there are four regional parties testing the electoral waters for the first time.

Sharad Pawar has lost his party and its election symbol — an analogue alarm clock symbol — to the faction-led by nephew Ajit Pawar, who is now in the NDA. Sharad Pawar’s party is NCP (Sharad Pawar) and the symbol is trumpet. Same is the case with Uddhav Thackeray, who lost his party and the traditional Shiv Sena “arrow” symbol to Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena, an NDA constituent. Uddhav’s new party is Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray).

Sharad Pawar and Uddhav Thackeray are still factors to reckon with compared to the appeals of Ajit Pawar and Eknath Shinde. In the Lok Sabha polls, despite NCP and Shiv Sena being seen as liabilities for the NDA, the Modi factor is there to aid the alliance. However, it is going to face a tough battle later this year when the state goes for Assembly elections along with Haryana, where too the ruling BJP is not in a good position. Recently, the party central leadership replaced Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar with Nayab Singh Saini — a sign of the party accepting the anti-incumbency factor of 10 years.

In Bihar too, where Assembly elections are likely to be held next year in October or November, the case is the same with the NDA. Janata Dal (United) is seen as a liability for the NDA with the declining popularity of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and the growing popularity of Tejaswi Yadav of Rashtriya Janata Dal.

In the two saffron-stronghold states of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, where the party decided to go for a change of leadership by replacing popular Shivraj Singh Chauhan with Mohan Yadav, cracks have started to appear. There is an inner discontent against his being shifted from the state to the Centre. He was nominated as the candidate from the Vidisha Lok Sabha constituency.

Likewise, in Gujarat, anger of the Kshatriya samaj was seen against the BJP after it didn’t replace candidate Purushottam Rupala of Rajkot Lok Sabha constituency. This indicates the simmering anger against the ruling BJP, which has been in a spree to give tickets to Congress and AAP leaders joining the party, ignoring grassroot-level party workers.

Although Modi remains popular at the Centre due to his welfare schemes and other governmental schemes, particularly encouraging entrepreneurship, discontent is brewing against the party, even in states considered as saffron strongholds. Dominance of the central leadership within the party has somehow made the state leadership, even allies, to depend on the central leadership, particularly on Modi, making the BJP-NDA weaker at the state levels.  Time for the saffron party to read the writing on the wall. — INFA