With exit polls predicting the BJP’s return to power, the mood in the party has been upbeat. But the real test for the party will be Thursday when counting of votes for the next Lok Sabha is taken up. Because that will decide whether the party has retained its 2014 support base in the Hindi heartland while making inroads in states where it didn’t really have much to show in the last election when it won 282 seats.
There are great expectations from the BJP’s new frontiers of West Bengal and Odisha where, by its own assessment, party candidates have done well. The party is keeping its fingers crossed in the key state of Uttar Pradesh where, even during the campaign, leaders assessed that there’s a fierce contest with the Mahagathbandhan of SP, BSP and RLD. Its UP count in the last election was a staggering 71 of the 80 seats in the fray.
The party also calculated that it could lose a few seats in the states where it had peaked in 2014. In the 2018 winter elections to state assemblies, the BJP lost power in the heartland states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. But BJP leaders are confident that the voting trend for the Lok Sabha seats in these states will be different — and for this, they point to the Modi factor.
Keeping these in mind, BJP president Amit Shah identified around 120 seats in states in the south and east, where it had not become a major force, for special focus ahead of the polls. The party does not appear to have made deep impact in the southern states, but the BJP’s prospects seem to have brightened in Odisha and West Bengal. The party vote share in West Bengal in the 2014 Lok Sabha election was 17.02 per cent. In the 2016 assembly polls, it was 10.16 per cent. In Odisha, the party registered a vote share of 18 per cent in 2014.
While the Modi factor and the national security issue in the wake of the Pulwama terror attack and the Balakot airstrike appear to have helped the BJP in Odisha, polarisation on communal lines seems to have improved its chances in West Bengal. The BJP’s campaign had its measure of promises and assurances to protect the Hindus from the influx of illegal Muslim migrants who, the party alleged, were being protected and encouraged by the ruling Trinamool Congress.
The Bengal campaign not only saw a step-up in political violence but also the new politics on the ground. BJP leaders active in West Bengal said Left cadres, staring at the disintegration of their parties, also turned to the BJP to protect themselves from the “violent” politics of TMC. A number of exit polls have suggested that the BJP has managed to blunt TMC leader Mamata Banerjee’s strong and aggressive opposition to the party.
In Odisha, however, the BJP did not have to face such hostility from the ruling BJD. The BJD’s stance that it would support any party that takes care of Odisha’s interests at the Centre weakened its fight against the BJP in the state. A large section of voters seemed to be in a mood to back the BJP at the Centre while supporting the BJD for the government in the state.
The BJP also hopes to do well in states where the Congress is its main rival, including in Karnataka and Rajasthan, where the party was defeated in the assembly elections last year.