The BJP will look to make up for a likely shortfall in Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh in West Bengal, Odisha and the Northeast
Also, as compared to 2014, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka will have a greater significance for BJP and Congress in Elections 2019
Mumbai:Lok Sabha Elections 2019, dates of which were announced Sunday, will be contested in territories that could be called the battleground states. These are not only states which choose themselves for their size and significance, such as Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, but also smaller ones that will play an outsized role.
Essentially, the battleground states in Elections 2019 are those that are traditional powerhouses and also those that have come to hold the levers of power in the post-2014 scenario.
The two heartland states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, which send the maximum number of leaders to the Lok Sabha (120 in all), offer different electoral scenarios for the main stakeholders.
In Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) won 73 seats in 2014, party president Amit Shah has set a target of winning 74 this time, including one of the two Gandhi dynasty seats of Amethi and Raebareli. This is obviously easier desired than done because there are significant variables now.
The Congress had a forgettable performance in 2014 but it could only improve now, possibly aided by the formal entry of Priyanka Gandhi as the AICC general secretary and in-charge of East Uttar Pradesh. Also, the BJP has not been able to bring on board smaller parties like Apna Dal and Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party.
Maharashtra, which sends 48 MPs to the Lok Sabha, promises to be more competitive in Elections 2019 than it was five years back. The NDA, which won 42 seats in 2014, has so far not made room for Ramdas Athavale’s Republican Party of India. While Athavale has a limited appeal among Dalits, his exit from NDA, if it happens, could mean bad optics for the BJP and Shiv Sena. This time, the Congress and the NCP, which have announced a pre-poll alliance but haven’t finalized seat-sharing, also seem to be a more concerted unit.
In 2014, BJP swept Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh. It retained Gujarat in the 2017 assembly elections, despite a spirited Congress performance. The Congress focus had shifted to the three other states that then were held by the BJP: Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh, allowing the BJP to regroup in Gujarat.
A resurgent Congress that won these three states in 2018 remains a challenge for the BJP in Elections 2019. This also holds true for other Hindi-speaking states, where the BJP made big gains in 2014 but anti-incumbency could play a role in 2019.
The Congress, meanwhile, will look to do better than it did in 2014—buoyed by its performance in the 2018 state elections.
As compared to 2014, a few southern states have a greater significance for the BJP and the Congress in Elections 2019. In Tamil Nadu, both the national parties have tied up with the two Dravidian regional powers. Kerala, the epicentre state of the Left vs Sangh battle, will witness another BJP bid, this time powered by the Sabarimala controversy, to not only retain the lone seat it won in 2014 but also make additional gains.
The Congress and Janata Dal (Secular), or JDS, which formed a post-poll alliance in Karnataka in 2018, will look to make Karnataka a test case for the opposition alliance. In 2014, the Congress won 10 Lok Sabha seats, the JDS 2 and the BJP 15.
For the BJP, the 2018 Karnataka elections—when it emerged as the single-largest party—may not really be the sole determinant of its 2019 show.
Some of the most fierce battles of Elections 2019 will be fought in West Bengal and the northeastern states, regions the BJP has concentrated much of its energies on since 2014.
In West Bengal, particularly, the TMC, increasingly challenged by the BJP and not the Left and the Congress, may struggle to retain the 34 seats it won in 2014.
Odisha, which will see simultaneous elections, is also perhaps a state where the BJP could improve its tally from 2014. The Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal (BJD) won 20 out of 21 seats at the last national hustings.
According to a senior BJP functionary, who has worked in the northeast, together “West Bengal, Odisha, and northeastern states could help the BJP somewhat make up for the losses in other states where it may not repeat the 2014 performance".
This BJP leader, who requested anonymity, also stressed on the significance other smaller states—and even union territories—hold for the BJP.
“Like Jammu and Kashmir where we won three of the six seats in 2014, we should be able to retain at least those three. In Goa, and some union territories where we picked up one or two seats, even those seats could come in handy if we retain them," he said.