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Reading Numbers, Not Spin: From 303 LS MPs in 2019, BJP Was Down to 289 in Feb 2024

For the BJP to live up to its 370-seat goal, it needs to retain every seat it currently holds, win back the 14 seats eroded in course of the Lok Sabha’s tenure *and win 67 additional seats*.
A BJP rally. Photo: Facebook/BJP

WhatsApp is like the curate’s egg – a not unmixed blessing. It lets me keep in touch with friends, but on the other hand, it also lets people keep in touch with me, and during election season that is not such a good thing.

Between waking up this morning and now, I’ve gotten seven pings from seven different people. The messages differ, but the theme is the same – Modi will win, so what is next for all of us?

What was that about counting chickens?

I’m not making the case that Modi will lose. At least, not yet. I’m merely pointing out that it is easy to get sucked into a narrative, particularly when there is no counter-narrative that is as prevalent.

The question of who will win, and by how much, is best left to the concluding stages of this overlong election process – but the narrative of the BJP winning 370 seats on its own steam can be addressed in the here and the now.

The BJP began the 17th Lok Sabha with 303 MPs. When the curtain came down in February, the ruling party had 289 members.

The missing 14 owed mostly to a spate of enforced resignations at the behest of the BJP high command – three in Chhattisgarh, five in Madhya Pradesh and three in Rajasthan, plus the passing of Rattan Lal Kataria in Haryana and Girish Bapat in Maharashtra and the loss of Babul Supriyo’s seat to Shatrughan Sinha of the TMC.

So for the BJP to live up to Amit Shah’s promise boast of winning 370 seats, this is what it has to do: Retain every seat it currently holds, win back the 14 seats eroded in course of the Lok Sabha’s tenure, and win 67 additional seats.

From where?

It is relatively easy to see where the BJP will likely lose seats, given the current state of play:

• Karnataka, where it won 25 out of 28 in 2019 and where, as things stand, it will likely lose between 12-15 seats

• Delhi, where it won seven of seven and where it is highly unlikely to replicate the sweep (arresting opposition leaders is not the masterstroke it is touted to be)

• Maharashtra, where it won 23 seats last time in alliance with the undivided Shiv Sena, and where its alliance with the Shinde faction of the Sena and Ajit Pawar’s faction of the NCP is facing considerable unrest

That list leaves much to conjecture:

Given ground level unrest, can the BJP replicate its 62 wins out of 80 in Uttar Pradesh, particularly with the Samajwadi Party and the Congress fighting as one?

Will Nitish Kumar’s one-flip-too-many and the emergence of Tejashwi Yadav drag down BJP prospects in Bihar, where it had won 17 out of 40 the last time?

Can it replicate the 2019 sweep of Madhya Pradesh, when it won 28 of the 29 seats on offer?

With farmers’ unions led by the Samyukta Kisan Morcha up in arms, what impact will it have on Haryana, where it swept all ten seats last time? (Memo: Blockading Delhi so that no stench of unrest reaches the exalted nose of the Leader can have consequences).

With a visibly growing groundswell of support for the Congress in a campaign led this time by the more energetic, people-friendly Sachin Pilot, can the BJP again take 24 out of 25 in Rajasthan?

The BJP won eight seats in Odisha the last time round. With Naveen Patnaik turning his back on his ally, can the BJP hold those seats?

Broadly, the equation is this: If the BJP replicates its 2019 performance, it will win 210 seats out of the 285 on offer in UP, Bihar, MP, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Delhi, Gujarat, Assam and Maharashtra.

To get to 370, it needs to win 160 seats from the rest of India. Outside of West Bengal (42 seats) and Punjab (13) seats, the big catchment area is the South, with 128 seats on offer.

In 2019, the BJP won 29 of those 128 seats. It was shut out in Tamil Nadu (38 seats), Andhra (25 seats) and Kerala (20 seats). It won 25 seats in Karnataka and four in Telangana. It needs to replicate its Karnataka sweep (highly improbable) and win sizeable numbers in the other three states (again, improbable).

It is one thing for the BJP, led by Shah and assisted by captive media and sundry social media influencers, to drum up this narrative of inevitability. But to mildly rephrase the recipe for rabbit stew goes: first, find your rabbit.

(It is too premature to even think of the question of whether the BJP can win a third successive term, so that can wait.)

Prem Panicker is a journalist. This article first appeared on his Substack.

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