No one is speaking of 400-plus, contest on in all states: Sandeep Shastri

Each of the four phases have been different because the states are different, and states think differently.
Sandeep Shastri
Sandeep Shastri

With four phases of the Lok Sabha elections behind us, political analyst Sandeep Shastri is sensing a change as the election progresses. “What has changed is that BJP initially claimed this election is a no contest, now we see a contest in all states, it is evident,” he told TNIE’s Bansy Kalappa.

How have four phases of voting gone? What have been your biggest takeaways? Importantly, are you hearing that Modi is turning out to be a lesser factor?

Each of the four phases have been different because the states are different, and states think differently. One big issue has been poor voter turnout in all four phases compared to 2019, but 2019 was a special election. In states where non-NDA parties are in power, BJP has focussed on local issues and tried to contrast their narrative with the local narrative. From the BJP’s perspective, it is critical that PM Modi is the central piece of their campaign, everything revolves around Modi’s persona. What has changed is that they claimed this election was a no-contest, but in all states there is a contest, that is evident as the election progresses.

Any key states to focus on, come June 4?

The four key states are Maharashtra, West Bengal, where BJP has been trying to increase its share, Karnataka, where BJP won 25 seats last time but this time they are contesting only 25 seats, and Uttar Pradesh, with the largest number of states.

What is the impact of Siddaramaiah’s five guarantees? There are also pen drive allegations against MP Prajwal Revanna of the JDS, which is an ally of the BJP...

The alliance between them was for 27 seats, and the challenge will be to retain all. BJP faces three challenges: a resurgent Congress with its guarantees scheme, the embarrassment of the pen drive -- and some are keenly watching which way women will vote -- and internal discontent and rebellion in the BJP which was not seen before.

One criticism against the BJP is poor social representation, with most MPs belonging to the majority Lingayat, Vokkaliga, Brahmin communities, or to reserved sections...

BJP changed candidates in more than half-a-dozen constituencies, to beat anti-incumbency. This could have worked in Gujarat or elsewhere, but given the internal dynamics here, where many candidates had won assembly elections on other party tickets, changing candidates and criticism of social representation is true. For the Congress, many ministers refused to contest and instead fielded their relatives. Both parties are facing challenges.

BS Yediyurappa has been the undisputed star for the BJP. He has been very subdued this time.

After assembly elections, Yediyurappa’s son BY Vijayendra was given a free hand. This is visible in the selection of candidates, and there has been a rebellion. Yediyurappa’s energy and enthusiasm are not seen, perhaps age has something to do with it.

Maharashtra too is seen as a key swing state. There is talk of a possible sympathy vote for Uddhav Thackeray’s Sena and Sharad Pawar’s party. Will this help Maha Vikas Aghadi and I.N.D.I.A bloc?

This election is a test of ground level voters, and who they legitimise as the real NCP and Uddhav Thackeray’s Sena. BJP is contesting a majority of seats but if its allies are sinking, will they take BJP down with them? BJP, Uddhav’s Sena and Pawar’s NCP appear to be on the front foot, the others on the back foot.

In Bihar, can the RJD-Congress alliance challenge BJP, which swept the state in 2019?

The BJP is in a reasonably good position in Bihar but many do not say that of its other allies. There has been poor voter turnout in seats where its allies are contesting. The two forces to look out for are BJP and RJD. BJP seems to be on a reasonably safe wicket in Bihar, but not NDA.

Rajasthan could see seats going to the Congress, which was in power here until a few months ago.

There have been internal convulsions in the BJP. One caste group has gone against the BJP and Congress appears to have put its house in some order and fought unitedly. I will not be surprised if Congress snatches a few seats from BJP.

Finally, Uttar Pradesh, with 80 seats. What is your understanding of trends in this giant state?

In UP, BJP won 62 seats and its allies won two. The remaining 16 seats were shared by BSP, SP and Congress. This time, BSP seems to be struggling, SP and Congress seem to be doing well and have given more seats to non-Yadavs. This is the first major election where Akhilesh is leading in the absence of his father. BJP would be looking for Ram Mandir to yield seats, but the state is in for a tough fight because of multiple phase polls.

Amit Shah predicted a great showing for NDA in the South, with 10-12 seats in Telangana, 17-18 seats in AP, and expects BJP to open its account in Tamil Nadu and Kerala...

Last time, BJP won 29 seats and AIADMK one, which means they won 30 out of about 130 seats in the South. Whether Shah is right or not will depend largely on Karnataka. In Telangana, BJP will win more than 4. In AP, BJP is contesting only 4 seats. In Tamil Nadu and Kerala, BJP’s vote share is expected to go up, but will it translate into seats is a big question.

One state Amit Shah pinned great hopes on is Bengal, where he expects 30 seats. It is the state which was uppermost in their minds when CAA was notified, and there is the Sandeshkhali factor.

2019 saw BJP climb up, and they want to take the momentum forward. Has the TMC response to Sandeshkhali been too late? They have been unable to groom a state leader.

BJP initially spoke of 400 plus but now no one is speaking of ‘chaar sau paar’...

Two scenarios: worst-case is remaining where they are or slipping to half-way mark, best case would be to do a little better than last time -- 370 for BJP and remaining numbers for allies. No one is speaking about 400-plus anymore.

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