Opinion: Can Ram Temple Take BJP To 400-Plus And 50% Vote Share?

The entire country is Ram-may (राम मय), with the Ram temple consecration ceremony at the hands of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The 51-inch idol of Ram Lalla, adorned with gold and flowers, was revealed shortly before the 'Pran Pratistha' ceremony at the Ayodhya temple.

BJP supporters and strategists feel the fulfilment of the long-term promise will galvanize voters across the length and breadth of the country and propel it to 400-plus seats and a 50% vote share.

BJP Is Pan India, Contrary to Belief

A 50% vote share and 400-plus target is bold - no party in India, including the Congress in its heyday, has breached this figure.

Only once in 1984 did the Congress cross 400, in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi's assassination and the consequent sympathy wave. Congress scored its personal best in the same election - 48.1% vote share.

Many political commentators, analysts and even some opposition parties still consider the BJP a north India party. That is far from the truth.

Of the top eight states that account for 223 of its 303-seat tally in 2019, the BJP won only three in the North, two from the East, two from the West and one from the South.

These states are Uttar Pradesh (62), Madhya Pradesh (28), Gujarat (26), Karnataka (25), Rajasthan (24) Maharashtra (23), West Bengal (18) and Bihar (17). These states account for three fourth of the BJP's tally in 2019.

The BJP also won 14 of the 25 seats in the northeast, excluding those won by its allies.

Mission Impossible?

The BJP won 178 of 225 seats in the Hindi belt, which includes the eastern states of Bihar and Jharkhand. In Uttar Pradesh, it won 62/80 seats, and faces a Samajwadi Party-BSP-Rashtriya Lok Dal alliance that has weakened since 2019. The latest opinion poll of ETG suggests an increase of eight to 12 seats for the BJP here.

In Bihar, due to the alliance with the Janata Dal United (JDU), the BJP had contested just 17 seats, winning all of them. As Nitish Kumar's party has left the alliance, the BJP is likely to contest on more seats - 30 plus. The ETG poll suggests an increase of five to seven seats for the BJP here.

What the Ram-maya environment does is that it neutralizes anti-incumbency against local MPs as well as against the central government due to unemployment and price rise.

It improves the probability of the BJP maintaining its seat tally in other states in the Hindi belt - Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Haryana, Uttarakhand, and Himachal Pradesh - provided it consolidates the Hindu support and manages a higher turnout amongst core supporters.

Not only Bihar, the BJP is likely to contest more seats in Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra due to the exodus of allies. In 2019, the BJP contested 435 seats, which may go up to 475-500 seats. This is likely to add votes and vote share to the party.

PM Modi's southern push, the BJP's alliance with the Janata Dal Secular (JDS) in Karnataka, the efforts of the local leadership, and the induction of Congress leaders could fetch the party a few additional seats in Telangana, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, strategists hope.

Where can additional seats come from?

The BJP was runner-up in 72 seats in 2019. The Congress won in 15 of these, the Trinamool Congress 21, BSP 10, Samajwadi Party 5, BJD 11 and others took 10 of these seats. 

These 72 seats are located in Assam (1), Chhattisgarh (2), Goa (1), Jharkhand (2), Karnataka (2), Manipur (1), Kerala (1), Maharashtra (2), Madhya Pradesh (1), Odisha (11), Punjab (1), Tamil Nadu (5), Telangana (2), Uttar Pradesh (16), Union Territories (2) and West Bengal (22).

On 17 of these seats, the BJP lost by a margin of less than 5%. On 15 seats, the party lost by a margin of less than 45,000 votes.

A swing of 10% in favour of the BJP on 71 of these seats (excluding Manipur) - meaning an increase of 5% vote share for the BJP and a parallel decline of 5% in the winning party's vote share - could put 38 more seats in the BJP's kitty. This could push the ruling party's tally, theoretically, to 341 seats, assuming it is able to hold on to its 303 seats.

These 38 additional seats are in: Assam (1), Chhattisgarh (2), Goa (1), Jharkhand (2), Kerala (1), Maharashtra (1), Madhya Pradesh (1), Odisha (6), Telangana (1), Uttar Pradesh (8), Union Territories (2) and West Bengal (12).

The gains could largely come from Uttar Pradesh (where the INDIA bloc sans BSP is weaker than the SP-BSP-Congress alliance of 2019), Odisha and West Bengal.

In Odisha, the BJP hopes voters backing Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik's BJD in the state will vote Narendra Modi at the Centre. The BJD had won 12 seats, BJP 8 and Congress one seat in Odisha in 2019.  In three seats, the BJP lost by a whisker - less than 35,000 votes.

In West Bengal, the confusion over alliance seat-sharing between the Trinamool and the Congress, the high probability of Left parties staying out of the INDIA bloc, and the elections being held in a highly polarized environment could help the party gain seats its strategists believe.

With allies currently at 30-odd seats, this could push the BJP to 370-ish seats, in an optimistic scenario. The party needs to induct allies from the east and the south to breach the 400-mark. Naveen Patnaik's BJD and Jagan Reddy's YSRCP, who have adopted a pro-BJP stance in the past, could be candidates for joining the BJP-led NDA.

The target appears to be improbable, but with a weakened opposition, and a positive environment created by inauguration of Ram Mandir, it is not impossible. Politics, after all, is the art of impossible.

(Amitabh Tiwari is a political strategist and commentator. In his earlier avatar, he was a corporate and investment banker.)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.