Opinion | Lok Sabha Polls: Phase 4 Is A Test For NDA-Friendly Regional Satraps

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The fourth phase of the Lok Sabha election on May 13 will witness polling in 96 constituencies. By the end of Phase 3, approximately half of the seats had gone through the process, determining the fate of numerous candidates. Historically, this phase has favoured non-aligned parties, as evidenced by their performance in 2019. Additionally, the phase marks the conclusion of polling in the southern region of India, with Telangana and Andhra Pradesh casting their votes tomorrow.

Andhra Pradesh is also conducting simultaneous polls for assembly as well as Lok Sabha elections. Ten states and Union Territories, including Andhra Pradesh (25), Bihar (5), Jharkhand (4), Madhya Pradesh (8), Maharashtra (11), Odisha (4), Telangana (17), Uttar Pradesh (13), West Bengal (8), and Jammu and Kashmir (1), are participating in the May 13 elections. Notably, 42 out of the 96 seats (44%) are spread across Andhra Pradesh and Telangana alone.

In the 2019 elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) secured 42 seats, the Congress six, and the YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) 22. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) clinched 49 seats, the INDIA bloc eight, and non-aligned regional parties like the YSRCP, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), and the Trinamool Congress (TMC) secured 39 seats collectively. While the NDA attained a 53% vote share for the seats it won, the INDIA bloc secured 45%, and non-aligned parties garnered 48%. In terms of victory margins, the NDA averaged 17%, the INDIA bloc  8%, and non-aligned parties 11%.

The BJP is contesting 70 seats in this phase, with its allies Telugu Desam Party (TDP) contesting 17, Shiv Sena three, and Jana Sena two. Meanwhile, the Congress is contesting 61 seats, the Samajwadi Party (SP) 19, and Uddhav Thackeray's Sena and Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) four seats each.

Non-Aligned Parties Are Key

In 2019, in terms of victory margins, the BJP secured 14 seats in close contests with less than 10% margin, while it won 28 seats by a substantial margin of more than 10%. However, both the Congress and the BJP witnessed lower strike rates compared to their overall strike rates in that year, with the BJP registering a strike rate of 47% versus 69% overall, and the Congress 7% compared to 12% overall.

Non-aligned parties secured 39 seats in this phase, with the YSRCP (22), the BJD (2), the TMC (4), the Bharat Rashtra Samithi, or BRS (9), and the All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen, or AIMIM (2) seats. Although the TMC claims to be part of the INDIA bloc, its absence from any seat arrangement with Congress in West Bengal categorises it as non-aligned.

Read | Lok Sabha Polls: Can Telangana Boost BJP's Tally In South?

Three of these parties - the YSRCP, the BJD, and the BRS - have supported the BJP in passing key bills in Parliament over the past five years, particularly in the Upper House, where the BJP lacks a majority. Before polling commenced, there was significant speculation about a possible BJP-BJD tie-up in Odisha. However, such an alliance could have bolstered the Congress in the state, potentially making it the primary opposition. Thus, the idea was abandoned.

While the BJP and the BJD are the primary contenders in the Vidhan Sabha polls, Congress alleges there's an under-the-table deal between the two. Even if the BJP fails to breach Naveen Patnaik's stronghold, the BJD is likely to continue supporting the NDA from the outside, given the Congress's weak position in winning seats. Naveen's popularity and Odia identity work in his favour, minimising the possibility of significant split voting.

Win-Win For BJP In Odisha, Andhra

In Andhra Pradesh, the BJP sought alliances, but Jagan Reddy's YSRCP remained a steadfast supporter. The YSRCP enjoys robust minority support, and with Congress elevating Jagan's sister Sharmila as the state unit president, any alignment with BJP could have jeopardised this voter bloc, leading to the collapse of talks.

By forming an alliance with former partner TDP, the BJP hopes to secure a significant number of seats for the NDA in the Lok Sabha in Andhra Pradesh. While the TDP relies on issues of unemployment and development, the YSRCP focuses on women and beneficiaries. Similar to Odisha, the BJP's prospects rest on the TDP's performance. Even if the TDP falters and the YSRCP succeeds, Jagan is likely to maintain his anti-Congress stance, ensuring a win-win scenario for the BJP in both Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. Failure to do so may hamper their support.

Read | "Name All Districts Of Odisha": PM Modi's Dare To Naveen Patnaik

In Telangana, the BJP aims to polarise the contest, making it a two-way battle with the Congress, leveraging the weakening of the BRS due to the departure of leaders and the arrest of K Chandrashekar Rao's daughter, Kavitha. Meanwhile, the Congress seeks to solidify its gains in the 2023 assembly polls, capitalising on its track record of fulfilling promises.

Various Possibilities In Other States

In Jharkhand, where former chief minister Hemant Soren is in jail on corruption charges, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM)-Congress alliance aims to secure seats, counting on the sympathy wave generated after Soren's arrest. The JMM has alleged that Soren's arrest is politically motivated and that the BJP seeks to destabilise the INDIA bloc government in the state.

Maharashtra, West Bengal, Bihar, and Uttar Pradesh also see elections in this phase, raising significant questions in each state. In Maharashtra, the primary concern is the rightful inheritor of Balasaheb Thackeray's and Sharad Pawar's legacies. In Uttar Pradesh, the outcome could be influenced by the presence of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

In West Bengal, new developments in the Sandeshkhali case may sway voter preferences, while the level of consolidation of minority votes towards the TMC could prove pivotal.

In Bihar, the focus is on whether the Janata Dal (United) from the NDA and the Congress from the INDIA bloc emerge as the weak links.

The voter turnout in this phase, following a lower turnout in the earlier three phases, will also be closely monitored.

(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