The BJP’s prospects in the Lok Sabha elections are critically dependent on the party repeating its sweep in the Hindi heartland. However, the BJP’s defeat at the hands of the Congress in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan in Assembly elections last December indicates that the party will find it difficult to repeat its 2014 performance of winning 62 out of 65 seats in these three states.
In Madhya Pradesh, the party won 27 out of 29 seats while the Congress managed just two, with only senior leaders Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia holding their seats in Chhindwara and Guna respectively. But if the survey by Poll Eyes is any indication, the BJP could incur heavy losses in Madhya Pradesh compared to 2014.
The survey predicts that the party’s tally could fall to 16, a drop of 11 seats while the Congress’ tally could increase by the same number and go up to 13 in the state. In terms of vote share, the BJP and the Congress are evenly matched at close to 47 percent.
The tally of 16 for the BJP is a reduction of one seat from the Assembly elections, in which the BJP was ahead in 17 Lok Sabha constituencies while the Congress was ahead in 12. It is strange that the Congress got more Assembly seats than the BJP but led in fewer Lok Sabha seats than the latter. This is because the BJP won fewer seats but with higher margins while the Congress won more seats but with smaller margins.
For instance, take the eight Assembly segments that fall in the Khandwa Lok Sabha seat. In the Assembly elections, the Congress won four of these seats, the BJP three and an Independent candidate won one. But in terms of vote share, BJP got five percentage points more than the Congress in the entire Khandwa Lok Sabha seat.
Even in the Poll Eyes survey, the Congress has a narrow lead in many seats. And this makes the party vulnerable to minor swings. Since the survey was conducted before the Balakot strike, it is possible that the BJP could have edged past the Congress in some of the closely contested seats.
According to the survey, the BJP has strong leads in seats like Bhind, Dewas, Mandla and Khargone. On the other hand, the Congress is strongly placed in Guna, Chhindwara and Rajgarh. The BJP has an edge in seats like Morena, Gwalior, Tikamgarh, Rewa and Khandwa while the Congress has an edge in Hoshangabad, Shahdol, Ratlam and Mandsour.
The BJP’s fortunes appear to have turned around in the Chambal region – places like Bhind, Morena and Gwalior – where it performed poorly during the Assembly elections. These were the areas where the protests by upper castes on the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act were the most intense and many savarna voters moved away from the BJP to the Congress and the new outfit SAPAKS. It appears that upper caste voters have returned to the BJP in this region.
On the other hand, the Congress has gained ground in the Malwa region – in places like Mandsour, Ujjain, Ratlam and Rajgarh – where agrarian unrest has been high.
Even if the BJP is able to inch ahead in seats it was narrowly behind at the time of the survey, a loss of 7-8 seats in Madhya Pradesh compared to 2014 appears quite likely. This is not very different from the situation in other states like Jharkhand and Gujarat, where surveys predicted BJP losing a similar number of seats. If this is a trend across the Hindi heartland, the BJP will find it extremely difficult to win a majority even with its allies.
(Survey methodology: The survey was conducted in February in all Assembly segments across 10 states. 50 respondents were interviewed at different locations in each Assembly segment, using random stratified sampling.)