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NDA Or INDIA? Battleground States That May Hold The Key To This Election

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The countdown to Verdict 2024 has begun. After a 44-day Lok Sabha election in which 64 crore people across India voted in seven rounds, the votes will be counted today and results will be announced.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP, seeking a third term in power, is confident of making big gains besides holding on to its traditional strongholds. On the other hand, the opposition INDIA bloc, in which parties with different ideologies have come together against the BJP, insists that exit polls are off the mark.

As the country waits for the mega verdict, here are battleground states that may hold the key.

West Bengal: Among the BJP’s key focus areas in this election, West Bengal has 42 Lok Sabha seats. In the 2019 election, the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress won 22 seats — 12 down from its 2014 tally. The BJP scored a massive jump from two seats in 2014 to 18 in 2019. This time, the BJP has gone all-out in its Bengal campaign to further expand its footprint in the state. Besides adding to its Lok Sabha tally, a good Bengal score will also give the BJP an advantage ahead of the 2026 state polls.

Significantly, the BJP’s good show in the 2019 general election did not fully convert to stellar numbers in the 2021 state polls. But the party, led by Leader of Opposition in Bengal Assembly Suvendu Adhikari and state BJP chief Sukanta Majumdar, have doggedly targeted the Trinamool government on local issues in the run-up to the election.

Exit polls have predicted gains for the BJP, with some projections handing the party as much as 26 seats out of 42. Ms Banerjee has trashed the predictions, saying they have “no value”.

A big score in Bengal is critical to the BJP for multiple reasons. The party is hoping that gains in the East and South will help it widen its base beyond heartland states. Also, the BJP had maxed out in states such as Maharashtra in 2019, and after a change in equations, could lose some seats there. This loss needs to be covered.

A surge in Bengal for the BJP will also be a big blow for the INDIA bloc in a key Opposition stronghold.

Maharashtra: In no other state has the political landscape altered between two elections as much as in Maharashtra. In the 2019 polls, the BJP and the Shiv Sena were in an alliance. Together, they won 41 out of 48 seats. This time, the picture is completely different. Shiv Sena has split into two factions — one led by Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde that backs the BJP and another led by Uddhav Thackeray. Sharad Pawar’s NCP, too, has split and his nephew Ajit Pawar now leads the breakaway faction that is a part of the NDA government.

The NDA and INDIA have a faction of the Shiv Sena and NCP each, and both fear a split in votes.

A good tally for the INDIA bloc in Maharashtra will boost the Opposition’s national score and is key to its mission to beat the BJP. For the BJP, the challenge is to arrest its losses in a state that had contributed significantly to its 2019 tally.

Most exit polls have predicted that while the NDA may see a drop in its score as compared to 2019, the BJP-led alliance will be the dominant force. INDIA leaders have trashed the predictions.

Odisha: Another eastern state where the BJP is hoping for gains this time is Biju Janata Dal’s bastion Odisha, where Assembly polls have been held alongside the Lok Sabha election. In the 2019 election, Naveen Patnaik’s BJD won 12 out of the coastal state’s 21 seats and the BJP won eight. The BJP’s score then had seen a huge jump — from 1 seat in 2014 to 8 in 2019. This time, the BJP has aimed to emerge as the single-largest party in Odisha.

Significantly, the BJP and BJD were on the verge of forging an alliance for the elections before talks fell through.

Besides Bengal, Odisha is another big goal in the BJP’s Mission East. The party’s top leaders, including PM Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, have campaigned exhaustively in the state.

Exit polls have predicted massive gains for the BJP in Odisha. The BJD has trashed the projection and said exit polls for Odisha were proven wrong in 2014 and 2019 and the trend would continue this time.

Bihar: Among the country’s most politically-significant states where caste arithmetic plays a key role, Bihar could have a big impact on the BJP’s plans. The NDA alliance — comprising BJP and JDU — won 39 out of the 40 seats in Bihar in 2019. Shortly after, the Nitish Kumar-led JDU parted ways with the BJP and joined hands with arch-rival RJD. However, following another flip-flop, the JDU is back with the BJP. The NDA bloc includes Chirag Paswan’s LJP faction, former Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha and former Union Minister Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Morcha.

Up against them is the INDIA front, comprising the Tejashwi Yadav-led RJD, Mukesh Sahani’s Vikassheel Insaan Party, CPI, CPM and CPI-ML.

The INDIA bloc is counting on Bihar to boost its score, and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and Tejashwi Yadav have campaigned together.

The BJP had won 303 Lok Sabha seats in the 2019 polls and states like Bihar that it virtually swept played a key role in adding to its numbers. A setback in Bihar can potentially derail the Opposition push, making it one of the most important battlegrounds this election.

Most exit polls have predicted that INDIA bloc would finish in single digits and the NDA would be the dominant force. The RJD has trashed the claim and called the exit polls a “psychological trick”.

Telangana: Another key battleground in this election is Telangana and the reason is the Congress’s thumping win in the state polls last year. In the 2019 general election, former Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao’s Telangana Rashtra Samithi (now Bharat Rashtra Samithi) won 9 of the state’s 17 seats. The BJP won four and the Congress three.

The BRS’s rout in the state polls last year and the Congress’s stunning victory has opened up the Telangana contest. Both the BJP and the Congress are eyeing the votes that went to the TRS last time.

Exit polls have predicted a tight race between the BJP and the Congress in Telangana, both gaining at the cost of the BRS.

Karnataka: Besides Telangana, Karnataka is another prestige fight for the Congress as it is in power in the state. In the 2019 election, the BJP won 25 of the state’s 28 seats, and the Congress and the JDS — then allies — one each. This time, JDS has switched sides to the NDA and the Congress is going it alone.

Winning Karnataka is critical for the Congress because it is a test of its organisational strength in one of the few states it rules. Even within the INDIA bloc, the Congress will have greater bargaining power only if it maximises its tally in states where it is contesting alone.

Most exit polls have given the BJP a clear majority in Karnataka. The Congress, they have predicted, will be confined to single digits.

Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and Deputy Chief Minister DK Shivakumar have rubbished the predictions.

Andhra Pradesh: This election may see former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu making a smashing comeback and the BJP will gain massively if that happens. Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP has tied up with the BJP in Andhra, which has 25 Lok Sabha seats. The TDP is contesting 17 seats, the BJP six and the remaining two have gone to actor-politician Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena Party. On the other side is incumbent YSR Congress Party, led by Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy. Like Odisha, Andhra also voted simultaneously in state polls. In the 2019 election, YSRCP swept the Lok Sabha polls by winning 22 seats, reducing TDP to just three. This time around, a good show by TDP will boost NDA numbers, benefiting the BJP.

If the BJP manages to win some of the seats on its own, it will consolidate its position in a state it has little presence in.

As for the INDIA bloc, the Congress, led by Jagan Mohan Reddy’s sister YS Sharmila, is contesting 23 seats. The remaining seats have gone to the Left as part of seat-sharing.

Exit polls have predicted an NDA sweep in Telangana, with some estimates giving the ruling YSRCP zero seats.

Uttar Pradesh: India’s most politically significant state in terms of the sheer number of Lok Sabha seats, Uttar Pradesh is always under electoral limelight.

In the 2019 election, the BJP won 62 of the state’s 80 seats, with BSP and Samajwadi Party, then allies, winning 10 and five seats, respectively. This time, the Samajwadi Party and the Congress have tied up and the BSP is on its own.

For, the Congress, Amethi and Rae Bareli, its family strongholds, are prestige battles. This holds especially true for Amethi, where Rahul Gandhi lost to BJP’s Smriti Irani last time. While Samajwadi Party is contesting 62 seats, the Congress is fighting 17.

The BJP has stuck to its old ally, Apna Dal (Sonelal), and has also brought in Jayant Chaudhary’s RLD and OP Rajbhar’s Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party into the NDA fold. Exit polls have given the NDA an edge in Uttar Pradesh, but the INDIA bloc leaders have dismissed the projections.

BJP’s Big South Push

In its push to expand its presence in peninsular India, the BJP has campaigned extensively in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Despite its formidable dominance in the heartland states, the BJP has not managed a breakthrough in these states. It has won the odd Lok Sabha seat in Tamil Nadu, but is yet to open its account in Kerala.

This time, the BJP, under the leadership of state party chief K Annamalai, broke up with its former ally AIADMK and tied up with several smaller regional forces, including A Ramadoss’s PMK. In Kerala, it has tied up with Bharath Dharma Jana Sena.

Exit polls have predicted a good show for the BJP in both these states. If the numbers hold true, it would be a major victory for the Narendra Modi-led party and bolster its pan-India presence. Opposition parties, however, have rejected the projections.

 The countdown to Verdict 2024 has begun. After a 44-day Lok Sabha election in which 64 crore people across India voted in seven rounds, the votes will be counted today and results will be announced.    

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