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Verdict On BJP’s ‘400 Paar’ Today. Can Party Repeat Congress’ 1984 Feat?

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Counting of votes for the 2024 Lok Sabha election began this morning with Prime Minister Narendra Modi heavily favoured to win a third term – 12 of 12 exit polls have tipped his Bharatiya Janata Party-led alliance to hand the Congress-led INDIA bloc a crushing defeat.

And the BJP’s ‘abki baar, 400 paar‘ slogan – derided by the opposition and questioned by analysts, and possibly even some within the party – could ring true by the time the dust settles this evening.

Interestingly, should Mr Modi’s party hit that magical figure, it will not be the first.

In 1984 the Congress dominated the first election after Indira Gandhi’s assassination, riding a gigantic wave of sympathy to claim 414 seats and make her son, Rajiv Gandhi, the Prime Minister.

Pehli Baar 400 Paar: The Hindi Belt

The Congress’ thumping return four decades ago was thanks to sweeping wins in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, and Delhi.

The party won 83 seats in UP, 48 in Bihar, 43 in Maharashtra, and 24 in Gujarat, as well as all 40 in Madhya Pradesh, 25 in Rajasthan, 10 in Haryana, seven in Delhi, and four in Himachal Pradesh.

UP then had 85 seats, Bihar had 54, and Madhya Pradesh had 40. These were revised downwards to 80, 40, and 29 after the formation of Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh.

In 1984 then, the Congress won 284 of 299 seats from these states, or 95 per cent, and that was enough to ensure the party’s win and for Rajiv Gandhi to take the Prime Minister’s chair.

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Fast-forward 35 years to the BJP’s most dominant win – the 2019 election in which the party-led National Democratic Alliance won 353 of the country’s 543 Lok Sabha seats.

That win was built on a similarly emphatic showing in the above states – the Hindi heartland that has, since the 2004 election, become a nearly unshakeable bastion of votes for the party.

The BJP (and its allies) won 74 seats in UP, 41 in Maharashtra, 39 in Bihar, and 28 in Madhya Pradesh. It also enjoyed clean sweeps of Gujarat’s 26 seats, Rajasthan’s 25, Haryana’s 10, Himachal Pradesh’s four, and Delhi’s seven. This added up to 254 of 269 seats or, no surprises, 94 per cent.

The Hindi heartland was key to the Congress’ ‘400 paar‘, as it will be for the BJP.

READ | ‘Ab Ki Baar 400 Paar’ Could Be Real For NDA: 3 Exit Polls

Exit polls give the party wins in UP (68), Bihar (33), Maharashtra (29), Rajasthan (21), and Haryana (7), as well as clean sweeps in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, and Delhi.

That is 251 seats – including 27 from Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh, and Jharkhand – from the Hindi belt.

The BJP’s expected 2024 haul matches its 2019 return, which suggests it has maxed out votes from the Hindi heartland and must look elsewhere to push past the 370- or even the 400-mark.

The key might be South India; the 24 seats in the northeast are seen by many as being difficult for national parties to breach. In any case, the BJP (and allies) already hold 18 of these.

BJP’s ‘Mission South’ Push

Cue then, this year, Mr Modi and the BJP’s mega campaign in the southern states, with particular focus on Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The BJP has never won a Lok Sabha seat in the latter and has won only once in the past two elections in the former; Pon Radhakrishnan won Kanniyakumari in 2014.

And it is these two states that could decide the BJP’s ‘abki baar, 400 paar‘ dream.

In 1984 the Congress won 13 of Kerala’s 20 seats and over half (25) of Tamil Nadu’s 39.

READ | After PM’s South Push, NDA May Get Up To 5 Seats In Tamil Nadu

That is 38 seats more than the BJP won five years ago and 37 more than it did in 2014.

A 1984-like sweep of these two states – one dominated by Dravidian politics and the other by the Left, both widely seen as natural enemies of the BJP’s muscular Hindu nationalism – is unlikely.

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The exit polls agree. An average of 11 for each state gives the NDA only four seats.

A best-case scenario (for Tamil Nadu) is 10 seats – News24-Today’s Chanakya’s prediction – and that will absolutely not be enough for the BJP to celebrate a ‘400 paar‘ election.

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But there are also Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Odisha.

The Congress in 1984 won 24 of Karnataka’s 28 seats and 20 of Odisha’s 21. It struggled in Andhra Pradesh (which then had not yet birthed Telangana), winning only six of the 42 seats there.

There is, therefore, some opportunity for the BJP here. It dominated Karnataka in 2019 to win 25 seats, but could manage only eight in Odisha and four between Andhra and Telangana.

READ | BJP-Led NDA To Double Tally In BJD Bastion In Odisha: Exit Polls

Assuming a repeat performance in Karnataka (exit polls say 22, so three less), expected improvements in Andhra, Telangana, and Odisha will fetch a very healthy 41 seats to add to the three or four possibly incoming from Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

BJP’s ‘Mission South’, therefore, might return 45 seats – a major boost but still short of the 88 won by the Congress in its big year.

The Bengal Question

A second key could be Bengal, which sends 42 MPs to the Lok Sabha and has emerged as a high-profile battleground for the BJP and the Trinamool Congress of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

In 1984 the Congress won 16 seats. The BJP got zero.

In 2019 the BJP won 18 seats. The Congress got two, and Ms Banerjee claimed 22.

The BJP has targeted Bengal and the Chief Minister since the fractious 2021 state poll, in which Ms Banerjee thumped her rivals; she got 215 of 294 seats, with the BJP a distant second at 77.

READ | What Mamata Said On Exit Polls Showing BJP Leading Trinamool

The 2019 result was hailed as a significant step forward in dethroning Ms Banerjee. The 2024 election could see that happen, with exit polls giving the NDA 23 seats to the Trinamool’s 18.

Between the southern states and Bengal, the BJP is expected to pick up over 60 seats.

That, though, is still at least 35 below what the Congress had in 1984.

2024 Lok Sabha Exit Poll Results

The ‘400 paar‘, therefore, might be a difficult proposition. The 370+ target might be on.

But two exit pollsters – India Today-Axis My India and India TV-CNX – believe the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance could amass as much as 401 seats. A third – News24-Today’s Chanakya – says it will land on the 400-seat mark, and three others – ABP News-C Voter, Jan Ki Baat, and News Nation – give Mr Modi’s election-winning juggernaut a maximum of 383, 392, and 378 seats.

READ | PM Modi Hat-Trick, Powered By South, Bengal, Odisha: Exit Polls

The BJP coalition is not expected to go below 281 in the race to win 272 seats.

The INDIA bloc – seen by many as a ragtag bunch of opposition parties – laughed off the predictions and vowed it will do what it set out to in June last year – defeat Prime Minister Modi and the BJP.

Congress boss Mallikarjun Kharge and Rahul Gandhi have insisted the group will win 295 seats.

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The available exit poll data disagrees, although four give the bloc 150+ seats.

TV9 Bharatvarsh-Polstrat, Times Now-ETG, and Republic TV-P Marq say the INDIA group will win 166, 152, and 154 seats, while News Nation and ABP News-C Voter predict hauls between 152 and 182.

India News-D Dynamics and News 24-Today’s Chanakya are far less sanguine, predicting 125 and 107 seats only, while the others believe INDIA will score between 109 and 166 seats.

The BJP is, it therefore seems, well on its way to scoring 370 seats (the internal target), and is closer than many expected to the ‘abki baar, 400 paar‘ target that includes its NDA partners’ success.

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 The BJP – widely expected to win the 2024 Lok Sabha election – had set itself a target of 400+ seats (including its NDA partners’ haul). However, should it be successful, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party won’t be the first to hit that score.    

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