Two kingmakers emerge

As voters deliver a split verdict in the Lok Sabha election, regional parties hold the key to government formation.

Published : Jun 04, 2024 19:37 IST - 7 MINS READ

Nitish Kumar from Bihar and N. Chandrababu Naidu from Andhra Pradesh, both former NDA constituents, have emerged as vital players who will influence the formation of the government.

Nitish Kumar from Bihar and N. Chandrababu Naidu from Andhra Pradesh, both former NDA constituents, have emerged as vital players who will influence the formation of the government. | Photo Credit: P.V. Sivakumar

Defying the BJP’s expectations of 400-plus seats or the INDIA bloc’s dream run of 295 seats, voters opted for a cautious mandate. The BJP emerged as the single largest party but fell short of 250 seats, while the Congress secured nearly 100 seats as the counting for the 2024 Lok Sabha election was nearing completion on June 4.

With the BJP failing to secure a majority, the roles of two NDA constituents—Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) from Bihar and N. Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party from Andhra Pradesh—will be crucial in government formation. Both have a history of shifting alliances and a background in socialist politics.

Congress communications chief Jairam Ramesh tweeted: “Congress promises to grant special status to Andhra Pradesh.”

Also Read | Outcomes in UP and Bihar’s 120 Lok Sabha seats are key to BJP’s hattrick

Regional parties will clearly have a strong say in whichever alliance forms the government. As of now, the NDA appears poised for a third consecutive term in power at the Centre, even with its reduced mandate, as both the BJP and the pre-election NDA emerged as the single largest entity. They will likely get the first invitation to form the government unless a dramatic turnaround occurs.

BJP’s surprising performance

Most pollsters and analysts were surprised by the BJP’s slump, with its seat tally nearly halving in Uttar Pradesh, the State with a “double-engine” BJP government, where the party heavily banked on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s personas.

With the results showing a comeback of Sharad Pawar’s faction of the NCP even after the split caused by his nephew Ajit Pawar (who later joined the BJP alliance), the patriarch swung into action to explore the possibility of an Opposition alliance government at the Centre. Noting the INDIA bloc’s impact in the Hindi heartland, Pawar said the results in Uttar Pradesh show that “something has changed on the ground”.

The BJP, which won 71 and 62 seats (NDA got 73 and 64) in 2014 and 2019 in Uttar Pradesh respectively, was restricted to less than 40 Lok Sabha seats in 2024.

Indications of this were noticed when Frontline hit the ground from the first to the last phase—from Muzaffarnagar in western Uttar Pradesh, where Kshatriya Mahapanchayats were held to boycott the BJP (and particularly the BJP candidate, Union Minister Sanjeev Balyan, who lost the seat), to Kushinagar in eastern Uttar Pradesh, where traditional BJP voters, the Sainthwars (Kurmis), preferred a Sainthwar candidate from the rival Samajwadi Party.

Re-emergence of caste

Caste dynamics were back in the Uttar Pradesh election, along with resentment over employment issues (only getting a boost from the Centre’s new four-year job scheme, Agnipath through which Indian youth can join the Indian Army) and inflation dominating the discourse. Politically, the combined campaign of “UP ke ladke” (Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav), which had flopped in the 2017 Assembly election, clicked this time.

The BSP, which had scored a duck in the 2014 Lok Sabha election but won 10 seats in an alliance with the SP in 2019, has once again declined not only in seat tally but also in vote percentage, with substantial non-Jatav votes going to the SP-Congress alliance, as the results suggest.

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi could win his Lok Sabha seat, Varanasi with a margin of just nearly 1.57 lakh votes (a huge comedown from his 2019 victory with a 4.7 lakh vote margin), the loss of the sitting BJP MP in Ayodhya to the Samajwadi Party will rankle more in the memory of the saffron party. The BJP has won Varanasi since 1991, except for 2004 when the Congress’ Rajesh Mishra won, while Ayodhya was represented by Mitrasen Yadav thrice as candidates of CPI, SP, and BSP in 1989, 1998, and 2004. Before the incumbent Lallu Singh won it for the BJP in 2014 and 2019, it was represented in the past by BJP’s Vinay Katiyar and Congress’ Nirmal Khatri twice. So, despite being the epicentre of the Ram Mandir movement, the seat has never truly been a BJP bastion.

More than Rahul Gandhi’s victory in Raebareli, the Congress is rejoicing in the defeat of Union Minister and BJP candidate Smriti Irani from Amethi. Irani, who had defeated Rahul Gandhi in 2019, has been defeated this time by a seasoned Congress worker, Kishori Lal Sharma.

The BJP could, however, take solace from the outcome in neighbouring Bihar, where its five-party umbrella alliance managed to ward off substantial losses (it had won 39 Lok Sabha seats in 2019 and is close to winning 31 seats this time). In Purnea, independent candidate Rajesh Ranjan alias Pappu Yadav won the seat despite the RJD’s strong opposition to his candidature. Similarly, former JD(U) President Lalan Singh defeated RJD candidate Anita Devi, wife of gangster-turned-politician Ashok Mahto.

In neighbouring Jharkhand, the NDA is down to 9 from 12 seats it had won in the last election.

BJP’s hits and misses

The BJP bastions of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh have provided it a buffer in the North, along with a strong performance in Odisha, where it is close to winning 19 Lok Sabha seats, more than double the 8 seats it won in 2019.

In Gujarat, it is about to win 25 of 26 seats, in Madhya Pradesh all 29 seats, and in Chhattisgarh 10 of 11. In Rajasthan, the BJP is down to 14 Lok Sabha seats from the 25 that it had won in 2019.

In Delhi, the BJP looks set to repeat its 7-0 victory in 2014 despite an alliance between traditional rivals Congress and AAP. It is a big relief for the saffron party as it had changed six of seven candidates in this Lok Sabha election, fearing strong anti-incumbency.

Also Read | 400? 272? 210?

In neighbouring Haryana, where the BJP had won 9 and 10 (of 10) seats respectively in the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the saffron party had to contend with just 5 seats this time. In Himachal Pradesh, the BJP has won all four Lok Sabha seats.

The BJP could not open its account in Tamil Nadu, could win just one seat in Kerala, but walked shoulder to shoulder with the Congress in Telangana, winning 8 seats each. It registered a decline in West Bengal from 18 to 12 seats and slumped to 17 seats in Maharashtra from the massive 41 when the undivided Shiv Sena was part of the alliance. The BJP could not compensate for the exit of the Shiv Sena despite breaking it as well as the NCP into two and allying with the breakaway factions of both.

In Karnataka, the BJP alone had won 25 Lok Sabha seats in 2019, but the BJP and Janata Dal (Secular), despite an alliance, could win only 19 seats.

Addressing a joint press conference at the AICC headquarters, Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge, Sonia Gandhi, and Rahul Gandhi described the outcome as a “victory of the people”. Claiming that it is a “mandate against Modi” with no single party securing a majority, Kharge lauded the impact of Rahul’s two yatras as the base of Congress’ election campaign and manifesto. Rahul Gandhi said the country has unanimously and clearly stated that it does not want Narendra Modi and Amit Shah to run the country. “The poorest, the weakest, the Dalits, the backwards have saved the Constitution” through this mandate, Gandhi said.

Asked about the possibility of the INDIA coalition exploring government formation, Gandhi said the INDIA coalition will meet on June 5 to decide the next course.

Samajwadi Party MP Javed Ali Khan said, “People have rejected the BJP’s bid to spread confusion and carry out its divisive politics, and the Prime Minister and the BJP should read the writing on the wall.”

Meanwhile, the BJP has harassed Chandrababu and Nitish in the past. They will have to think whether they want this kind of harassment again. Former CM of Maharashtra, Uddhav Thackeray wrote on his X handle, “We are not against Modi as a person. But we are against this dictator kind of attitude.” He continued by writing that the INDIA bloc must stake claims to form the government and added that he will participate in the INDIA meeting in Delhi tomorrow evening.

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