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Why BJP’s 80/80 will prove a tall order in Uttar Pradesh

Even the first leg of the Lok Sabha election on April 19 poses a challenge: the ruling party might not sweep all eight seats.

Published : Apr 17, 2024 19:41 IST - 9 MINS READ

: BJP supporters wear masks of Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a public meeting ahead of Lok Sabha polls in Noida on April 13, 2024.

: BJP supporters wear masks of Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a public meeting ahead of Lok Sabha polls in Noida on April 13, 2024. | Photo Credit: PTI

Even before electioneering began in the country’s most populous State, the bigwigs of BJP were bragging that the ruling party would sweep Uttar Pradesh (UP). “We will win all 80 seats in UP this time” was the oft-repeated assertion by Union Home Minister Amit Shah.

As the BJP’s campaign mounted, the 80/80 target became a talking point. Some visible hiccups in the INDIA front’s unity gave credibility to the façade of invincibility crafted by the BJP. The slogan was not mere wishful thinking: there was a strategy behind it. With the party almost at saturation point in other States in the Hindi heartland—particularly Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Haryana—it sees the most scope for growth in UP where it now has 62 seats.

That means winning 18 more seats, which seems like a tall order. At the threshold of the first round of polling, the BJP’s rank and file are realising that it might not be roses all the way.

What fuelled the first stirrings of insecurity was the steadily reducing footfall at the much-hyped Ram Mandir. The temple drew unprecedented crowds for the first two months, but the numbers dropped thereafter. No sooner did the BJP realise that its hopes of earning endless political dividends from the temple might not be fulfilled, the tone of the speeches by the party’s top campaigners got a systematic twist. From Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Shah, every leader moved to communally charged vitriol to provoke Hindu polarisation.

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In his speeches, Modi lambasted his rivals for “eating non-vegetarian food” during “Navratra” and claimed that this came from a “Mughal mindset”. He went on to accuse the Congress of “hating the Ram temple”. Modi even declared that the Congress party’s manifesto bore “the Muslim League imprint”.

This tone dominates the BJP’s campaign in the eight Lok Sabha constituencies that go to polls in the first round on April 19. Spread over a sizeable part of the agriculturally-rich western UP, the constituencies are Pilibhit, Muzaffarnagar, Saharanpur, Rampur, Nagina, Bijnore, Kairana and Moradabad. They have a sizeable population of farmers, whose distress has been visible in the past few years and whose votes will be crucial.

In 2014, all these eight seats went to the BJP, when the party bagged 71 of the State’s 80 Lok Sabha seats and its allies won two.

In 2014, all these eight seats went to the BJP, when the party bagged 71 of the State’s 80 Lok Sabha seats and its allies won two.

The 2020 farmers’ protest was followed by the 2023 protest when farmers expressed solidarity with the women wrestlers against the BJP MP and Indian Wrestling Federation chief Brij Bhushan Singh. This year, farmers protested again, demanding a minimum support price for all crops.

The Modi government, however, found a different way to win over the farmers, who are mostly from the dominant Jat community in western UP. India’s top civilian award, the Bharat Ratna, was given posthumously to former Prime Minister Chaudhary Charan Singh, who is treated like a demi-god not merely by the Jat community but by all farmers. For Singh’s grandson, Jayant Chaudhary, who now heads the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), Modi’s offer was too good to refuse. He instantly marched out of the INDIA bloc and joined the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). In tow, came a chunk of the Jat community.

Traditionally, the combination of Jats and Muslims is seen as fairly formidable in most of these eight constituencies, but the BJP forged a sharp rift between the two communities in the wake of the infamous Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013 in which some 70 people died and over 50,000 were displaced.

In 2014, all eight seats went to the BJP, when the party bagged 71 of the State’s 80 Lok Sabha seats and its allies won two. In 2019, when the Samajwadi party (SP) joined hands with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the RLD, BJP lost five of the eight seats and its tally in UP rolled down to 62. Three each went to the SP and BJP, and two to the BSP.

In this election, the RLD has switched to the NDA and BSP’s Mayawati already looks compromised, thanks to the CBI sword hanging over her head. Her party’s tally shot up to 10 seats in 2019 because of its alliance with SP, but stands battered today, bearing the tag of being “BJP’s Team B”. Mayawati’s decision to go solo also means that her party will divide the Muslim vote and thereby help the BJP.


The BJP won Pilibhit in 2019 largely because of Varun Gandhi’s personal clout and popularity; but his outspokenness on economic affairs earned him Modi’s wrath and cost him the ticket. His mother Maneka Gandhi, who earlier cultivated this constituency and won a couple of times, has got the Sultanpur ticket. Keeping Varun out, however, has made things extremely difficult for the BJP. “It will be an uphill task for BJP’s Jitin Prasada, a Congress turncoat,” said a local journalist. Besides hailing from the neighbouring district of Shahjahanpur, Prasada has no political connections with Pilibhit, but BJP insiders are confident he will sail through on Modi’s name.

Prasada is also being challenged because of intelligent candidate selection by the SP, whose leader Akhilesh Yadav picked five-term SP MLA Bhagwat Saran Gangwar, a powerful leader from the Kurmi community, which is dominant in the region. A large chunk of Kurmis have been rallying behind the BJP, but Gangwar’s candidature could change equations. “This is a good chance for our numerical strength to be recognised,” said a veteran Kurmi and long-time BJP supporter. Despite Mayawati fielding Anees Ahmed Khan, alias ‘Phool Babu’, Muslims as well as Sikhs are openly pledging support for Gangwar.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and Samajwadi Party President Akhilesh Yadav during a joint press conference in Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh on April 17, 2024.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and Samajwadi Party President Akhilesh Yadav during a joint press conference in Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh on April 17, 2024. | Photo Credit: SHASHI SHEKHAR KASHYAP


Saharanpur is the only seat among the eight where the Congress has a nominee, Imran Masood, against whom Mayawati has fielded Majid Ali. But Ali is likely to be a marginal spoiler. With Masood confident of the full support of some 3.5 lakh Muslim voters in the constituency, this has become a one-on-one contest between Masood and the BJP’s Raghav Lakhanpal. According to journalist B.P. Gautam, “Masood’s strength lies in being the nephew of the local political stalwart, Rashid Masood, a nine-term MP. His family’s popularity cuts across religious barriers.” Masood’s edge over Lakhanpal depends on how many of SP’s non-Muslim votes get transferred to him.


Another key seat, Rampur is widely known as the bastion of Azam Khan, the erstwhile Muslim poster boy of the SP. He won the seat in 2019 by a margin of 1.09 lakh votes. But since his conviction by a court in one of 82 criminal cases slapped by the Adityanath government, Azam’s clout has faded. He has, however, adamantly opposed every nominee suggested by Akhilesh Yadav, insisting instead that Akhilesh contest from Rampur.

An obviously reluctant Akhilesh has now handpicked the innocuous imam Moitullah Nadwi, who heads a mosque in Delhi’s Parliament Street. While there is some talk of the Muslim vote going to the imam, it will be no surprise if the BJP candidate Ghanshyam Singh Lodhi repeats his 2022 by-election victory, especially because Mayawati’s nominee Zeeshan Ali is unlikely to do much besides splitting a section of the Muslim and Dalit vote.

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SP’s S.T. Hasan romped home from this seat in 2019, but Azam Khan has prevailed upon Akhilesh to replace Hasan with his protégé Ruchi Veera. This means “the BJP’s Sarvesh Kumar Singh stands a good chance,” said well-known journalist Brijesh Shukla. A local MLA from the SP agreed: “Hasan could have won hands down but strangely Akhilesh Yadav has succumbed to Azam Khan’s pressure,” but he added that “the contest will still be tough, and no cake walk for the BJP”.


Once a BJP stronghold, Kairana is looking at a tough bout between the BJP’s sitting MP Pradeep Chaudhary and SP’s Iqra Hasan, whose grandfather, father, and mother have all been MPs from here. Hasan’s mother Tabassum Hasan was defeated by Pradeep Chaudhary in 2019, but Chaudhary is facing tremendous anti-incumbency because of his inaccessibility and failure to deliver.

Hasan has followed in the footsteps of her family and thrown open her doors to the public, which is seen as her biggest strength. Not only Muslims but also a section of the divided Jat community has come out in her support. Interestingly, Mayawati has not fielded a Muslim here, opting for Sreepal Singh, a Rajput, who is unlikely to cut much ice.


Won by BSP in 2019, the Bijnore seat is significant because Mayawati made her Lok Sabha debut from here in 1989, going on to take her party to power over the next six years.

Sidelining Malook Nagar who won the seat in 2019, Mayawati has picked the less-known Bijendra Singh. The SP had initially announced Yashvir Singh as nominee but barely a week later switched to Deepak Saini. Bijnore, however, was allotted to RLD by NDA, and it will be a litmus test for Jayant Chaudhary, who has chosen Chandan Chauhan as his party’s candidate. With BJP’s support, it may not be a tough battle for RLD.

Bheem Army Chief Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan during  ‘Arakshan Bachao’ rally organised by Azad Samaj Party.

Bheem Army Chief Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan during ‘Arakshan Bachao’ rally organised by Azad Samaj Party. | Photo Credit: FARUQUI AM


Nagina is a reserved seat that was won by the BSP in 2019. This time, the seat will determine the future of Dalit politics in UP, with Chandrashekhar Azad “Ravan” openly challenging BSP supremo Mayawati. The educated and aggressive young Dalit leader is in the fray on his own; his efforts to be a part of the INDIA bloc were frustrated by none other than Akhilesh Yadav for reasons best known to him. Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi was inclined to take him on board, but Akhilesh prevailed over her. “By keeping him out, the INDIA bloc has harmed itself,” said journalist Anand Vardhan Singh. “It is understandable that Mayawati sees him as a rival for Dalit votes, but why should Akhilesh do this unless he wants BJP to win the seat?” he asked.

Also in the fray are the BJP’s Om Kumar, the BSP’s Surendra Pal Singh, and the SP’s Manoj Kumar.


The Jat stronghold of Muzaffarnagar is a key farmers’ belt in western UP where the outcome will be determined by the Jat vote. The contest is essentially between BJP’s Sanjeev Balyan, a Minister of State in the Modi government, and the SP’s veteran politician Harendra Malik. The BSP’s OBC candidate Dara Singh Prajapati may not have much play here.

Balyan shot into the spotlight by defeating RLD stalwart and Chaudhary Charan Singh’s son Ajit Singh in a straight fight in 2019. Ajit Singh is no more but, ironically, his son and current RLD chief Jayant Chaudhary is campaigning for Balyan. According to analysts, this could backfire, and has already forged a sharp divide among the Jats of the area. With Muslims falling behind the SP, Harendra Malik stands a fair chance.

Given these odds in the first eight seats, the BJP is moving heaven and earth to whip up communal passions and pave the way for Hindu consolidation. Whether this will help the party go past its 2019 score of three of eight is the big suspense.

Sharat Pradhan is a senior journalist, political analyst, and commentator based in Lucknow. 

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