Fifty-nine seats are at stake in the last phase of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections that will take place on Sunday, 19 May. Seven states — Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and one Union Territory —Chandigarh will go to the polls this weekend.
What is at stake for the BJP and will this phase decide if Prime Minister Narendra Modi will come back to his office?
Nistula Hebbar, Political Editor at The Hindu, Amitabh Tiwari, political analyst and strategist and Aditi Phadnis, Political Editor of Business Standard, joined BloombergQuint's Harsha Subramaniam to discuss this question.
This phase is very critical for BJP, Tiwari said, because PM Modi himself is contesting from Varanasi. In eastern UP, 13 seats are up for grabs and last time the BJP had won all the seats there, Tiwari said, adding that if one looks at vote share, it is obvious that NDA is better placed in this phase in UP.
Moreover, Congress had only three out of the 59 seats last time, so this phase is very important for the party as well, Tiwari said.The Congress’ best case scenario is to cross the 100-seat mark, Hebbar said, adding that in order to do that, the party needed to make further inroads in this last phase. They have a good chance in Punjab, their allies have a good chance in Jharkhand and they are well placed in MP as well, she said.
Talking about Uttar Pradesh, Phadnis said that some of the seats in UP such as Ghazipur were hotly contested ones even at the height of the Modi wave. Even now, BSP candidate Afzal Ansari will give BJP candidate Manoj Sinha a run for his money, she added. Gorakhpur too is a seat which has multiple centres of power, Phadnis said, adding that there is an understated sense of rivalry in the seat.
On the situation in Madhya Pradesh, Tiwari said that Pragya Thakur's comments will not affect phase seven voters in the state, because issues such as agrarian distress will play a more important role, Tiwari said.
Hebbar agreed with this, but said that Thakur’s comments did raise a question in every other space of the elections. Speaking about the same, Phadnis said that she wondered how the BJP would reign Thakur in the future, since she had already gotten the party in trouble with her comments over Karkare.
Tiwari said that West Bengal is in the top five states if seen by the number of PM Modi's rallies this time, adding that Amit Shah and Modi were hoping to get some seats in Bengal to make up for the losses in the Hindi heartland. The Left has an important role to play in the state, having gotten 30 percent vote share in 2014. It all depends on the collapse of the Left, he added. Noting that the Left and the Congress together had gotten 40 percent vote share last time, Tiwari said that even if BJP gets half of the Left's seats, it can win 10-12 seats in the state. If there is any consolidation in favour of the BJP, there will be trouble for Mamata, Tiwari further added.
Hebbar said that BJP had been working on its project West Bengal for a long time and Mukul Roy joining the party was a point in favour of the party. BJP has proved that it has the muscle to take on the aggression of the ruling party TMC, she added.
In Bihar, the BJP-JD(U) alliance is going to have a clean sweep, despite the Opposition joining forces because of serious fault lines between them, said Phadnis. Moreover, they will not be able to withstand the caste dynamic that Nitish Kumar brings to the table as well as the upper caste angle that the BJP seeks to use, she added.
Tiwari pointed out that NDA had won six out of the eight seats last time, and they seem to have a significant edge over the Mahagathbandhan. NDA has an advantage greater than 15 percent in most of the seats in Bihar, he said, adding that caste will play a key role in Bihar this election.