As the election juggernaut begins for possibly the most important election since 1977, BJP announced its first list of 54 names late yesterday evening. Indian elections will be essentially fought at the local level, so it is not just Modi that matters for BJP, but getting each ticket right in terms of local equations is of primary importance. Here is a quick and brief analysis of the first list by BJP.
North India (The Heartland)
Two states have been dealt with in the 1st list – J&K and Himachal Pradesh, in both the states 1 seat each has been left out for now (Srinagar in J&K and Mandi in Himachal Pradesh) – both not winnable for BJP as of now. There are almost no surprises in the remaining seats as the selection process has been along expected lines.
Hamirpur will see BJYM national president Anurag Thakur defending his family pocket borough, which he should be able to do pretty easily. Congress doesn’t even have a strong candidate to put up against him and is depending on rebel BJP leader, a onetime protégé of former CM Prem Kumar Dhumal (Anurag Thakur’s father) who is also an independent MLA in the current assembly, Rajinder Singh Rana. BJP had won this seat by a big 72000+ votes in 2009 by taking a lead in 14 of the 17 assembly segments. This time too, Thakur is ahead in at least 11 assembly segments (as per ground reports), so it would be a herculean task to defeat him.
Kangra will see the veteran BJP leader, former CM, Shanta Kumar, once again trying his luck at the age of 79. Here, his onetime protégé and sitting (rebel) BJP MP, Dr. Rajan Sushant will be contesting on the AAP ticket, but fight will be mainly between BJP and Congress. This is a tough seat for the BJP, for it had just managed to scrape through with 3% margin in 2009, but if anybody can win this one, it has to be Shanta Kumar who still has tremendous grip over this constituency. Congress is a divided house in Kangra, as CM Virbhadra Singh wants OBC leader and former MP, Chander Kumar to contest as the party candidate, but high command wants to pit union minister Chandresh Kumari Katoch, a royal from Rajasthan, as a counter to the formidable Shanta Kumar. As of today, BJP enjoys a slight advantage here.
Shimla will again see sitting BJP MP, Virender Kashyap, trying to defend his seat and his likely opponent from Congress could be Mohan lal Bragta (Sitting MLA of Rohru). This is a very tough seat which can go any which way and the ruling Congress party has some advantage as this is Virbhadra territory. As per current ground reports, both BJP and Congress are ahead in 7 assembly segments each, while 3 are too close to call.
Jammu and Kashmir:
There isn’t much to write about Anantnag, Baramulla and Ladakh, so we’ll limit our analysis to Jammu and Udhampur. In Jammu, BJP state unit president, Jugal Kishore Sharma will be taking on sitting Congress MP, Madan lal Sharma. This is an almost even contest where anti-incumbency and Modi dynamics may play a crucial role. Aknoor, Rajouri and Surankote assembly segments will decide who wins this seat.
In Udhampur BJP has chosen state spokesperson, Dr. Jitender Singh, who definitely has an edge over Congress. Even in 2009, BJP had lost the seat narrowly despite taking pole position in more assembly segments than Congress. Unless something drastic occurs in the next 2 months, BJP is likely to win this seat easily.
Western India (Southern Hemisphere):
Apart from Goa, here BJP has only taken up the difficult state of Maharashtra in the first list, a state which has always been dominated by the Congress culture. This is also a state where sub-regional political fiefdoms largely control the electoral narrative and BJP has indeed made some smart choices. This is also a state where AAP is supposed to have some electoral relevance outside the national capital region, so BJP has to think out of the box, especially in urbanized pockets. Yet BJP hasn’t fallen into the “civil society trap” and has given importance to electoral realities rather than TV studio evangelism.
Mumbai North: Over the last decade or so, Congress has made Mumbai its bastion, so it would be a herculean task for BJP-SS to storm this fortress. If there is one weak link in this strong Congress fort, it is Mumbai North, where BJP can win if MNS doesn’t cut too many of the Sena-BJP votes. Sitting MLA, Gopal Shetti is a very good choice indeed. Now the plan has to be to consolidate Marathi votes and the votes of the business community (who are expected to back Modi). AAP may also play a spoiler for Congress’s Sanjay Nirupam, so this a seat where BJP has a theoretical edge in 2014.
Mumbai North East: Kirit Somaiya has been re-nominated here and he would take on NCP strongman Sanjay Dina Patil. There are two major X-Factors in this constituency – the role of MNS and Gujarati voters – both had gone against BJP in 2009 and yet Dr. Kirit Somaiya had lost by a margin of only 0.4% (less than 3000 votes). This time the Gujarati voters, who had voted for Congress due to Manmohan Singh being perceived as pro-business in 2009, are expected to back BJP to the hilt due to the Modi factor. Last time Sanjay Dina Patil of NCP had emerged victorious solely based on his huge lead in Shivaji Nagar assembly segment, whereas MNS had emerged in the pole position in 3 assembly segments. This time too Vikhroli, Bhandup west and Ghatkopar west will be crucial to BJP’s chances.
Dhule: This is as close as BJP has come to civil society, by denying ticket to sitting BJP MP and instead nominating Dr Subhash Bhamre, a noted surgeon of Dhule. Bhamre had narrowly lost the assembly election on a Shiv Sena ticket in 2004 and is not exactly new to politics, but definitely has a freshness to him. Dhule has about 7 lakh Maratha votes and 4 lakh minority votes, so a clear polarization is required for BJP to emerge victorious here. Last time in 2009, Molvi Nihal Ahmed had contested on the JDS ticket and had got 72k votes which had helped BJP win by about 20k margin.
In Beed, Gopinath Munde should easily sail through, while in Nagpur the sheer stature of Nitin Gadkari would help him win the seat. In both these parliamentary constituencies AAP is losing deposits as of now. Similarly, Sanjay Dhotre in Akola and Hansraj Ahir from Chandrapur are poised to defend their respective seats. Raosaheb Danve Patil from Jalna was also an easy choice for the BJP as there were hardly any other contenders. Dilipkumar Gandhi too is in a strong position in Ahmednagar.
Among the three ST seats of Dindori, Gadchiroli-Chimur and Palghar, BJP is ahead in Dindori, where sitting MP Harishchandra Chohan has been re-nominated. Gadchiroli-Chimur will see a tough fight and Palghar may not favour BJP even in 2014 as it is a Aghadi stronghold.
Sangli is a seat that Congress has never lost in post-independent India, it’s an area where Congressism is so deeply entrenched that even at the height of anti-Congress atmosphere in the mid-90s when BJP-SS had captured Maharashtra and Vajpayee was ruling India, Congress repeatedly won the seat in 96, 98 and 99. Realizing that here only Congressism can defeat Congress, BJP has nominated Sanjay Kaka Patil, a rebel NCP MLC. It remains to be seen if a Modi wave can achieve what JP couldn’t achieve after emergency, Rajiv didn’t lose in 1989 and Vajpayee-Thackeray couldn’t engineer in the 90s.
D.B. Patil had won Nanded in 2004 and he has been re-nominated to take on the Congress which rectifies a mistake committed in 2009 when he was denied ticket. There is some amount of religious polarization here and that will have a crucial electoral impact. It remains to be seen if Congress nominates Adarsh-tainted Ashok Chavan (or his wife) from here.
Sitting MP, Sripad Yesso Naik should sail through from North Goa, but south Goa is the real challenge for Manohar Parrikar. South Goa election will tell us how successful Parrikar has been in incorporating Christians into the BJP fold as has been widely reported.
The East India
BJP has token presence in most of these states, yet winning a few seats here and there could be crucial for the party in adding up numbers towards majority. In the first list, BJP hasn’t touched on the most important region of the state, Assam, where seat-sharing is apparently still being explored.
Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram:
Kiran Rijeju is obviously the best bet for BJP from the North-East apart from Assam. He had lost Arunachal West by a heartbreakingly narrow margin of 0.5% in 2009 despite winning 17 assembly segments (Congress had won 16) and is widely expected to emerge victorious this time. Not much is known about the electoral trends of Manipur, but BJP is apparently gaining some traction there, especially in the Inner Manipur seat, where Indira Oinam was denied ticket which had let to protests. Both the tickets have been given to academics in Manipur, Dr R.K. Ranjan and Prof Gangumei Kamei.
Odisha and West Bengal:
Of all the 6 names announced from Odisha, BJP has the strongest possibility of winning in Sundargarh where Jual Oram will possibly take on Hemanand Biswal of Congress. Oram had lost by a narrow 12k votes in 2009. In West Bengal, Rahul Sinha, the state unit president, may put up a strong fight in Kolkata North. Other than these two seats, cannot visualize anybody else having an electoral impact, from the 17 names of West Bengal and 6 names from Odisha that BJP has announced yesterday.