The battle for 2014 will not be just about localized pulls and pressures of sub-regional satraps. Narendra Modi, by his aggressive 9 month campaign all over India, has ensured that a big part of the coming election will be about a national vote of governance where Modi is the central theme. Yet, one cannot fully wish away local factors in the election of MPs. We have been arguing for weeks now here at 5Forty3 that ticket distribution is the key to success for BJP, but somehow the party has managed to bungle up in this process of giving party tickets. BJP may yet win 2014, but it may struggle to cross the 200 mark because of some horribly wrong ticket distribution decisions in key states.
Despite some amount of heartburn, BJP tickets in important heartland states of UP, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh etc. have been reasonably accurate, keeping the sole criteria of winnability as the theme. Yes, there have been duds in UP and Bihar too, like a Sakhsi Maharaj here or a Daddan Mishra there or a Ramakant Yadav somewhere else, but overall chemistry seems to be right and BJP is heading for a good performance in these states.
What is baffling is that the same party seems to be somehow strangely reluctant to get its act together in the north-western Jammu-Punjab belt, where ticket distribution can be described as pedestrian at best. What is happening behind the scenes is anybody’s guess, but one wonders why Narendra Bhai is not objecting to this abject surrender of the party? Is there really a powerful Dilli cabal based in BJP which is trying to sabotage the party’s chances of reaching beyond 220-230? Are there secret agreements to help out “friends” from the Congress (and the so called left-secular family) to win personal seats? Or is this plain incompetence? Let us try and start our analysis today with Punjab and Haryana.
Punjab and Haryana
Put together these two states have the potential to send almost a dozen BJP MPs to the parliament and there has been a very strong Modi wind (let us not yet call it a wave in the Punjabi context) blowing in these parts of India for months now. BJP seems to have given up all its advantage by getting its chemistry wrong badly. Purely going by ticket distribution mistakes alone, BJP has probably sacrificed half of its MPs at the altar in this region. Coupled with the loss of 1, if not 2 MPs in Jammu, this is a big blow to mission 200+, let alone mission 272.
Amritsar: At the outset, fielding Arun Jaitley looks like a very good decision of the BJP, for it ensures that BJP wins this seat again. Navjot Singh Sidhu, the ever sulking Sardar, has been reasonably placated by his political guru, Jaitley, so there won’t be much opposition from his side, while the Akalis too are happy to accommodate a high profile name like Arun Jaitley from an important seat like Amritsar. The city voters of the four assembly segments of Amritsar (North, West, Central and East) who were fed up with cricketer turned politician, Sidhu, are now again looking at BJP with hope, while the rural voters of Raja Sansi, Majitha and Ajnala are under the control of Shiromani Akali Dal. Had BJP again nominated Sidhu, then the Akalis would have ensured that the rural voters of those three assembly segments would have turned against BJP. Now, Jaitley will likely take this seat with a big margin.
Hoshiyarpur: Only once we move away from Amritsar, to the second seat of Hoshiyarpur does the rot become visible. Maybe the price paid for Jaitley’s sojourn in Amritsar is too steep for the party? There are two strong factions in Punjab BJP – the Kamal Sharma faction led by the state unit president and the Ashwani Sharma faction led by the Pathankot MLA – who are always at loggerheads. The Kamal Sharma faction is close to the Badals and was vehemently opposed to Sidhu’s nomination from Amritsar, so when BJP high-command obliged them, the Ashwani Sharma gang became obviously restless. In order to placate the second faction (so that all of them would work together for Jaitley’s victory), BJP seems to have made a compromise of sorts by allocating the Hoshiyarpur reserved seat to Vijay Sampla of the Ashwani Sharma faction. It is a well-known fact that Phagwara MLA Som Prakash was a much more formidable candidate from Hoshiyarpur (borne by multiple surveys in that constituency, of which data we at 5Forty3 have access to). Som Prakash, a former DC of Jalandhar and an emerging Dalit face of the BJP had lost Hoshiyarpur LS seat in the 2009 LS Polls (in a Congress wave of sorts) by merely 366 votes. As a result of all this, Vijay Sampla is struggling in this otherwise sure-shot BJP seat (it was reported in the local media that Sushma Swaraj backed Vijay Sampla vehemently, so the RSS backing of Som Prakash came a cropper).
Chandigarh: BJP’s woes in Chandigarh continue even after a decade and a half (had written this about Chandigarh, a few weeks ago, read). Sanjay Tandon, Harmohan Dhawan and Satyapal Jain the triumvirate of BJP in Chandigarh have constantly been at loggerheads for years now and as the adage goes, an outsider has benefited from this internal fight. It is widely believed that Satyapal Jain, the former two time MP from here suggested Kirron Kher’s name as a compromise formula between the three factions and the party high command accepted it. Although Chandigarh is a very cosmopolitan city, voters here do not take very well to “outsiders”, so it would be a difficult task for Mrs Kher to defeat the much tainted Pawan Kumar Bansal. AAP may not find much resonance here, but Gul Panag may get some crucial anti-Congress votes, further hurting the BJP.
Ambala: The very fact that Kumari Selja opted out of this seat tells the story of how badly the Congress is placed here, which has also apparently demoralized many grass-root workers of the party. BJP has nominated former MP, Ratan Lal Kahariya, who had won this seat in 1999 and had lost in 2009 (to Selja) by a very low margin of less than 2%. It is believed by many observers that this time Congress maybe out of contest from here at least in 3-4 assembly segments where the fight would be between BJP and BSP. As of today, BJP is ahead in Ambala city, Kalka, Panchkula, Mulana and Naraingarh assembly segments.
Kurukshetra: Naveen Jindal represents this seat and he still has tremendous clout here. BJP has nominated Rajkumar Saini, who is seen by many as a lightweight and lacking in stature to take someone as powerful as Jindal against whom there are serious allegations. It was widely speculated in the run-up to ticket distribution that BJP would put up some stalwart in this constituency (even the name of Sidhu was doing the rounds for quite some time) in order to give Jindal a run for his money, but surprisingly all parties seem to have nominated “soft” candidates against the Congress sitting MP. Even AAP, which makes big noise about corruption has nominated a complete novice much the chagrin of local AAP workers who have alleged that the party is soft on the Jindals.
Sonepat: A very recent Congress turncoat, Ramesh Kaushik has been bafflingly given the BJP ticket! One wonders what BJP managers were thinking when they allocated this seat to a Brahmin?! That too, a Brahmin imported from the Congress in a seat which has overwhelming number of Jat voters (more than 5lakh plus) and less than 5000 Brahmins! The party’s logic that since already 3 Jat leaders are contesting in Sonepat, a non-Jat leader had been chosen, is in such bad taste that it can’t even be considered a joke. Mr Kaushik was even denied a Congress MLA ticket in the 2009 assembly elections from here, but BJP has chosen to resurrect him. No wonder then that BJP’s state unit secretary and youth leader, Pradeep Sangwan, has resigned from his post and has decided to contest as an independent. What did the BJP leaders’ smoke before making this decision is a mystery that needs to be solved.
Rohtak: National president of the Kisan Morcha, Om Prakash Dhankhar has been chosen as the BJP’s candidate from here to take on the almost impossible sounding Deepender Singh Hooda who had won this seat by a whopping 4.5 lakh votes in 2009. There is some resentment here too among other aspirants like former MLA Naresh Malik and national secretary of the party, Abhimanyu Singh. Dhankhar is also seen as an outsider to this constituency, but he is probably the best choice the party has made for this herculean task. It will indeed be a mammoth task to defeat Congress from here.
Bhiwani-Mahendragarh: Former CM, Bansilal’s grand daughter and sitting Congress MP, Shruti Chaudhary is in trouble here. BJP has nominated recently joined Congress MLA, Dharambir Singh, who has considerable clout in this region. This could well be a three-cornered fight, but BJP is reportedly ahead in 5 out of 9 assembly segments as of today. Apart from Jats, Aroras and Khatri voters play a crucial role here (4-5 lakh votes).
Gurgaon and Faridabad: Rao Inderjeet Singh (sitting MP of Congress) and Krishnapal Gurjar (sitting MLA of BJP from Tigaon) have been nominated from these seats respectively. Both the seats are closer to the NCR and are interestingly poised in a multi-cornered fight. BJP seems to have an edge in both the seats, but even a minor late swing could change matters drastically, so we will have to keep a close watch on these two in the coming weeks.
BJP seems to have learnt its lessons from the December experience, so it has shown some thinking out of the box in Delhi by nominating some very interesting names as LS candidates (while Congress still has its hubris intact and has named 5 sitting MPs despite last year’s severe drubbing in the assembly elections). Yet, BJP could have done more, for instance, persuading Kiran Bedi to contest from either Chandni Chowk or New Delhi would have been a great move that would have potentially proved to be a death-knell for AAP. Similarly, just for electoral reasons, having Subramainian Swamy, seen as a crusader against the dynastic corruption, in one of the Delhi seats would have sent hugely positive signals down the line. For instance, BJP should have positioned Swamy as a champion against corruption who walks the talk unlike Kejriwal who is all talk and no action. Whatever be Swamy’s past equation with BJP-RSS, Modi should try and utilize the services of Dr Subramanian Swamy, if not for his vast experience and inherently right socio-political and economic outlook, but at least for the simple reason that a Subramanian Swamy as a friend is far more useful than a Subramanian Swamy as an enemy is lethal.
Chandni Chowk: This could be a tight 3-cornered fight, where Kapil Sibal cannot be simply ruled out because AAP may eat into a lot of anti-Sibal votes. Does Harshvardhan stand a chance? Definitely yes, in fact, BJP has an edge as of now in at least 4 assembly segments. If AAP divides the minority votes, then it is advantage BJP, but if it divides anti-Sibal votes, then it is advantage Congress and if it does both then it is advantage AAP. Had Kiran Bedi been nominated from here, it would have been game-set-and-match for the BJP, but now it’s a close race that we need to follow.
North East Delhi: BJP has a distinct advantage in this seat and has done a great job by nominating Bhojpuri superstar, Manoj Tiwari who has tremendous fan following among the heartland voters – there are 45% Purvanchali voters in this constituency. AAP’s candidate has created some heartburn among its MLAs, which may or may not affect the party as its legislators do not have any personal clout. Congress, which is currently placed in the 3rd position is banking mostly on the 25% Muslim votes to win from here, which may get divided this time, especially because BSP has fielded a rebel Congress Muslim leader from here. In the Delhi assembly, BJP has 5, AAP-3 and Congress -2 MLAs.
East Delhi: Another inspired choice by BJP in the form of a new age Yoga Guru who has tremendous following and also derives support from AOL. This is a seriously three-cornered fight, as Congress’s Sandeep Dixit is one of those rare Congress leader’s here who still has touch with ground realities, while AAP has good support base here and BJP has shown great deal of invention in its ticket distribution. As of now, it looks like Sandeep Dixit is ahead, but this can go any which way, so we will put it in the “too-close-to-call” category.
New Delhi: Just the sheer fact that AAP had won 7 out of 10 MLA’s in this parliamentary seat, including the biggie, Arvind Kejriwal defeating Sheila Dixit, makes it an AAP seat by default. BJP has nominated Meenakshi Lekhi, who may end up as a brave loser, but had the party nominated Subramanian Swamy from here, he would definitely have taken the fight to the opposition camp. In all this milieu, sitting MP Ajay Maken of the Congress is virtually out of the race.
North-West Delhi: BJP is strong in this seat and has nominated its neo Dalit face, Udit Raj who seems to have an edge, especially considering that AAP has messed up its ticket distribution (Mahendra Singh has retired from contest and the uber controversial Rakhi Birla is likely to be the party candidate from here). BJP has 6 sitting legislators and AAP and Congress have two each.
West and South Delhi: BJP has nominated Parvesh Verma and Ramesh Bidhuri from these seats respectively. Both seats could be tough for the party in a three cornered fight.
Patna Sahib: Shatrugna Sinha has been re-nominated from this seat, although there were reports that he might be dropped this time for his less than cordial relationship with Modi and co. Sinha who had won the last election by a big margin of over 30%, still has tremendous following here. It is also widely believed that filmstar Sinha’s close ties with Bihar CM Nistish Kumar will ensure that the JDU tacitly supports him in this election.
Maharajganj: Sitting Chapra MLA and ex labour resources minister, Janardhan Singh Sigriwal has been nominated by the BJP from here to take on Prabhunath Singh who had won a by election on the RJD ticket with a huge 1.5 lakh margin, which was a precursor to Nistish’s falling graph. As of today, RJD enjoys an edge on this seat and it would require a lot of work from the BJP to wrest this seat which is dominated by Thakur, Brahmin and Yadav votes.
All the tickets are along expected lines, except for Kanker and Rajnandgaon. In Kanker, BJP has replaced sitting MP with minister, Vikram Usendi, who had surprisingly won his Antagarh assembly seat in December despite a counter-current in that region. In Rajnandgaon, sitting MP Madhusudan Yadav has been denied ticket to make way for CM Raman Singh’s son Abhishek Singh, which is setting dangerous precedents in the saffron camps (with MP CM, Shivraj Singh too likely to nominate his wife for Vidisha Assembly bypoll, BJP will soon start to resemble just another dynastic party; one more reason why Modi should be the model that BJP should build upon for the future). The two other constituencies that we should look out for are Sarguja and Bilaspur where again new candidates (Kamalbhan Singh and Lakhanlal Sau respectively) have been nominated in the first LS polls after the death of the towering Dilip Singh Judeo. BJP should easily win anywhere between 8 to 11 seats in Chhattisgarh as per ground reports.
The Uttarakhand list too is along expected lines, including the candidature of Pokhriyal from Hardwar which may irritate purists, but the fact is that he easily passes the “winnability” criteria. With strong local and national anti-incumbency, BJP should reap a rich harvest from this Himalayan state.