Ever since the rise of BJP in the late 80’s and early 90’s, it has had its strongest base in the biggest metropolitan areas. Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore have been three prime showcases for the party for many decades now. The one consistently missing city in that list has been Kolkata where the party never gained much acceptance, no matter how much it tried. The deeply Left infested culture of the city and the narrative control exercised by the Bhadralok meant that there was little scope for a saffron ascent in Kolkata.
After decades long struggle, finally BJP may realize its dream of adding Kolkata to its kitty of urban metropolitan areas that have been re-Hinduised. Data available till post-noon today suggests that there is a virtually equal battle in both Kolkata north and Kolkata south Lok Sabha constituencies. What has happened till now at least is that the Left vote-share has literally halved and it has mostly gone towards BJP, while TMC has lost a bit of its 2014 support due to general wear and tear of anti-incumbency. Although both seats are currently in the tossup category, BJP should really be happy with the current state of play as it stands a real chance of causing an upset in both the seats.
In the Kolkata North seat there seem to be two kinds of polarizations happening. At one level, there is the Hindu vote polarization cutting across caste, ethnic divides and at the second level there is now a Bengali v/s non-Bengali polarization wherein the Hindi speaking non-Bengali voters are seen to be solidly backing the BJP and the Bengalis standing behind Mamata Didi. Because of two levels of polarizations, both these undercurrents also keep bisecting each other at many cross-points. One must remember that there are nearly 6 lakh Hindi speaking voters from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and other heartland states in this parliamentary seat and they do play a decisive role in electing the winner. Therefore finally, Rahul Sinha, the erstwhile BJP chief of Bengal may prove to be 10th time lucky after having lost 9 straight times in assembly as well as national elections.
Kolkata South too is surprisingly in the tossup category. This is a decades old stronghold of TMC which was Mamata Banerjee’s MP constituency until she became the Chief Minister, so BJP even coming close here is indicative of a massive transformation in Bengali politics. Having put up Netaji Bose’s relative Chandra Bose in this seat, the saffron party seems to have made some smart gains here. Among other seats which are voting today, Mathurapur could be another constituency where BJP may gain, whereas it is putting up a strong showing in all urban seats too, except for Jadavpur where the fight is between TMC and the Left.
Over the last two months we have been articulating in so many analytical pieces about the unprecedented rise of BJP in Bengal and we have given enough evidence of this rise till now. Yet, we would like to explain this from the lowest common denominator of a polling booth, so that you can get further clarity as to what is happening in that crucial state. Out of the 72000 odd polling booths of Bengal, our MAPi – Micro Analytics Projections (INTELLIGENTSIA) – trackers have classified 44000 as Hindu booths wherein the Muslim population is anywhere between 0 to 20%. Of the 28000 Muslim polling booths, 10500 are classified as high concentration booths with 50% or more Muslim voters and 17500 are classified as medium concentration ones with population anywhere between 20 to 50%.
MAPi trackers have observed that BJP’s vote-share has increased the highest in Hindu booths and the lowest in high Muslim concentrated areas. This is generally contrary to all India trends because wherever there is high Muslim concentration, Hindus counter polarize in favor of the BJP, thereby increasing the vote-share pie of the saffron party. But, here in Bengal the opposite seems to be happening. This is the unique story of Bengal, for what is happening here is appropriation of the Left political infrastructure by the BJP. Vast number of Hindu Left leaders and workers are shifting to BJP in Hindu areas, whereas they are either remaining with the Left or some even shifting towards TMC in Muslim areas which is why we are seeing such a skewed growth trajectory of saffron party.
In the other key state of Uttar Pradesh, the trends of the 6 previous rounds continue today also. Yet, there seems to be slightly better gains among Yadav and Jatav voters for the BJP, once again highlighting the problems of vote transfer between the opposition alliance partners. Quite a few political pundits who simply believed that the arithmetic of elections will work out in a linear fashion are baffled by this “betrayal” of the caste voters of UP. A local journalist had argued with me at the start of the elections that, “it happened in neighboring Bihar, why should it (vote transfer between SP and BSP) not happen in UP?”
This is where the argument is facetious because these alliances are structurally different. Why did the JDU-RJD-Congress alliance work so seamlessly in Bihar? The answer is simple, because none of those parties have fought elections all over the state in more than two decades. JDU whether in alliance with the BJP or the RJD fights the same number of seats whether in 2010 or 2015. Similarly RJD also fought same number of seats because earlier it used to have an alliance with Paswan’s LJP, Congress party and the Communists. In essence, the allies shift in Bihar, but their areas of focus remain the same, so any Gatbandhan will be complimentary in nature.
In Uttar Pradesh, the situation is diametrically opposite. Here, both SP and BSP have been not only fighting elections all over the state against each other but also have core vote bases which are antagonistic to each other, except for Muslims. “Mayawati has given us so much, but now she has tied up with Ahirs (Yadavs) who have terrorized us till now, how can I vote for them” asked a 60+ year old Prabha Devi, a Jatav Dalit voter in Phulpur last week. Her dilemma sums up the state of many core voters of both these parties, quite a few among them have chosen the Lotus whereever they couldn’t find their respective party symbols.
The problem for both these parties is not limited to disenchantment among sections of core voters, it goes a bit deeper. The bottom-line is that both the parties have sacrificed more than 40 MP seats each that they used to fight in the past in order to form this alliance. Such sudden severing of ties with your political structure does not come without political cost. Just remember there will be leaders and workers in those 40 odd MP seats who would have spent millions over the decades and built the party to fulfill their political ambitions of becoming an MP or an MLA. Now to suddenly realize that they will never stand a chance in the future of getting any office would shake the very foundations of the party in those regions. Quite a few SP-BSP leaders have therefore joined BJP in the last one year, still others are working at cross purposes to their party’s interests in this election. Such a problem did not exist in Bihar 2015 because of only partial presence of all the parties in that state, but in UP it has left a lot of grey areas for the Mahagatbandhan.
Based on all the data till now, we are making our final projections for Uttar Pradesh, although a few more hours of voting is still left (we believe the final few hours of voting can hardly make any big dent in these projections). As per our macro-trackers, BJP+ is actually gaining almost 3 percentage positive swing while the alliance is losing vote-share due to 5% negative swing. Surprisingly, Congress is also gaining a couple of points and moving from around 8% to 10% this time around. We have seen through all these phases that Congress gains are at the cost of the SP-BSP alliance, especially among a section of Muslim voters who are voting for Congress in the national elections because they believe that SP-BSP together cannot stop the BJP with their paltry 30 odd MPs.
As we have already explained so many times, we are using two separate models for vote-share analysis and seat projections, so it is not a vote-to-seat conversion formula anymore. MAPi is used to track seat-wise projections and has currently allocated 54 seats to the BJP and has left 16 seats in the tossup zone. MGB currently has leads in 8 seats and Congress in 2 (once the full voting is done, we can redistribute the tossup seats based on probability models). In short, BJP should easily take home about 60 seats and may even inch closer to its 2014 tally if the swing booths tilt slightly in favor of Modi.