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Opinion: Road to 2024: Will Phase 7 Be The Decider? What Numbers Say

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As many as 90% of Lok Sabha constituencies have voted so far in the six phases of elections, and the remaining – 57 in total – will go to polls in the final phase on June 1. For perspective, till phase 6 in 2019, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had won 278 seats. Will Narendra Modi pull off a win in the final over, or will the opposition be able to rein in the BJP juggernaut?

The seats going to polls in the final phase of the Lok Sabha election are spread across eight states and Union Territories: Bihar (8), Chandigarh (1), Himachal (4), Jharkhand (3), Odisha (6), Uttar Pradesh (13), West Bengal (9) and Punjab (13).

High-profile battles include Varanasi (Narendra Modi), Patliputra (Lalu Yadav’s daughter Misa Bharti), Basirhat (Sandeshkhali protester Rekha Patra), Karakat (Bhojpuri singer Pawan Singh), Kendrapara (Baijayant Panda), Bathinda (Hasmirat Kaur Badal), Amritsar (Taranjit Singh Sandhu, ex-Ambassador to USA), Ludhiana (Ravneet Bittu), Patna Sahib (Ravi Shankar Prasad).

How Parties Performed In 2019

At 51, the BJP is contesting the most number of seats; the Janata Dal (United) and Apna Dal are fighting for two each. The Congress is vying for 31 seats, the Samajwadi Party (SP) for nine, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) 13, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) three, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) nine, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) 13, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) six, and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) 56. In 2019, the BJP had won 25 of the 57 seats voting in this phase; eight were won with a margin of less than 10% votes, while 17 were won with an over 10% margin. The Congress, meanwhile, got just eight seats.

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Alliance-wise, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) won 30 seats in total in 2019, the INDIA bloc constituents 19, and non-aligned parties bagged eight seats. This was one of the tougher phases for the BJP in 2019 as it could win just 44% of the seats on offer. In all other phases except the first, fourth and seventh, the BJP had managed to win more than 60% seats. The NDA's average victory margin was 18%, while INDIA bloc constituents' was 12%.

The BJP contested 42 seats in 2019 and won 25, and its strike rate in this phase was 60% against an overall success rate of 69%. In 28 of these 42 seats, the party's vote share was more than 40%. The Congress, on the other hand, contested 42 seats but won only eight, with a strike rate of 19% against an overall 12%.

In terms of turnout, this phase saw 65.1% voting in 2014 and 65.3% in 2019. This year, in four of the six phases so far, the turnout has declined compared to 2019. Only in the last two phases, the overall voting was higher than that in 2019. More women voted than men in phases 5 and 6, and this may become a deciding factor.

Compared to 2014, the turnout increased for 27 seats in 2019. In four of these, the 2014 winner ended up losing. And, of the 30 seats the turnout declined in, nine voted out the 2014 winner.

Role Of Smaller Parties In UP

Thirteen seats in Uttar Pradesh's Purvanchal region go to polls in phase 7. This includes PM Modi's turf, Varanasi, too. In 2019, the NDA had won 11 of these 13 seats, and the BSP got two. The role of smaller parties such as the Apna Dal, O.P. Rajbhar's Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party (SBSP) and the NISHAD party becomes crucial as OBCs, SCs and minority communities have a decent stronghold this time.

Gorakhpur (Ravi Kishan), Balia (Chandrasekhar's son Neeraj Shekhar), Mirzapur (Anupriya Patel), Ghazipur (Afzal Ansari) are seeing a keen competition. The SP is trying to turn the contest into a local fight through innovative caste-based strategies. However, the BSP is also in full throttle and has attempted to damage the SP's prospects by putting up Muslim candidates against PM Modi and Ravi Kishan and a Yadav candidate against Neeraj Sekhar.

Punjab Challenge

In Punjab, 13 seats go to polls in a quadrangular contest between the Congress, the AAP, the SAD and the BJP. The now-dead SAD-BJP alliance represented Hindu-Sikh harmony in the state. The two are contesting separately this time, given that the Akalis fear a backlash from farmers if they side with the BJP again.

Polarisation may not work here as Hindu-Sikh relations remain largely cordial. The state BJP, aware of this, has attempted to shed the image of being a 'Hindu party' by inducting a number of Sikh leaders like Amarinder Singh, Ravneet Bittu and Taranjit Singh Sandhu, to name a few.

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The AAP and the Congress, which are fighting together in neighbouring Delhi, are facing off against each other in Punjab. The Congress won eight seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, while the AAP got just one. The latter, however, ultimately unseated the Congress government in the state in 2022 and has grown at the expense of both the SAD and the grand old party, capturing the imagination of poor, youth and rural Sikh and Dalit voters.

The INDIA bloc faces a predicament here as the AAP is likely to gain a few seats at the expense of the Congress. The SAD is already battling an existential crisis and is fighting hard to hold on to its two seats. The BJP, meanwhile, wants to retain its Hindu-dominant Gurdaspur and Hoshiarpur seats. Punjab has for long been a hub of anti-Centre politics, and thus, the BJP may face challenges in the state, with its prospects further threatened by the farmers' unrest.

Hopeful In West Bengal

In West Bengal, the battle moves to the Kolkata region, where the TMC won all the nine seats going to the polls on June 1. In 2019, the BJP had been leading 18-13 against the TMC till the sixth phase, though the TMC ultimately swept the elections. This time, the BJP hopes to gain the support of women given that the Basirhat seat, which will see elections in this final phase, is the epicentre of the Sandeshkhali row.

But there are challenges. Left parties have already spoiled the BJP's chances in three seats here. Also, the Muslim population is significant in a few pockets (45% in Basirhat), and the implementation of the new citizenship rules is a sticking point. It also remains to be seen whether the bhadralok will bail out the BJP in Kolkata region, where PM Modi has held several roadshows by now.

A Peculiar Fight In Odisha

Meanwhile, in Odisha, the BJP has upped the ante against its friendlier opponent, the BJD. The party hopes to win more seats in Odisha to compensate for expected losses elsewhere. In 2019, the BJP won two of the six Lok Sabha seats in phase 6; overall, it won eight of the 21 seats in Odisha.

The state may witness some split voting too. The BJD swept 77% of seats in the Odisha assembly elections but could win just 57% of the seats in the Lok Sabha polls. However, there is a limit to such split-voting in simultaneous elections and the BJP is aware that it won't likely be able to breach the winning mark in the Lok Sabha polls without doing well in the state contest. It's for this reason the party is targeting Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who otherwise shares a cordial relationship with the BJP.

In Bihar, voters in eight constituencies in the Patliputra and Rohtas regions will vote in the final phase. The NDA won all eight seats in 2019 but is facing headwinds in a few areas like Karakat, where Pawan Singh is spoiling Upendra Kushwaha's prospects. In the 2022 assembly elections, the RJD-led alliance had performed well in Rohtas. The party this time hopes to wean away Dalit and lower OBC votes through its alliance with Left parties, as well as the narrative that the BJP would end reservation if it comes to power.

(Amitabh Tiwari is a political strategist and commentator. In his earlier avatar, he was a corporate and investment banker.)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author

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