There has been talk of a “Modi Wave”, a political tsunami that would ride the BJP to a majority — or a near majority — in Parliament.
But how big does that wave need to be, for the BJP to win 200 or even 270 seats by itself?
Here are 10 seats — out of the 543 — that you need to watch on May 16, to assess the strength of the electoral ‘wave’ that the BJP is so dearly banking on.
Between 180-210 seats
When an electoral wave hits, the party riding it tends to sweep all of the ultra-competitive swing seats that can go either way. Usually in these swing seats, the margin of victory is less than 5 percent between the winner and the runner-up.
If the BJP is comfortably ahead early on, or wins the Seats #10-#7, it is well on its way to secure 180-210 seats.
Seat #10 Amritsar (Punjab): BJP’s Navjot Singh Sidhu won this seat by less than 1 percent last time around. However, thanks to alliance partner Akali Dal who are not quite enamored of his political skills, Sidhu has now been replaced by heavyweight Arun Jaitley. The Supreme Court lawyer has surprisingly found a fight on his hands running against former Punjab CM Capt. Amarinder Singh of Congress. The situation has been further complicated by a surprisingly strong undercurrent for the Aam Aadmi Party. This is also the first time Jaitley is competing in the elections, and that too against a veteran.
The BJP has to win this kind of competitive seat, which is a conglomerate of urban and rural assembly segments, if it has any hopes of forming a government,
Seat #9 Madhubani (Bihar): BJP’s Hukumdeo Yadav has been a longtime fixture in this seat. In 2009 he won it by a whisker in a four-cornered contest. He won again in the BJP’s 1999 ‘miniwave’, but got blown out by the Congress in 2004.
This is the kind of classic seat where ethnic politics rules. Here, elections are decided by the narrowest of margins and usually won by the party riding an electoral wave.
Seat #8 Tonk Sawai Madhopur (Rajasthan): In 2009, Namo Narain of Congress won in Tonk by 317 votes, the narrowest margin anyone had seen in that election cycle. Who said individual votes don’t count?
This time, both Congress and the BJP have switched their candidates. The latter has brought in Sukhbir Singh Jaunapuria, while Congress is banking on former captain of the Indian cricket team, Mohammad Azharuddin. The Congress brass is clearly not confident of a ‘garden variety’ politician holding this seat, in what is shaping up to be a good year for the BJP in Rajasthan.
Seat #7 Bellary (Karnataka): Not too long ago, Sonia Gandhi was Bellary’s MP. That was before she left for Rae Bareli in 1999. A decade later, BJP won the seat by 0.2 percent and by 3 percent in 2004.
Unlike Rajasthan, Karnataka is supposed to be one of the few bright spots for Congress. And the BJP has taken out their sitting MP in favor of B Sreeramulu, a questionable candidate with a loyal base and a litany of criminal cases.
If BJP wants a wave, they cannot rely solely on states north of the Vindhyas; they must hold tough Southern seats such as Bellary.
Between 210-240 seats
Another manifestation of a wave is that the party wins a majority of seats, which it usually would not, in a normal election cycle. These are seats where the party candidate almost always comes as a solid runner-up, with the margin of loss between five to ten percent
If BJP is ahead early or wins in Seats #6-#4, it is looking at 210-240 seats and a majority for the NDA.
Seat #6 Fatehpur Sikri (Uttar Pradesh): The road to Delhi goes through western UP. The last time BJP won this seat, Atal Bihari Vajpayee became the Prime Minister. That was in 1999, when the BJP won by only 2000-something votes, a razor thin margin of 0.2 percent. Since then, the party has lost the seat by double-digit margins in 2004 and 2009, coming third in the latter.
This time, it has fielded local ‘Bahubali’ (strongman) Babulal who hopes to ride favorable winds to Parliament.
BJP must win an oversized number of tough western UP seats like Fatehpur to reach their goal of winning over 50 seats in Uttar Pradesh.
Seat #5 Moradabad (Uttar Pradesh): BJP was the runner-up in this seat by consistent margins of 6 and 7 percent in 2009 and 2004, respectively. If there is any major BJP wave, it will come through Uttar Pradesh — and BJP will have to win these improbable constituencies.
Following a similar script like Fatehpur, BJP has put forward Kunwara Sarvesh Singh — a local ‘Bahubali’ MLA who lost in 2009 to Mohammad Azharuddin – who’ll try and force his way into Parliament on back of a wave.
Seat #4 Krishnanagar (West Bengal): This is a mofussil commuter haven in the exurbs of Kolkata, with a sizable Muslim population in the rural areas of the constituency.
BJP’s Satyabrata Mookherjee is well liked by local voters. He won in 1999, the last miniwave for the BJP, but it was a time when the party gained from an alliance with the Trinamool Congress. He narrowly came second in 2004 to CPI (M) and slid to third with 17 percent of the vote in 2009.
Across in West Bengal, the BJP is looking at least 10 percent of vote share this cycle, up from 7 percent in 2009. If normal patterns hold, Mukherjee should come in at a respectable second. But if a sizable wave is forming, look for Mookherjee to narrowly run past the sitting MP and former actor Tapas Paul of Trinamool, who is backed by a strong local party organization.
Lastly, riding on a wave, a party will win a few highly improbable seats where the party has no chance in a normal election cycle. This is regardless of how strong a candidate it fields, or how big a mess the rival parties find themselves to be.
These seats are where the party is either organizationally weak or they are fortresses of a rival party due to favorable demographics.
If BJP is ahead early or wins these seats, it is looking at a historic election mandate of 240+ seats and may even get simple majority of its own in Parliament.
Seat #3 Chhindwara (Madhya Pradesh): The home of union minister Kamal Nath of Congress, one of the richest candidates in the nation, Chhindwara has been a Congress citadel.
BJP has lost the previous two elections by double-digit margins in the vote share. To counter Nath’s financial edge, BJP has fielded Chandrabhan Singh Chowdhary, in the hopes that his heavy wallet will overcome his political lightweight status.
Nath, however, is an institution in Chhindwara. It might as well literally take a wave from the Arabian Sea to dislodge him from his seat.
Seat #2 Asansol (West Bengal): A mix of middle-class urban industrial centers and gritty colliery towns, Asansol strikingly resembles the setting of the cult classic Gangs of Wasseypur, which is just a few miles west of the border of this seat.
BJP’s man Babul Supriyo is a name well known among the constituents due to his successful playback-singing career in Bollywood. Babul is the most serious ‘celebrity’ candidate this election cycle in Bengal, someone who is in it to win and knows what he’s doing.
Still, that won’t be enough in a normal year at a seat where BJP got 7 percent of the votes in 2009. If a massive wave is building, look for Supriyo to win by the narrowest of margins possible.
His fate depends on not getting burnt in the colliery assembly segments of Jamuria, Raniganj & Pandabeshwar where reports indicate that Trinamool has played dirty tricks. Also, the sitting MP from CPI (M), Bangsagopal Chowdhury is expected to get comfortable margins thanks to the influence of labor unions.
Seat #1 Thiruvananthapuram (Kerala): If BJP wins Thiruvananthapuram, its only (distant) hope of coming second let alone win in the southern state, you would know that the wave is real. Incumbent MP, Congress’ Shashi Tharoor, is on a sticky wicket for obvious reasons. BJP’s O Rajagopal is a solid but unspectacular candidate whose best showing was in 2004 coming a close third with 30 percent vote.
The BJP is strong in the city itself, but after delimitation the seat includes suburbs where their hold is insignificant. O Rajagopal won the assembly segments in the city proper, but in the newly drawn seat, his fate depends on over-performing in Thiruvananthapauram and Nemom assembly segments. The good news is that it will be a close three way fight with Shashi Tharoor and Bennet Abraham of CPI(M). A 32 percent vote share will be enough to squeak him through, but he will need a massive electoral wave to even reach that milestone.
It is likely that the BJP will need to cross the 215 mark for the NDA to reach a majority. At the very least, they need 200 seats to form a government where they are not dependent at every step on a partner like the AIADMK, whose supremo Jayalalithaa has been silent so far on joining a post-poll coalition.
To reach either of the landmarks above, BJP needs to over-perform in Northern India where they absolutely need to win marginal seats like Moradabad and Madhubani.
May 16 will see multiple lead changes every hour between candidates in the above seats. The winner is likely to win by a margin of less than 4 percent or roughly around 30,000 votes at most.
A doctoral student at Georgia State University, Sayan Banerjee‘s research looks at the interplay between ethnicity, voting behavior and governance in multiethnic societies. With the dissertation taking him to Afghanistan & India, if you know anyone in Afghanistan, let him know @sayanbpolitics