Phase 7: Opportunity and Challenge to NDA and INDIA

The longest election in seventy-two years ends finally with polls in 57 constituencies across seven states and the union territory of Chandigarh. In three states — Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal — the drama has stretched over six scorching weeks and seven acts with ripples from each act echoing into the next. This is also the fourth and final phase in Odisha and Jharkhand, and the one and only phase in Punjab and Himachal.

This phase comprises states and regions where the BJP needed to work and where it hoped to improve its tally. In 2019, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) had won only about half (30 of the 57 seats) in this phase, while INDIA bloc won 19 and ‘non-aligned’ parties won eight. The challenge to NDA is greater, if seen in terms of the leads in assembly elections post 2019 — INDIA stands to gain 12 more seats here. The opportunity for NDA is also greater in this phase, especially in Bengal, Odisha and Punjab. You get a sense as if this final phase, which includes the PM’s own constituency, was carved out for his undivided attention, the crescendo of what must have been imagined as a successful political campaign. It did not turn out that way.

The eight constituencies of Bhojpur region in central Bihar that the NDA swept last time present a challenge to the ruling coalition. If we consider the 2020 Assembly elections, the Mahagathbandhan, the local edition of INDIA, has more MLAs than NDA in six out of these eight Lok Sabha constituencies. The Lok Janshakti Party, that was not a part of the NDA in 2020 Assembly elections, had strategically fielded its candidates to cut into the votes of its current partner, the Janata Dal (United). Even if we go by the current coalitions, INDIA would win three constituencies: Jehanabad, Pataliputra and Arrah. An additional 2 percentage point (pp) swing could take the INDIA tally to 5.

Ground reports suggest that INDIA is well posed to realise this possibility. The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) has announced a switch from its earlier strategy of ‘M-Y’ (Muslim-Yadav) to the new ‘A to Z’ approach that seeks to court all communities. In practice, this time, they have focused on giving more tickets to and bringing the substantial Kushwaha-Dhanuk communities – almost 7% of the electorate – to their side at the expense of JD(U) and Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Janata Dal (RLJD). Besides, Tejashwi Yadav’s sharp campaign with 200+ rallies this season has focused on providing (government) jobs and the proof-of-delivery on this count in the 17 months he was the deputy Chief minister has attracted youth across castes in this especially youthful state where almost one out of three voters is between 20-30 years of age. With its three candidates, ideological cadre and its appeal among the poorest, the CPI (ML-Liberation) has helped to consolidate the bottom of the pyramid in favour of the INDIA coalition, which the ‘Modi magic’ is insufficient to counter.

In Uttar Pradesh, the election ends in the 13 constituencies of Purvanchal. The NDA performed well here in both the 2019 Lok Sabha (11 seats) and 2022 Assembly elections, sweeping the regions surrounding Gorakhpur and Varanasi, while INDIA bloc won a majority of assembly segments in two constituencies: Ghazipur and Ghosi. The on-ground situation seems to be turning: despite the BJP’s alliances with Apna Dal (Sonelal), a Kurmi-centric party, Rajbhar-centric Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP) and the Kevat-Nishad-centric NISHAD party, many important ati-pichda- (EBC) communities seem to be slipping from the NDA’s fold. It has helped that the Samajwadi Party (SP) has broadened its social coalition by offering more tickets to the most numerous Pichda or Dalit community. Overall, 45% of the NDA’s tickets in Uttar Pradesh have gone to upper-castes, as against 27.5% for the INDIA bloc. For this phase, if around one in six voters who preferred the NDA in 2022 assembly shift towards the INDIA bloc, it could win four more seats and up its tally to six seats in this phase.

The BJP needs to do well in this phase, if it has to improve its overall tally in the state. It has now chosen to hit hard with personal attacks on the popular Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik and his confidante, (Retd.) IAS officer VK Pandian, who is widely perceived to be Mr. Patnaik’s anointed successor. The Prime Minister has led the charge by flinging coarse conspiracy theories around the CM’s health.

Punjab seemed to offer head room to grow for the BJP, an opportunity that could not materialize. The farmers’ protest led to the split of the 25 year old BJP-Akali Dal partnership. Since then the BJP has faced the wrath of the rural Sikh farmers for its strong-armed approach to the farmers’ protests. Its strategy of clawing a few seats by retaining the largest slice of the Hindu votes, adding Hindu and Sikh Dalits to it and at the same time, by gaining acceptance among the Sikh voters with the help of Sikh leaders acquired wholesale from the INC and the AAP has not worked. Instead of gaining, the BJP may end up losing one or both of the seats it holds.

The main contest in Punjab is between the ruling AAP and the Congress, partners of INDIA bloc that are fighting each other, in the four or five cornered contest in the state. In a state where there has always been an implicit and at times explicit Sikh-Hindu divide, the Congress and the AAP are the only two parties that can win substantial votes from both the communities. Last time, the Congress had won eight seats, while the BJP-SAD alliance had won 4 of the 13 seats. The AAP that secured just one seat in the Lok Sabha elections went on to win 4/5th of the seats in the assembly polls held in 2022, enough to give it a lead in 11 Lok Sabha seats. Since then, anti-incumbency has set in as the AAP has neither found the revenues to start its direct benefit transfer schemes nor has it been able to get a handle on the drugs and unemployment problems that have plagued the state for more than a generation. The Congress has asked some of its big leaders including a former Chief Minister, a former Deputy CM and its current state unit chief to contest and enjoys an edge this time. The relative leadership vacuum in the state has created space for radicals like Amritpal Singh, a fiery, young extremist currently in jail, to enter the electoral fray; it is hoped that electoral politics will moderate his stance and bring him into the mainstream. In the neighboring seat of Chandigarh, the Congress veteran, Manish Tewari has a sizable advantage and support of AAP in a direct contest with the BJP.

In Himachal Pradesh, the Lok Sabha election has come as a relief for the Congress and helped it pull itself together following the near-fall of the state government after six MLAs defied the Party Whip in Rajya Sabha elections of 2024. The Congress lost all the four Lok Sabha Constituencies in 2019: if it holds on to the leads in the Assembly elections, it can wrest back Shimla and Hamirpur and even scrape through one more seat, Kangra, if one adds up the vote share of the AAP to its vote share. On the ground, it stands a better chance in Mandi, a seat which it lost by a bigger margin in 2019 but won in a bypoll later. Here a young ‘Rajasaheb’ Vikramaditya Singh, the son of Virbhadra Singh, the six-time CM of Himachal Pradesh, faces the Bollywood star Kangana Ranaut, an unstoppable fount of alternative WhatsApp histories and conspiracy theories.

In West Bengal, curtains fall on one of the most bitterly fought elections in recent times as this restive state seeks newer disequilibria. The BJP dominated North Bengal and Junglemahal have already gone to polls; this phase in and around Kolkata is the citadel of TMC which has held each of these seats since 2009. It has won 62 out of the 63 assembly segments in 2021 in these Lok Sabha constituencies. The BJP’s hopes rest on one of the two constituencies of Kolkata District – Kolkata Uttar or Kolkata Dakshin. It has put in considerable resources, media hype and the PM’s rallies to achieve a breakthrough here. Though it has succeeded in achieving a great deal of ideological churn and religious polarization that it has introduced in Bengal’s strife-ridden but hitherto syncretic society, the TMC still remains hard to beat in this region where Mamata Banerjee started her politics. The CPI(M) with its fresh faces and energetic new-generation-campaigning could also upset BJP’s plans here by taking away some of the anti-TMC votes. The BJP may find it hard to make up in this phase any losses that it may have incurred in its own strong areas.

Jharkhand offers a small opportunity to the INDIA bloc that holds only one of the three seats that go to polls in the final phase. If we go by the Assembly elections of 2019, the present NDA would have led in all the three Lok Sabha seats. On the ground, this time however, it seems a close election with INDIA fancying its chances in all three seats, including Godda involving BJP’s loud mouth, Nishikant Dubey. The JMM is expected to do well in the two tribal seats, spurred by a spirited campaign by Kalpana Soren, wife of the jailed former CM, Hemant Soren.

If there is one state that offers assured gains to the BJP, it is Odisha that is witnessing an intense contest between the BJP and the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), the two parties that had nearly formed an alliance before this election. This last phase comprises six Lok Sabha constituencies of coastal Odisha where the BJP is hoping to make a breakthrough. The Congress is struggling to register its presence in one seat. In 2019, the BJD had won 4 of these Lok Sabha seats and 33 of the 42 Vidhan Sabha seats in this phase. Unlike Western Odisha, most voters here had voted the same party for both the Assembly and the Lok Sabha. The BJD had consolidated its position in the panchayat elections held in 2022.

The BJP needs to do well in this phase, if it has to improve its overall tally in the state. It has now chosen to hit hard with personal attacks on the popular Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik and his confidante, (Retd.) IAS officer VK Pandian, who is widely perceived to be Mr. Patnaik’s anointed successor. The Prime Minister has led the charge by flinging coarse conspiracy theories around the CM’s health. While this strategy is unlikely to work, the BJP may do better for some other reasons. The reserved (ST) constituency, Mayurbhanj is the home constituency of President Droupadi Murmu, now a much-loved icon in tribal Odisha. The upper-castes in the coastal districts may shift towards the BJP due to their shared dislike of VK Pandian, due to his Tamil origins. Besides, the PM has some appeal among the Odia youth who may also be attracted by the BJP’s job-centred campaign for the state. Ground reports suggest that while the BJD continues to dominate the assembly elections, the BJP may well succeed in wresting some Lok Sabha seats from the BJD.

All in all, both NDA and INDIA have areas of opportunity and vulnerability in this very last phase. Fingers crossed, as all parties await the next week with eagerness and anxiety in equal measure.


2019 Seats Position and Adjusted Position


Phase 7






Uttar Pradesh 13 9 2 0 (+2) 2 (-2)
Punjab 13 2 (-2) 8 (-6) 1 (+10) 2 (-2)
West Bengal 9 9
Bihar 8 5 (-3) 3 (-1) 0 (+4)
Odisha 6 2 4
Himachal Pradesh 4 4 (-3) 0 (+3)
Jharkhand 3 2 (+1) 1 (-1)
Chandigarh 1 1
  57 25 (-7) 5 (-1) 8 (-3) 11 (+15) 8 (-4)
  30 (-8) 19 (+12) 8 (-4)

Note: Figures in brackets denote change in seat positions after calculating parliamentary constituency leads based on Vidhan Sabha election results. Adjustment takes into account current seat distribution within NDA and INDIA.

For Odisha, since Vidhan Sabha and Lok Sabha elections took place simultaneously, the latter has been considered and hence no gains/losses have been calculated.

For Chandigarh, Lok Sabha 2019 result considered as it has no Vidhan Sabha

In Uttar Pradesh, the 2022 vote share of SBSP and NISHAD party who were allies of SP in 2022 has been distributed 50:50 between NDA and INDIA.