The term of President Ram Nath Kovind ends on July 25, 2022. The Presidential election will be held in mid-July next year after polls to five state assemblies are concluded. The prestigious elections will be the first test of the united Opposition alliance, efforts for which are currently underway. They might put up a joint candidate.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) doesn’t enjoy a majority in the Rajya Sabha, has lost governments in few states — Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand — and has witnessed an exodus of allies such as the Shiv Sena and the Akali Dal since the previous elections in 2017.
The Opposition believes that the loss in West Bengal, the economic devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, mishandling of the crisis, farmers’ protests, price rise, Pegasus snooping, and anti-incumbency could lead to BJP losing most of the state elections due next year, and thus damaging its prospects in the Presidential polls.
However, history shows that the ruling party candidate has lost only once in Presidential polls. In 1969, the official Congress candidate, Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy, lost to V. V. Giri due to the tussle for supremacy between the Syndicate and Indira Gandhi. So, the odds are stacked heavily against the Opposition.
The President of India is elected by an Electoral College consisting of:
Elected members of the Lok Sabha (543)
Elected members of the Rajya Sabha (233), Nominated members cannot vote
Elected members of State Legislative Assemblies, including Delhi and Puducherry (4120)
The value of the vote of an MP is 708. The value of the vote of an MLA depends upon the population of the state, according to the 1971 Census and the number of elected members of the House.
It is highest for Uttar Pradesh (208), and lowest for Sikkim (7). The total value of votes in the Electoral College is 10,98,903. A candidate requires ‘50% of valid votes polled +1’ of the first preference votes cast to win the elections.
Parties cannot issue whips to their MPs or MLAs, leading to some cross-voting, which is generally helpful for the party in power at the Centre.
What Do The Current Numbers Indicate?
The NDA is currently in power in four of the five states — Punjab, Manipur, Goa, Uttarakhand, and Uttar Pradesh. These five states account for more than 9% of the Electoral College. Uttar Pradesh, in many ways, holds the key to Presidential poll results, accounting for about 8% of the total value of votes.
As of date, NDA has a 49.6% vote share, UPA 26.1%, anti-BJP parties 14.4%, and neutral parties (fence-sitters, including non-aligned independents) 9.9% in the electoral college.
(Note: NDA mainly has BJP, JD(U), LJP, JJP, and some regional outfits of the Northeast; UPA consists of Congress, DMK, NCP, and other smaller parties; Anti-BJP parties include Shiv Sena, Akali Dal, Trinamool Congress, Left parties, AAP, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, etc; Fence Sitters include BJD, TRS, and YSRCP. )
There are three seats vacant in Lok Sabha, 14 in Rajya Sabha, and 136 seats in state assemblies. Of the 14 Rajya Sabha seats, four are from Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), with no certainty on when elections will be held. Similarly, 87 vacant seats in state assemblies are from J&K.
Further, 19 seats are vacant in the five states where polls are due next year. The by-elections for these seats will not be held as the assembly term ends in less than a year.
As many as 68 MPs of the Rajya Sabha will be retiring next year (excluding nominated) and elections to these seats are likely to be held before the Presidential polls. The NDA could lose a few seats in these re-elections because of its reduced strength in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, and Haryana, and the exit of allies.
The BJP is not in contention in Punjab. It has only two MLAs in the Assembly and its results will not have any material impact on Presidential polls. The NDA is in power in Goa, Manipur, and Uttarakhand. Let’s assume it loses the three states and can win only half of its current tally in a worst-case scenario.
Scenario I: BJP Barely Scrapes Through In UP
In the all-important Uttar Pradesh elections, let’s assume the BJP-led NDA barely scrapes through with a simple majority (202 seats) due to the reasons discussed above. The Crowdwisdom360 poll shows NDA ahead with 278 seats currently.
In such a scenario and after accounting for by-elections to state Assembly vacancies and Rajya Sabha re-elections, the NDA is likely to have a 46.7% vote share, the UPA 26.4%, anti-BJP parties 16.5%, and neutral parties (fence-sitters, including non-aligned independents) 10.5% vote share in the electoral college.
The UPA and anti-BJP parties combined would still be trailing NDA with a 42.9% vote share. The fence-sitters are likely to bail out the BJP, as they have done in the past, with many important Bills in the Rajya Sabha. Why would they do so? Because a victory in Uttar Pradesh would prove that the BJP still has the momentum going into the 2024 general elections.
These parties may vote in favour of the NDA, taking its vote share to 57.2%, or abstain, resulting in a 52.1% vote share.
Scenario II: BJP Loses UP
Now, what happens if BJP hypothetically loses in Uttar Pradesh as well? The scale of loss will come into play then. If its tally falls to half, such as is being assumed for other states, the NDA would still enjoy a 1.8% lead over the opposition, with a 45.7% vote share.
The break-even point is 120 seats, which is a decline of more than 200 seats from BJP’s 2017 tally. At this level, the UPA and the NDA will be tied at 44.8% vote share each in the electoral college.
The NDA candidate will be ahead in Presidential elections even if it loses Uttar Pradesh and all remaining states but wins anything above 120 seats in Yogi’s state.
A loss in Uttar Pradesh, however, could tilt the scale in favour of the Opposition and make fence-sitters jittery.
That is why a victory in Uttar Pradesh is essential for the BJP to manage the perception going into general elections in 2024. As we have seen, even a simple majority is enough to puncture the hopes of a joint Opposition.
(The author is an independent political commentator and can be reached at @politicalbaaba. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)