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Target 4-0, BJP muted

New Delhi, Dec. 7: Target 4-0, fingers crossed.

On the eve of counting day, sources in the BJP said they were aware a defeat in Chhattisgarh and the lack of a majority in Delhi could scupper the party’s four-nil dream and give the Congress a leg-up of sorts before the Lok Sabha elections.

The mood at the party office on Ashoka Road and among its leaders was unusually muted after a high-decibel campaign that managed to combine national and state issues and reinforce Narendra Modi’s star status in the hierarchy.

“We are keeping our fingers crossed and hoping for a four-nil win,” Lok Sabha Opposition leader Sushma Swaraj told journalists in Parliament on Friday.

The hope was based on the BJP retaining Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, and wresting Rajasthan and Delhi from the Congress.

The BJP sources admitted that it was “touch-and-go” in Chhattisgarh because of the small vote swings inherent in a polity where the contest is between the two main rivals.

In 2008, for example, the BJP had polled 40.33 per cent of the votes and the Congress 38.63 per cent. The margin between victory and defeat was 1.7 per cent.

In 2003, when Chhattisgarh voted for the first time as a new state, the BJP polled 39.26 per cent and the Congress 36.71 per cent. The margin was a bit higher at 2.55 per cent. In both those elections, the BSP had secured between five and six per cent of the votes, largely out of the Congress’s share.

Sources said the “narrow” gap between the Congress and the BJP in the last polls was “easily bridgeable” because, first, the BJP has been in the saddle for 10 years and would “logically” be expected to suffer the disadvantages accruing from anti-incumbency.

Second, the BSP — said to have competed with the Congress for the Dalit and backward caste votes — reportedly did not “carry the aura” it did in 2008 when Mayawati won a spectacular victory in Uttar Pradesh.

This time, the BJP fears, the Dalit and backward caste votes could polarise behind the Congress.

The larger worry for the party — or at least big sections — was a 3:1 or, worse, a 2:2 outcome would promptly be construed as an early and an “unsatisfactory” referendum on Modi’s anointment as the party’s man for Prime Minister. “He campaigned in these polls as though there was no tomorrow because he had everything riding on them,” a source close to veteran L.K. Advani said.

Regardless of Modi’s formal foregrounding, elements in the top brass remain uncomfortable with his ascendancy and fear a 4-0 result could consolidate his writ over the BJP. Among the leaders in the top echelons, Modi campaigned the most, ahead of Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley and even party president Rajnath Singh.

In Chhattisgarh, the prospective seat depletion in the Bastar region — where the BJP had picked up 11 of the 12 seats in 2008 — was being attributed to the massacre of Congress leaders earlier this year by Maoists and the resultant “sympathy” for the party. The BJP’s calculation to make good the losses in the non-Bastar districts hit a wall because its sitting legislators had reportedly become “unpopular” in several constituencies.

The BJP is also looking closely at how Muslims and Christians voted in the Modi phase and if their votes went one way in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi.

Its fear is the minority votes gravitated around the Congress in these states.

The BJP’s parliamentary board will meet tomorrow. Modi is in Delhi to attend it.