Somewhat taken aback by the late third entrant in the 2014 Parliamentary election fray, the Bharatiya Janata Party is reportedly taking a long and hard look at 201 Lok Sabha seats that comprise urban India, the seats that will see the Aam Aadmi Party's biggest thrust.
Following the establishment of the Aam Aadmi Party government in Delhi, one thing is eminently clear -- that what was to have been a largely bipolar contest is now a three-way guessing game that few political pundits are willing to call still. Just how the AAP will impact the Congress and the BJP at the hustings in 2014 is anybody's guess.
Only on Monday, BJP President Rajnath Singh told the Economic Times in an interview that they expect AAP will eat into a sizeable chunk of Congress votes. AAP's own survey has predicted a preference in favour of Narendra Modi, Singh claimed.
The truth is that AAP and BJP are eyeing the same slice of the electoral pie, as Firstpost Editor R Jagannathan has explained, and 2014 is going to be about the covert rivalry between Kejriwal and Modi.
And so next year, 201 urban Lok Sabha seats, 26 of these in Maharashtra and 28 in Tamil Nadu, are now the main battleground of this contest, according to a report in The Economic Times.
Seven of these 201 seats are in Delhi, all won by Congress in 2009. This time, if Sheila Dikshit's defeat is anything to go by, that result is unlikely to be repeated.
Congress won 16 and BJP 8 of the 26 urban seats in Maharashtra. Here too, while the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance remains a somewhat depleted force, the Modi factor in urban areas was something the party had based huge expectations on. The AAP factor changes that equation considerably -- AAP is strong and growing in Mumbai, Thane and Pune.
Rajasthan and MP both have seven urban seats each, while Gujarat has 14, and the BJP is counting on repeating and improving upon its Assembly election results in all these seats. In Karnataka, while the BJP won 7 of the 16 urban seats in 2009, Yogendra Yadav's comments that Bengaluru is one of the areas the AAP is paying attention to could indicate that the BJP may have a tougher fight this time.
That leaves Uttar Pradesh, with 20 urban seats, five of them with the Congress and six with the BJP. That Uttar Pradesh is critical to Modi's plans is now well established -- with its 80 Parliamentary seats, the BJP needs to at least double its tally there. The AAP's entry here could muddle an already complex equation further in the largest state.
As a report in The Hindustan Times says, "While the BJP’s performance in its key states such as Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and even Karnataka is certain to be impressive, the unknown factor is its prospects in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar that elect 120 MPs."
A possible alliance between the Congress and the BSP could restrain the BJP to less than 25 seats in UP, says the report, adding that the AAP can already spoil the BJP game in about 30 seats in the NCR, Chandigarh, Mumbai, Bengaluru and other cities.
"Senior BJP leaders feel that the AAP has managed to capture the mindset of a largely urban, cosmopolitan voter, even the “neo middle class” that BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi has been banking on," says the ET report.
While the AAP already has a strong base in Mumbai and a newer one in Pune, there is also talk of a pre-poll alliance in Maharashtra.
Through last week, former BJP president Nitin Gadkari attacked the AAP, calling it a conspirator in a grand scheme to keep Modi away from the prime minister's chair. Obviously, the BJP has a case of nerves now, a far cry from its confidence in the pre-Delhi election months. AAP's announcement that it will contest at least 100 Lok Sabha seats, almost all urban, has only sharpened the BJP's worry on this account.