NEW DELHI – The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has seen a significant reduction in its tally of reserved seats from 77 to 55, primarily due to a strong focus of the Congress-led INDIA bloc on social justice and reservation issues during the final two months of the Lok Sabha election campaign.

The BJP’s loss was spread across various states, with 19 Scheduled Caste (SC) seats lost in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Haryana, Karnataka, Bihar, Punjab, and West Bengal. Additionally, the party lost 10 Scheduled Tribe (ST) seats in Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Rajasthan, and West Bengal. The Congress capitalised on these losses, winning 12 SC and seven ST seats previously held by the BJP.

Losses Across Key States

Several regional parties also played a crucial role in the BJP’s decline. The Samajwadi Party (SP) won five SC seats in Uttar Pradesh, while the Trinamool Congress (TMC) secured a victory in Cooch Behar. The newly formed Bharat Adivasi Party captured the Banswara seat, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) won in Dumka, and the Nationalist Congress Party-Sharad Pawar (NCP-SP) alliance triumphed in the Dindori Lok Sabha seat.

Particularly notable defeats for the BJP included Khunti in Jharkhand, where Congress candidate Kalicharan Munda defeated former chief minister and Union tribal affairs minister Arjun Munda by nearly 1.5 lakh votes; Banswara in Rajasthan, where the Bharat Adivasi Party won by nearly 2.5 lakh votes; and Chamarajanagar in Karnataka, where the BJP lost to the Congress by over 1.88 lakh votes.

Shifts from Previous Elections

The BJP’s tally in reserved seats had increased from 71 to 77 in the 2019 elections. However, the Congress, which won only seven reserved seats in 2019, has made a substantial comeback by increasing its tally to 32 in 2024, including the 19 seats taken from the BJP.

The BJP’s most significant losses occurred in Uttar Pradesh, where it lost six SC and ST seats, five of which went to the Samajwadi Party and one to the Congress. The SP, which had no SC seat in Uttar Pradesh in 2019, managed to win seven this time, including two held by the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

Key Figures and Critical Losses

Among prominent BJP figures who lost their seats were Union ministers Arjun Munda, Kaushal Kishore, Nisith Pramanik, and Bharati Pravin Pawar. Conversely, the BJP managed to retain some of its key seats, with Union Social Justice Minister Virendra Kumar winning the Tikamgarh seat in Madhya Pradesh by over 4 lakh votes.

In Bihar’s Sasaram, Congress’ Manoj Kumar defeated the BJP’s sitting MP, while in Haryana’s Sirsa, Congress’ Kumari Selja emerged victorious over BJP’s Ashok Tanwar. In Jharkhand, JMM’s Nalin Soren won the Dumka (ST) seat from the BJP, and Congress’ Kali Charan Munda defeated Arjun Munda in Khunti (ST).

Voter Concerns and Expert Opinions

Experts believe the BJP’s setbacks on reserved seats were influenced by its strategic blunders and effective opposition messaging. Satish Prakash, a Dalit rights activist and professor of physics at Meerut College, noted: “The campaign against BJP’s reported threat to the Constitution resonated well with many voters, particularly the Dalits.”

Prakash added that allegations of a tacit alliance between the BSP and the BJP led many Dalits to shift their support to the opposition bloc. “Reservation is not just policy for SCs and STs – it is survival. Protecting it is sacred to them,” he stated.

Jawaharlal Nehru University professor Badri Narayan highlighted the role of Other Backward Castes (OBCs) in the election results. “The SP-Congress alliance in Uttar Pradesh won most seats because most OBCs voted in their favour,” he said.

Sushil Pandey, a professor at Baba Saheb Bhimrao Ambedkar Central University, emphasised voter dissatisfaction with the BJP’s candidate selection and the strong social justice message from the opposition. Senior journalist Rishikesh Bahadur Desai added that influential groups in various states played a significant role in determining the election outcome.

Regional Dynamics

In South India, the BJP’s influence remains limited, with cultural factors often outweighing caste considerations in voting decisions. “Dravidians cannot be defeated by Hindutva forces,” noted Desai. He also mentioned that the condition of Dalits and Adivasis in South India is generally better than in the North, which affects their voting behaviour.

Vitthal Das Payage, a retired college principal from Karnataka, observed that Dalits in South India, except Karnataka, have not experienced the BJP government’s treatment of Scheduled Castes in North India. “Most of them believe in the ideology of the saffron party and have been given due representation,” he said.

In Odisha, the BJP’s best-ever performance was attributed more to the Biju Janata Dal’s (BJD) weaknesses than the BJP’s strengths. Senior journalist Akshay Mishra said: “The BJD lost badly because its government was run by bureaucrats who were not liked by the voters.”

The Road Ahead

The BJP’s significant losses in reserved seats mark a critical juncture in Indian politics, highlighting the impact of social justice campaigns and regional dynamics on electoral outcomes. As the political landscape continues to evolve, the party will need to reassess its strategies to regain its foothold among SC and ST voters.

The INDIA bloc, buoyed by its recent successes, will likely continue to emphasise social justice issues as a core part of its strategy. “We have shown that by focusing on the needs and rights of all communities, we can create a more inclusive and equitable India,” said a Congress spokesperson.

As the nation moves forward, the importance of addressing the diverse needs and aspirations of its people remains paramount. The recent election results underscore the necessity for all political parties to engage meaningfully with every section of society, ensuring that the principles of justice and equality are upheld.