It’s a remarkable victory for BJP. The UP win makes the BJP an indomitable political force across the country. Though the Punjab victory is a consolation for Congress, the real story is in Uttar Pradesh as it is the largest State. However, the Congress revival and the BJP defeat in Punjab cannot be insignificant. With UP’s ‘adopted son’ Narendra Modi leading from the front, the BJP has ended up with a historic 325 Assembly seats out of 403 in UP, almost a three-fourth. And, on the other side, Rahul Gandhi’s leadership will face searching questions after the drubbing in Uttar Pradesh.
Overall, the results of the Assembly elections from five States confirm that the Narendra Modi wave that swept the BJP to power in 2014 shows no sign of ebbing. The BJP has achieved landslide victories in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, given a tough fight to the Congress in Manipur, where it was earlier a non-entity, and is neck-and-neck in Goa, despite anti-incumbency (BJP is forming governments in both Manipur and Goa in a less than agreeable arrangement. But those are stories for another day).
The story of the polls was, contradicting the long-established narrative that strong regional leaders are needed to win State elections, Prime Minister Modi is today bigger than his party and demonstrated that his party needs no saleable face as a chief ministerial candidate. This is a throwback to the days of Indira Gandhi, when she dwarfed Congress satraps, and was the star campaigner for the party across States. However, a parallel cannot be drawn with the Congress, which is now in terminal decline.
BJP could retain nearly 40 per cent vote share in this election, indicating that the vote 2017 is a clear continuity of the 2014 trend. Shunning its urban-upper caste image, the BJP could consummately work out its caste arithmetic by giving at least 148 seats to members of other backward classes (OBCs) in UP.
The BJP’s ideological core and many of its foot soldiers and leaders are drawn from the RSS, which steers clear of electoral politics and maintains a clearheaded vision of its agenda. The BJP has little to worry about its organisational strengths and weaknesses, so long as the Modi brand sells.
The SP-Congress combine failed to beat the anti-incumbency incurred by Akhilesh regime. The performance of Congress is much more deplorable as it could win less than 10 per cent seats it contested in coalition. Alliance with Congress failed to deliver rich dividends for SP (much like it was for the DMK in TN in 2016).
More than anything else it is the scale of victory that has stunned pollsters, even though some exit polls had predicted that BJP was likely to end up as the single largest party in UP this time. But all projections about the Prime Minister paying dearly for his demonetisation gambit did not come off; rather, the suspicion is that in the class struggle narrative Modi adopted, cash ban was seen by the have-nots as a move to take down the filthy rich.
This is where Modi’s perceived integrity has stood him in good stead, the common feeling among large sections of the people being that he is an unconventional politician most likely to overturn ‘the system’. His identification with development issues seems to have been taken seriously, and he has been cultivating it with initiatives like rural gas connections for women, housing and electricity.
The thumping win in neighbouring Uttarakhand (57 out of 70 seats) is an added bonus for the BJP, a State where a little more than half the total number of seats has earlier been good enough for parties to form governments. This is a sweet victory, coming as it does after the abortive attempt to form a government there with the support of Congress dissidents. The fact that chief minister Harish Rawat lost in both the seats he contested indicates how divided a house the Congress has become in the Himalayan State.
However, the Congress this time has a good face-saver in angst-ridden Punjab, where it has registered a solid comeback win after 10 years with 77 out of 117 seats. That the widely discredited Akali Dal still managed to somewhat hold its own in pockets in Malwa and the Doab region, helped the Congress beat back the Aam Aadmi Party challenge.
As for the AAP, which has drawn a blank in Goa after all its bravado, it will now have to walk its loud talk by really implementing in Delhi its promised alternative model of decentralised development. The fractured mandate in Manipur is still good news for the BJP where it has bagged 21 seats in the 60-member House, where it earlier had none. But the Congress-BJP battle in Manipur indicates a worrisome aspect — that the major issue was as much about safeguarding the State’s territorial integrity as about its development. Surely, Manipur deserves better than using an election to address its existential worries.
Goa is neither happy nor sad story for the BJP. But with Manohar Parrikar set to to take over as the Chief Minister, the arrangement is at best a tenuous one and the coming days will be tumultuous, and the politics will be contentious. Surely, the BJP has to stay on guard there without using any dirty tricks. It is a responsibility that it owes to the people.
In general, it is clear that Modi’s victory march will continue at least until the 2019 national elections. The opposition parties require not just a deep introspection, but also must begin a headhunt for a leader to match Modi’s stature.