Bulldozing the Opposition
The BJP is mandated to retain power in Uttar Pradesh with a thumping majority, with its coalition of parties winning 275 of the 403 seats as results of the five assembly election were announced on March 10th.
The BJP is also poised to return to power in Manipur and Uttarakhand in crucial state assembly elections that are seen as a barometer of the mood among voters ahead of the 2024 general election. In Goa, the race became relatively tight but with support of others the BJP is forming government there also.
The only state that the BJP juggernaut could not roll on was in Punjab where the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) witnessed a landslide victory. AAP will finally be able to open the account outside of the national capital territory of Delhi and will set the ball rolling on its national ambitions.
The BJP’s sweeping victory in these assembly elections comes just two years before the 2024 Lok Sabha election and will certainly have a major impact on national politics. The rout of the Congress at the hands of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Punjab is a telling comment on the grand old party, whose revival will be critical for the opposition camp in its battle against Narendra Modi’s BJP in 2024.
The Monk who disrupts
From the moment Yogi Adityanath was selected as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh by BJP after the 2017 elections, he has been in the cross-hairs of Indian elites. Reminding us of the coverage Narendra Modi got during his tenure as Gujarat CM, Yogi Adityanath was subjected to all sorts of attacks from the usual suspects over the past 5 years. However, all those attacks came to nought as Yogi Adityanath returns to power with a thumping majority. He became a monk who disrupted all the vicious plans of the opposition and stood victorious.
The administration of Yogi Adityanath was attacked for mishandling the second wave of the pandemic. It was combined with two other big issues that could have easily thwarted the BJP’s chances in this assembly election – unemployment, and farmers’ protest over three agricultural laws. But Yogi Adityanath’s administration decided to overcome the criticism through its performance only, as suggested by the data available. And the image of the SP being a party supporting ‘gunda’ and ‘mafia’ elements only further added ammunition to the BJP’s election campaign.
The Yogi administration ensured that the effects of the social welfare schemes run by the BJP-led Centre as well as those introduced by the state government reached the masses with uniformity. Simultaneously, it also worked to improve the worsening law and order situation in the state, something that became a big point in its favour. Also, taking back the newly introduced farm laws by the central government was also a timely step that helped the party. Yes, unemployment remains a concern but voters, it seems, decided to give the BJP a chance again – based on its better performance than previous governments – and the SP’s image.
Having come through 5 years of relentless attacks from the Indian left to get re-elected, Yogi Adityanath is following the same path that was followed by PM Narendra Modi. If he keeps getting attacked similarly for another term, it won’t be a surprise if he does end up as the Prime Minister of India, like Narendra Modi.
Brand Modi still intact
The election results reflect the continuing appeal of the BJP and its mascot, Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Anti-incumbency clearly doesn’t seem to be a word in the BJP dictionary. Neither the economic hardships brought by the Covid pandemic nor the festering farmers’ agitation against the now-repealed central farm laws appear to have swung the mood against the saffron party. The BJP’s hold over the Hindu vote is intact, helped by the start of construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya and development of the Kashi Vishwanath corridor in Varanasi. As the Uttar Pradesh results showed, the party’s caste calculations are spot on. The saffron wave continues, and the BJP may well be on a stronger wicket than last time in the upcoming Gujarat assembly elections. In the Rajasthan polls due in 2023, the Modi-Vasundhara Raje combo can prove to be a big threat to the Ashok Gehlot-led Congress government. Brand Modi will once again be strengthened by the mandate of five states. Amidst the Corona epidemic and rising inflation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi also had a big challenge in this election. Some questions were raised on him after throwing full force in the West Bengal assembly elections, but the result of this election again established the Modi factor in a big way before the 2024 fight. In return, the BJP will be able to hope to cross the election line for the next few years.
Congress in soup
but can’t ignore it
The poll results have served yet another rude wake-up call for the Congress and its first family, the Gandhis. Priyanka Gandhi was the Congress in-charge for Uttar Pradesh and had camped there for months in the run-up to the elections. Priyanka, however, failed to rejuvenate the party or impress voters, unlike the BJP which improved its tally from three to 77 in West Bengal last year. Priyanka’s reliance on Navjot Singh Sidhu backfired in Punjab and stoked more infighting in the state unit. The demand for accountability from the Gandhis is expected to only intensify now. The fates of Congress chief ministers also hang in the balance. Priyanka had dinner with Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot’s family on March 7 at his residence. Removing Gehlot—a staunch Gandhi family loyalist—to improve the party’s prospects in the next state election is no easy choice. Gehlot may well cite Amarinder’s case to argue that a change of CM does not help.
In national politics, this mandate has caused much frustration for the opposition’s model. It may take time for the opposition parties to recover from this. The emptiness in opposition unity, especially at the national level, may widen. The opposition will now have to wait for such issues or the fault of the government from where it can put itself on the political ground. Its effect can be seen immediately in the budget session of Parliament.
There is not much time left for the opposition parties to put their act together before the next Lok Sabha election in 2024. The opposition is undoubtedly in disarray. The election results must have further demoralised their rank and file. Despite reservations that many may have with the grand old party, the fact remains that one still cannot imagine a national alternative without the Congress.
But it is also a fact that Congress alone cannot take up the challenge nationally. Congress and the regional parties together will have to take on the BJP in 2024. Congress needs to weave another UPA kind of umbrella alliance that it worked out in 2004 under Sonia Gandhi.
It is already late and the initiative to bring the opposition on the same platform has to come from the Congress. Regional leaders have tried carving out a national role for themselves but they have not been able to influence people outside their own comfort zones. While the Congress must give regional leaders their due, forging unity and consensus must be its responsibility.
Rise of the Monk
The BJP’s choice of Yogi Adityanath as UP chief minister in 2017 had raised many eyebrows. The saffron-clad monk of the Gorakhpur Math was considered by critics as a novice in administrative affairs, and this inexperience was seen as the reason why the party appointed several deputy chief ministers to assist him. But in his five-year term, Adityanth has shown himself to be tough, no-nonsense leader. BJP leaders say his zero tolerance for crime won him popular support. He is also seen to have commendable following among the state’s youth. Propaganda by the opposition that Adityanth was favouring Thakurs failed to cut ice with voters, and while controversies have dogged his regime, he has demonstrated that he can administer a crucial and complicated state like UP.
The Monk’s victory is impressive also because he was taking on the combined might of history. In the history of the state, not one chief minister has been re-elected after completing the full term. And since 1985, no party has returned to power. But, monks in this country have always defied history. It is important to highlight the enormity of the Adityanath’s win.
Everything appeared to be helping the Samajwadi Party in UP. On the ground, the Samajwadi Party had put together a rainbow coalition of castes that appeared formidable. The buzz on the ground was that Yadavs had returned to the Samajwadi Party, the Muslims had vowed to vote en masse for Akhilesh Yadav, the Jats were eager to avenge their humiliation by voting against the BJP, and some smaller castes had joined the coalition, indicating that the BJP’s united Hindu family had disintegrated. There was anger on the ground because of price rise, unemployment, the pain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. On top of all this was the factor called anti-incumbency. Yet, the BJP won. Not just that. Its vote-share actually went up from 40 per cent in 2017 to around 50 per cent. This means, more people have likely voted for the BJP in 2022. That’s a huge achievement.
By Nilabh Krishna