Is 2024 sure now for Modi after UP win?
Since 2014 when Narendra Modi became prime minister, his critics have always set the ground rule: that the BJP has to win every election to maintain its dominance on the national scene. Two, the opposition needs to win just one election to show that it is a serious contender to cause a big upset in the next general elections.
Such has been the “ego-system” in which election results have always been analysed so far.
The Uttar Pradesh of 2022 election was an election that Modi-led BJP had to win not only in a decisive manner but it also shows that it is a clear favourite for the Lok Sabha polls of 2024. Finally, that’s what happened.
As the PM himself put it, the polls ended up giving “a glimpse” of the outcome of the general elections that are two years away.
In other words, a second straight term in power for Yogi Aditiyanath-led BJP in UP has meant a third straight term for Modi. UP accounts for 80 of the 543 parliamentary seats in India. The road to Delhi is always via Lucknow. He who wins UP wins Delhi is a popular saying among the politicians.
“Many people had said that the fate of the 2019 general election was decided when the 2017 UP election result was declared,” Modi said soon after the victory, addressing joyous BJP workers at the party headquarters on March 10.
“All I can say is that the same thought applies now too… the 2024 general election result can be glimpsed in the result of the 2022 UP election.”
Yogi Adityanath was voted back to power in a state where no Chief Minister has been given a second consecutive term in the last 37 years. The last Chief Minister to win a second term was Congress’ Narayan Dutt Tiwari in the undivided UP in 1985.
In fact, no Chief Minister before BSP chief Mayawati in 2012 had completed a full term in office. None of the previous Chief Ministers from the BJP — Kalyan Singh, Ram Prakash Gupta and Rajnath Singh — were elected for a second term, but Yogi created a record of sorts.
Yogi was the face of the BJP’s campaign. Modi remained a star attraction but Yogi’s record of governance with an emphasis on his comparatively cleaner administration and better deliverables swung the voters’ choice across all regions of UP.
By coming out in full support of Yogi right from the beginning, Modi signalled the BJP’s readiness to risk projecting an incumbent CM despite anti-incumbency factors at work against individual ministers and MLAs. It was a masterstroke.
Modi coined the term, “double engine ki sarkar”, which became a hit with the voting masses.
True, as the BJP’s campaign forged ahead, Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Akhilesh Yadav too showed his ability to raise questions over the state government’s claims on some counts. The SP managed to almost double its vote share but remained much behind the BJP in those terms.
However, one must note that the SP has gained votes across the state in both rural and urban areas. The increase has come largely at the cost of the Congress and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), both of which got their lowest-ever votes. The SP also got a good number of urban voters (18% gain in votes for the SP in urban areas) and a section of OBCs which had splintered away from the BJP.
Yet, in the end, Yogi’s track record in governance prevailed in conveying the message that if anybody could tackle the problems of the state, it was he alone who could do it –under Modi’s dispensation at the centre.
The term “bulldozer” became famous as BJP’s lotus symbol in Uttar Pradesh due to Yogi’s firm stand against henchmen and mafias. It was the first election in UP where voters openly mentioned Yogi’s success on the law and order front as one of the main reasons for voting the BJP.
The impact of the significance of the UP poll results will be best understood if you go by what the critics of the BJP thought would happen. They thought that in 2017, the NDA had won 222 seats by margins of over 10 percentage points. Out of these 93 were won by margins of over 20 points and 129 by margins between 10-20 percentage points. Also,103 seats were won by margins of under 10 percentage points. The SP could sail through if a number of seats were lost by the BJP this time on account of lower margins last time. At least, the results would be a narrow majority for the BJP. But nothing of that sort happened.
Secondly, the critics of the BJP calculated “with reasonable degree of certainty” that the SP-RLD alliance would succeed in winning over a sizable chunk of Jat votes from the BJP in the entire sugarcane belt. But this did not happen. They also expected a shift of Kurmis, Mauryas, Sainis, Gujjars and other OBC caste groups in certain pockets based on candidate selection or local factors in favour of the SP because of its strong pitch for non-Yadav OBCs. But this too did not happen.
Thirdly, the critics expected a sharp decline in the support for the BSP among dalits and Muslims who would entirely shift to the SP. But what we saw was that a lot of dalit votes shifted to the BJP while the Muslim votes went to the SP’s kitty. The BJP showed it could blend caste and ‘development’ and promote cultural issues.
Lastly, everyone expected the economic issues like unemployment as well as the SP’s promise to restore the old pension scheme would turn everything in favour of Akhilesh Yadav.
Although there was tremendous pressure on account of these issues, the BJP managed to pull through because of Modi and Yogi’s appeal.
Modi was the single most dominant factor in UP, Uttarakhand and Manipur. In Uttarakhand, the BJP became the first party to get a second straight term since the formation of the hill state in 2000. It is another matter, unfortunately for the party, BJP chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami who had turned the tide, lost his own seat.
In Goa, the BJP touching the half-way mark was no less an achievement, considering no one has replaced late Manohar Parrikar as the mass leader.
As far as Manipur goes, the BJP managed a comfortable majority, scoring gains in the hills as well as in the Imphal Valley.
In all these states, Modi’s campaign focussed on the benefits of a “double-engine” government, besides Covid-19 vaccination and the free rations scheme introduced to ease the blow of the pandemic on economically weaker sections.
By all accounts, the main unifier in these elections was Modi, who was able to ensure a turnaround for the party.
His pro-poor policies and Hindutva identity politics were only a part of the reasons for the BJP’s appeal. In fact, this year’s elections did not see so much of Hindutva agenda as the party chose to keep focus on welfare and developmental concerns during elections. What came across quite strongly was that there were fewer takers for the narrative of the opposition and their ecosystem.
On the other hand, for the Congress, it was supposed to be Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s best shot with her campaign, ‘Ladki Hoon, Lad Sakti Hoon’ (I’m a girl, I can fight) campaign in Uttar Pradesh. But, lacking traction among the voters, the Congress campaign collapsed, plagued by complaints over selection of candidates and corruption over distribution of tickets and, above all, by sheer lack of drive shown by top leaders, especially the Sonia Gandhi family. Almost 92 per cent of the Congress candidates lost their deposit in UP.
AAP gains because of Congress’ “harakiri” and rejection of Akalis
In Punjab, where the Congress was in power for the last ten years, it was a harakiri of sorts– characterised by mother of all battles involving Pradesh Congress chief Navjyot Singh Sidhu (an appointee of Rahul and Priyanka) and Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi (also an appointee of the brother-sister duo). The unceremonious exit of Capt Amarinder Singh which was executed by the Gandhi family boomeranged rather than helped the Congress.
Therefore, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) romped home, securing a three-fourths majority with 92 of the 117 seats — the highest number of seats won by any party in over decades in the state.
So much so, a stunning victory in Punjab has made some think that the AAP can be the real challenger to the BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. Yes, it has become the first regional party to win an election in a second state and poised to fill the space where the Congress may be diminished. Even Mamata Banerjee, who won West Bengal for a record third time, could not steer the Trinamool Congress to capture power in Tripura earlier and now in Goa or Manipur, which have remained under the sway of the BJP.
AAP’s victory in Punjab goes to show that Arvind Kejriwal’s welfare politics does attract voters. The BJP cannot afford to ignore this point. The AAP’s promised Punjab voters doles for women, better schools and colleges, freebies covering electricity and water and generating jobs attracted everyone. The voters in Punjab were already fed up with the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and its family-dominated shenanigans. They were disgusted with the infighting and corruption of the kind seen under the Congress rule too.
So they turned to AAP — in the sheer hope of a qualitative better era of governance, just as the voters of Delhi did by handing a massive mandate to Kejriwal in 2015.
It is natural now that Arvind Kejriwal is thinking of winning elections next in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh where the assembly polls are due by end of this year.
AAP faces real test in Punjab
Apart from Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat, other key states where polls will take place in the next two years are Karnataka, Tripura, Meghalaya, and Nagaland (early 2023) followed by Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan (late 2023). AAP does not have a sizable presence in these states though there is a huge potential for such a party to grow and compete with the BJP.
However, the real test for Kejriwal will be Punjab. His Delhi model has won him Punjab. By the time elections are held in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat, the AAP’s performance would be tested in governing Punjab, which is already drowning under 3 lakh crore public debt.
Besides implementing its promises of ensuring the freebies, the AAP will have to show steps taken towards tackling the issues of drugs and unemployment and strive for bettering the state of education, healthcare and industry. Punjab is a good beginning for AAP but there must be tangible results to showcase –just as Modi did with his Gujarat model.
What is ahead for Modi and other parties?
An inescapable conclusion is that, with the decline of the Congress totally, there is no national party to take on the BJP. Only regional players –where they are strong –can match up to the BJP. Secondly, one cannot dismiss the verdict in favour of the BJP in UP and other states simply to the “rise” of Hindutva.
People have shown that they have implicit trust in the leadership of Modi and the BJP. There are severe economic issues like high fuel prices, inflation, border issues, and unemployment, and they expect Modi to solve them one by one. People do not see these problems as created by the BJP but as a result of policies followed by previous regimes several years ago. This people’s faith in Modi’s leadership goes beyond caste lines.
Modi will not ignore the message of these elections. He is bound to focus more on delivery of essential governance to the poorest of the poor.
That makes a lot of political sense and also because it is the right thing to do. That means Modi will need more of his ministers at the centre and in the states (where the BJP is in power) to work harder and single-pointedly push for better governance at the grassroot level.
The appeal of the “double-engine growth” phenomenon that was first established in the assembly polls of Assam and Bihar is here to stay. People will continue to vote for Modi due to the success of last-mile delivery with respect to central schemes. Therefore, Modi is keen more on focussing on time-bound delivery of schemes in all states including Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh where the polls will be held later this year.
Importance for Yogi
Yogi has, no doubt, emerged much taller after the UP victory and his stature will rise further in the party. Many think that, after Modi, Yogi is very popular among the masses. Other BJP chief ministers may try to emulate Yogi for delivering benefits on the ground–in a much better manner.
Some may think that the rise of Yogi means downsizing of other leaders like Amit Shah or Rajnath Singh. But that would be a wrong conclusion–because Modi would still want Yogi to work harder in UP so that, by 2024, the BJP is able to showcase the UP model of governance for the rest of India.
Without a strong national face, one cannot think of an alternative person right now to challenge Modi in the Lok Sabha polls.
All this talk of a credible third front is bound to be much ado about nothing.
The 2022 results will also have a bearing on the election of the President of India, expected later this year. The term of President Ram Nath Kovind ends on July 24. The win in UP, Uttarakhand and Manipur will ensure that the BJP will have a decisive say in the presidential election.
By Shekhar Iyer
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