New Delhi: The victory in Uttar Pradesh, Manipur and Uttarakhand has come as a shot in the arm for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the backdrop of the farmers’ agitation, Covid-19 pandemic, inflation and unemployment — factors that were expected to hurt the party’s prospects.
Results for assembly elections to five states, held over February and March, were announced Thursday. While the BJP won the aforementioned three states, and looked set to assume power in Goa — where it reached the halfway mark — Punjab went to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
A victory in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections is especially crucial for the BJP in the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
With 80 Lok Sabha seats, the state is critical for the party in terms of laying the groundwork and generating momentum for its campaign to ensure a third consecutive term for Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“The route to Delhi is via Lucknow. Since Uttar Pradesh has 80 seats in the Lok Sabha, it’s very important for the BJP to be in power in Uttar Pradesh to return to power in 2024…” Union Home Minister and the BJP’s chief strategist Amit Shah said in an interview to The Indian Express last week.
“If anyone wants to form a government with full majority at the Centre, it cannot be without Uttar Pradesh’s mandate,” he added.
The victory is also significant as it marks the first time in nearly 40 years that an incumbent government has been voted to power again in Uttar Pradesh.
Modi was the single most dominant factor for the BJP in UP, Uttarakhand and Manipur as the party 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.
The victory can be seen as a stamp of approval for PM Modi’s pro-poor policies and the last-mile delivery of schemes.
‘A new constituency’
Neelanjan Sircar, a senior fellow at the Delhi-based think tank Centre for Policy Research (CPR), pointed out that direct benefit transfer (DBT) — a flagship initiative of the Modi government — has created a new constituency for Modi, which is visible in the results.
“Heavy investment in women voters has helped (West Bengal CM) Mamata Banerjee, (Bihar CM) Nitish Kumar, (Odisha CM) Naveen Patnaik, and, nationally, Modi has benefitted from DBT transfer too,” he added.
“But it is also true that the marginalisation of the BSP will not be a challenge for the BJP in 2024 in Uttar Pradesh,” he said, explaining that a bipolar contest with the Samajwadi Party (SP) in 2024 will work to the BJP’s advantage.
According to a senior BJP leader, the results have also affirmed the party’s belief that, despite economic adversities or challenges in terms of unemployment, PM Modi through his pro-poor policies and Hindutva identity politics has the ability to pull off a turnaround when required.
“The main unifier in these elections has been PM Modi, who has been able to ensure a turnaround for the party,” the senior BJP leader said. “Even in states like Goa and Uttarakhand, where the atmosphere was not very conducive, his rallies and public programmes did manage to make some changes.”
“There is no other leader who has such an appeal and who can carry the entire campaign on his shoulders.”
Another party functionary said the appeal of the “double-engine growth phenomenon” had been established in the assembly polls of Assam and Bihar, where people voted for PM Modi due to the success of last-mile delivery with respect to central schemes.
“Even in Bihar, where the first pandemic assembly elections were held, all pollsters were certain that the migrant crisis would upset the BJP poll prospects,” added the functionary.
“But Garib Kalyan Yojana (free rations), PM Samman Nidhi, schemes for women, Nal Se Jal helped the BJP. This is the learning that was used in these assembly elections too.”
The Uttar Pradesh victory is likely to set Modi on the path of focussing on time-bound delivery of schemes as a campaign mainstay in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, where elections are due in around 6 months.
‘Stamp of approval for Yogi’
Another party leader said the UP victory will also be seen as a stamp of approval for Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, and his stature will rise further in the party.
“It is for the first time in UP that the BJP chief minister has become a brand that is equally popular as Modi. Other BJP chief ministers will try to emulate Yogi,” he added.
Professor Vivek Kumar of JNU pointed out that the marginalisation of the Congress in north India leaves the BJP without a strong challenger in 2024, noting that the two parties are usually in a direct contest in around 200 seats.
Without a strong national face and media support and election alliance, it is difficult to challenge Modi in Lok Sabha polls at least, he said.
No credible third front will be formed due to the “inner-contradiction” of the leaders involved, he added, saying “this will benefit Modi”.
The 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 24 July. The win in UP, Uttarakhand and Manipur will ensure that the BJP will have a decisive say in the presidential election.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)