The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), headed for a three-fourths majority in the Uttar Pradesh assembly underscores yet again the fact that the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah combine plays to win and win big.
This is the key difference between BJP 1.0 and BJP 2.0. The way the duo plunged headlong into the electoral arena and led the party from the front is a sort of reflection of the adage of living each day as if it was your last.
Needless, the just-concluded UP polls is a mini-2014 elections characterised by the same features: gigantic stakes, massive expectations, and a charged atmosphere, all culminating in a comprehensive electoral triumph for the party. It’s instructive to briefly examine the present condition of the combined opposition. One wonders what Akhilesh Yadav was thinking when he tied up with the Rahul Gandhi-led Congress but the consequence is now clear: the fatal alliance has punctured the Samajwadi Party’s cycle just like it had blunted the edge of the CPM’s sickle two years ago in West Bengal. The BSP’s elephant didn’t quite gallop, and has been reduced to tatters with 17 seats and a Mayawati throwing around conspiracy theories of EVM tampering across all the polling booths in the state.
Of the numerous reactions from non-BJP parties, these tweets from Omar Abdullah perhaps give the most accurate assessment of the magnitude of the BJP’s victory:
At this rate we might as well forget 2019 & start planning/hoping for 2024.
— Omar Abdullah (@abdullah_omar) March 11, 2017
In a nutshell there is no leader today with a pan India acceptability who can take on Modi & the BJP in 2019.
— Omar Abdullah (@abdullah_omar) March 11, 2017
How the hell did almost all the experts/analysts miss this wave in UP? It's a tsunami not a ripple in a small pond. — Omar Abdullah (@abdullah_omar) March 11, 2017
The last tweet deserves a slightly detailed examination. The reason is twofold. In a line, most media and analyst narratives so far placed their trust in wishful thinking instead of ground reality.
The trajectory of the Akhilesh Yadav’s government was marked by three key characteristics: one, rampant caste favouritism in appointments and party positions. Two, brazen Muslim appeasement, which was most noticeable during the Muzaffarnagar riots, the Hindu exodus from Kairana, and the emergence of Azam Khan as a powerful Muslim strongman. Three, rampant corruption and the near-emptying of the state’s coffers.
The other and perhaps the most important reason is the Amit Shah factor, which these analysts perhaps purposefully overlooked. In a near-repetition of the manner in which Amit Shah wrested 71 seats for the BJP in the 2014 general elections, he strategised early, worked quietly and delivered massively. As one notices retrospectively, there was hardly any word in the media from the party circles regarding the BJP’s Uttar Pradesh strategy. Outside the party, there was only speculation. This is consonant with Narendra Modi’s tactic of keeping all cards close to his chest—in other words, “you’ll know it only once it’s been accomplished.”
This stunning victory is also significant because it reflects a BJP 2.0, which doesn’t seem to become demoralised in defeat; instead, it learns from it and bounces back with renewed strength. The pointer here is to the shock-loss in Bihar, which also led to a realisation perhaps that brand Modi had been overexposed back then, and that local feedback is more important.
The learnings from Bihar were reflected in its sweep of Assam, where crucial poll decisions were left to the local leadership in the person of Himanta Biswas Sarma. The same can more or less be said about the recent triumphs in the Maharashtra and Odisha local bodies polls. In Maharashtra, it was Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis all the way.
As much as all of this is true, the one undeniable factor that won Uttar Pradesh for the BJP is Brand Narendra Modi. As this Firstpostarticle shows, Modi certainly passed the demonetisation test in flying colours, but it would be a limiting view to attribute the scale of the UP victory to just this factor. At the risk of simplification, the present victory owes to an unbeatable combination of these factors:
Developing a comprehensive social fabric woven with the threads of development, stragetic Hindutva, and a spectrum that includes non-Yadavs, non-Muslims and Dalits.
Deftly splitting the sizeable Muslim vote bank which perhaps for the first time was undecided whether to vote for the BSP (with 97 Muslim candidates), the SP or the Congress.
The undiminished personal capital of Narendra Modi as an incorruptible and hardworking Prime Minister interested only in India’s development.
Modi’s guarded address to the nation on 31 December 2016 on the impact of demonetisation indeed held clues that it was part of his Uttar Pradesh poll strategy. In retrospect, his caution back then has paid handsome dividends now.
The manner in which the BJP exploited the combined opposition’s tried and tired narrative: of doles and caste and communal goodies. Or to quote Omar Abdullah again, “Criticising the PM will only take us so far. The voter needs to know there is an option available to them that has a clear +ve road map.”
As the results show, the BJP’s decisive victories both in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand have severely demoralised the opposition, mainly the already-moribund Congress party. As I noted in my piece on the recent Maharashtra polls, the “rampant and frequent desertions will only escalate in pace and numbers as it faces a very real prospect of a huge drubbing awaiting it in Uttar Pradesh.”
While the said drubbing has occurred, the reactions from key Congress leaders are along predicted lines. Sandeep Dikshit, son of Sheila Dikshit, the Congress party’s UP Chief Ministerial candidate, remarked acidly that the “Congress treats its leaders as commodities; it's owned by a few people.” But the worse is yet to come. Between now and 2019, the Congress will face six elections in a straight contest with the Narendra Modi-led BJP. And Karnataka being its only biggest remaining state, shows promises of being doomed with former Congress CM SM Krishna and Vokkaliga heavyweight MH Ambareesh all set to join the BJP.
Equally, one hopes, perhaps in vain, that the Congress party will learn, at least now, to desist from disrupting the Parliament. With the BJP’s former opponents like Nitish Kumar slowly and tactically allying with it, there will come a time when the Congress will truly be isolated and left with zero friends. There’s also the possibility that even if the Congress offers a pre-poll alliance with other “secular” parties, there’ll be no takers given how everybody from the DMK to CPI(M) to SP have been singed by its lethal handshake.
While it’s obvious that both the Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand victories have added enormous muscle to the BJP in the Rajya Sabha, and will have a decisive impact in electing the next Vice President and the President, there’s another, more political side to it in the near future.
The astute political animal that Modi is, he’ll look at these wins to further consolidate his party’s near-unchallenged dominance in India’s political landscape and as a precursor to the 2019 polls for which he’ll set more audacious goals. In this light, it’s not far-fetched to conceive that we could witness an electoral battle on the lines of Narendra Modi vs a Unified Opposition.
Published Date: Mar 12, 2017 12:07 pm | Updated Date: Mar 12, 2017 10:06 pm