“2022 has decided the results of 2024,” said an elated Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his victory address to party workers after the BJP won the states of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur that went to the polls held over February and March. Sceptics might downplay the prophecy as an expression of wishful thinking as Punjab, the fifth state where the elections were held, was swept by the BJP’s rival in the national Capital. But a closer look would make them think twice.
The BJP not only retained all the four states where it ruled but significantly increased its vote share in all, fighting against the proverbial anti-incumbency wave. In fact, riding a rare pro-incumbency wave has broken many past records.
In the most populous Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, it became the first party to win a second successive Assembly election in the last 37 years and its Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath will become the first CM in the state’s electoral history to enjoy an uninterrupted second term. In Uttarakhand, where the BJP and the Congress alternated in power in every election, it broke the jinx of anti-incumbency despite changing the Chief Minister thrice during the last five years. In the north-eastern state of Manipur, it will form the government on its own for the first time and in the coastal state of Goa, it scored a rare hat-trick. Each of the states it has won differs in size, geographical location, political history and the challenges to their government. But the BJP is their pan-India link.
Even the Punjab outcome — where Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) registered a landslide victory against the ruling Congress – suits Modi’s long-term goal of a Congress-free India. The BJP was never a major player in the state. Moreover, AAP’s expansion will only bolster Kejriwal’s ambition to play a greater role in national politics and further diminish the Congress party’s hope of being the binding glue for cobbling up an illusory unity of anti-BJP forces.
As Modi said in his victory speech, ‘Sun is sure to set on dynastic politics in the country.’ The jibe was not only directed at Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Rahul but it also included SP leader Akhilesh Yadav and Tamil Nadu CM MK Stalin
Taking to Twitter, PM Modi said, “I would like to congratulate AAP for their victory in the Punjab elections. I assure all possible support from the Centre for Punjab’s welfare.”
In a twisted irony of politics, by giving a decisive blow to Congress, the AAP helped it save money. The high command had deployed its trouble-shooters, including CMs of the two Congress-ruled states, to whisk its flock of MLAs to holiday resorts to guard them in case of hung Assemblies in Punjab and Uttarakhand.
As Modi said in his victory speech, ‘Sun is sure to set on dynastic politics in the country.’ The jibe was not only directed at Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Rahul but also included former UP chief minister and SP supremo Akhilesh Yadav and Tamil Nadu CM and DMK leader MK Stalin.
The Prime Minister also asked the party workers not to forget the meaning of the mandate, while they celebrated. “The poor and underprivileged had put their faith in the BJP. When you have the country’s best interests at heart, only then can you make brave decisions and that’s where I derive my strength,” he said.
Seen as the dress-rehearsal for the 2024 General Election when Modi will be seeking a third term as PM, these Assembly results are bound to cheer up the BJP supporters and fans. The decisive victory in UP would be music to their ears as the state sends 80 members to the Lok Sabha and Prime Minister Modi himself represents the Varanasi constituency in the state.
The results have also demolished the myth generated after the BJP’s West Bengal debacle that the Modi magic does not work in state elections.
However, beyond the fate of winners and losers, these elections have underscored a transformative change in the nature of political discourse and the imperative of good governance. One of the major takeaways from the recent electoral outcomes is that the emergent BJP leadership seems to have realised the limitations of a political campaign based on polarising the electorate. Though there were occasional references to such issues, Prime Minister Modi and other senior party leaders distinctly concentrated their political messaging to the party’s performance on the promise of inclusive development and the steps taken by the Central and BJP ruled states for the welfare of the common man.
Perform or perish, say the enlightened voters
The results in UP and Uttarakhand particularly show that the beneficiaries of the various welfare schemes cut across the fault lines of caste and community and voted for the BJP for a second term.
In the midst of the vote-bank politics based on caste and creed, a new group of voters emerged, cutting across fault lines— the ‘labharathi large (or the beneficiary group). This new group of voters are the beneficiaries of various flagship welfare schemes. According to a quick calculation, they accounted for 130 million of UP’s 150 million voters.
In the midst of vote bank politics based on caste and creed, a new group of voters emerged, cutting across fault lines— the ‘labharthi varg’ (or the beneficiary group)
In the midst of the vote-bank politics based on caste and creed, a new group of voters emerged, cutting across fault lines— the ‘labharthi large (or the beneficiary group). This new group of voters are the beneficiaries of various flagship welfare schemes. According to a quick calculation, they accounted for 130 million of UP’s 150 million voters.
This marks a change in the approach to the model of governance that panders to the greed of a particular caste and community but concentrates in the development of welfare and growth of all. The slogan of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, is the guiding principle.
In the past, India has launched various welfare schemes the benefit of which never reached the last man in the line due to a corrupt delivery system. The Modi model ensured that it reached the targeted people. He created a basket of schemes each addressing a basic need such as PM Awas Yojana, PM Ujjwala Yojana, Jan Dhan Accounts, PM Kisan Nidhi Yojana, PM Jeevan Suraksha Yojana and so on.
The Prime Minister’s office scrupulously monitored the implementation of his flagship schemes, Together, if one makes a back of envelope calculation for a household, the Government transferred close to Rs 3 lakh to a household.
This approach makes the whole population as the right holder, with some qualifiers for each scheme. This not only ensured the actual delivery of the promised benefit but also made the common man feel that the Government cared for him. This is a giver-receiver matrix of development and has a huge electoral connection.
Perform or perish was another significant message of the electorate this time. The failure of the BJP’s Uttar Pradesh rival Samajwadi Party to convince the electorate was, to some extent a reflection of its poor governance record, especially its inability to maintain law and order when it was in power. The allegation of nepotism in the distribution of perks of power also affected the credibility of its promises of jobs for all. At the same time, the credible performance of the AAP Government in Delhi enhanced its credibility among the voters in Punjab, who were fed up with power struggles within the Congress and SAD camps.
The outcome of the Assembly elections will have long-term implications for the coming state Assembly elections in Gujarat next year and Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra subsequently. For the Congress, the defeat in the Punjab and Uttarakhand is a clear indication of the limitations of its central leadership to manage the party’s state organisations from Delhi. It almost scored a self-foal in Punjab by first encouraging dissidence against former chief minister Capt. Amrinder Singh and then allowing it to continue even after replacing him by Channi to play the Dalit card. A similar lacklustre attitude was adopted by the Congress high command in handling the party affairs in strife-ridden Uttarakhand. Factional feuds are still simmering in other states’ units, including Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh ruled by it and there are no indications that the party’s central leadership is capable of handling them.
The down-the-hill role of Congress is bound to leave a void in the space for the non-BJP opposition. West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC chief Mamata Banerjee are already trying to outflank the Congress in forging an anti-BJP front. After the Punjab victory, Kejriwal also has plans to play a greater role in national politics. While only time will tell what happens to the prospect of the unity of the non-BJP opposition, the BJP can afford to wait and watch with a smug smile. It is going to cash the immediate dividend of its recent success in the coming Rajya Sabha and Presidential elections.
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