The thumping BJP victory in Uttar Pradesh – combined with the results in Uttarakhand, it amounts to a sweep of the old, pre-bifurcation UP – is arguably a greater achievement for Narendra Modi than his 2014 Lok Sabha triumph.
Back then, Modi had a great deal going for him: he had a record of economic success in Gujarat; and his main rival, Congress, was completely discredited by a scandal-tainted second term in government. Smart political management by Amit Shah had wrapped Modi in a cloak of inevitability.
This time around, the odds were to some degree against Modi.
He couldn’t run on his record: Modi has not yet had significant economic success as Prime Minister — at least, not the kind that most voters can feel. His biggest economic gamble, demonetisation, has not yet delivered results that would be tangible to anybody pressing a button at the polling booth. If anything, most voters were still experiencing the pain wrought by demonetisation.
For all the hype of Modi’s foreign visits, he has not yet scored a major foreign-policy win. Where it matters most, relations with India’s neighbours, there has been no change for the better: with Pakistan and, to a certain degree China, relations are actually worse.
Whereas the Congress, led by an indisposed Sonia Gandhi and an inexperienced Rahul Gandhi, was practically supine in 2014; in UP Modi was up against two formidable rivals – on paper, anyway – the charismatic Akhilesh Yadav, and the redoubtable Mayawati.
There was nothing inevitable about a BJP win this time. Indeed, Modi had lost some of his aura of invincibility with state-level defeats in Bihar and Delhi.
What did not change was Modi’s personal appeal to voters. In 2017, as in 2014, large numbers of UP-ites were convinced that he, more than anybody else, would serve their best interests. But it was not a given that his own credibility would deliver victory in the state: after all, UP has a history of voting one way in general elections and another in assembly polls.
Finally, Modi had to overcome the drift that usually follows a big election win. We’ve seen this before: winners become complacent, party factions start bickering, sloth and corruption creep in.
The fact that Modi overcame all those things makes 2017 a bigger feather in his cap than 2014.
Bobby Ghosh is editor-in-chief of Hindustan Times