With the next round of assembly elections — in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh — scheduled towards the year-end, the focus is likely to return to governance. Most of the Union ministers, and even Prime Minister Narendra Modi, were actively involved in canvassing for the BJP in these five states, especially in the country’s most populous state UP, at a time when the impact of demonetisation threatened to unravel India’s growth story.
The final phase of polling in UP on Wednesday covers 40 assembly seats across seven districts, but the focus is on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “home turf” Varanasi.
During these two months, the BJP, fighting against the Congress and SP alliance and Mayawati’s BSP, shifted its focus from development issues to a Hindutva plank in the last rounds.
The results of all five states — UP, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa and Manipur — will be out on March 11, and are expected to influence the future political line of the NDA government as well as the opposition parties.
The UP results may also alter the arithmetic in the upcoming presidential polls.
The elections in UP come in the backdrop of the Modi government’s decision to ban high-value notes. The aggressive campaign of the BJP saw Modi staying put in Varanasi for an unprecedented three days and almost all Hindi-speaking ministers deployed in UP to ramp up the poll pitch.
The BJP went all out to campaign in these districts, the intensity more in five assembly segments of Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency that Modi represents. He ended his campaign with a road show in the Kurmi-dominated Rohaniya constituency on Monday.
The BJP is aware that Modi’s popularity would be measured by how the party performs in Varanasi and six other Lok Sabha seats in the final round.
The party had swept these parliamentary seats in the 2014 parliamentary polls. But it had won only four of the 40 assembly seats in the 2102 state polls.
Scoring the most here has thus become a prestige issue for the party that has allied with the Apna Dal and Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party to gain support of the backward castes that could be a decisive factor.
Apart from Modi, more than 20 Union ministers, including Rajnath Singh, whose ancestral village is in Chandauli, and three ministers from region – Manoj Kumar Sinha, Mahendra Nath Pandey and Anupriya Patel – have concentrated on the final phase.
The ruling SP and ally Congress, besides the BSP, have focussed attention on this phase in a bid to pull the carpet from under Modi’s feet. Chief minister Akhilesh Yadav is facing the stiffest challenge as the SP had won 24 of the 40 seats in 2012.
He had addressed about 25 public meetings in the seven poll-bound districts, besides holding a joint road show with Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi.
The final phase will also be a test for the Congress, which is keen on regaining lost ground in the state’s south-eastern region with SP’s support. Gandhi had addressed several rallies in the region that used to be a Congress stronghold.
The Congress, which won only three seats in the region in 2012, has fielded candidates in 10 seats.
BSP chief Mayawati is relying on the Dalit-Muslim combination and alliance with the Quami Ekta Dal to stage a comeback. The BSP won only five seats in the region as SP had eaten into its vote base.
“The political parties mobilised their strength to touch the finishing line of this assembly election. The party or alliance that does a Usain Bolt will form the government,” KM Prasad, a political observer, said.