The Bharatiya Janata Party was set for stunning election victories in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand on Saturday, a personal triumph for Prime Minister Narendra Modi that could ensure his party’s near-domination of politics in India.
In the battleground state of Uttar Pradesh, the BJP seemed on course for the biggest-ever victory by any political party since Indira Gandhi led the Congress to 309 seats in 1980. Such an outcome also means the saffron party will replicate its performance in the national polls of 2014 when Modi’s personal charisma and leadership won it a landslide.
By 7pm, the BJP had won 304 seats and was leading in eight more, Election Commission data showed. The results left the ruling Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance and the Bahujan Samaj Party, once a dominant power in the state, virtually routed in the state’s 403-member assembly.
For Prime Minister Modi, who staked his personal reputation on a high-octane campaign in Uttar Pradesh, winning the politically crucial state will boost his chances for a second term in the national elections in 2019.
It also signals a ringing endorsement of his stewardship of the economy, especially after his controversial decision to scrap 500-and 1000-rupee banknotes which led to a cash crunch but was welcomed by many as helpful in fighting corruption.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi congratulated Modi on Twitter, saying his party’s fight to win the “hearts and minds” of the people would, however, continue.
Modi tweeted back within minutes: “Thank you… Long live democracy.”
CONGRESS WRESTS PUNJAB, AAP ROUTED
Also at stake in these polls were the survival of the Congress and relevance for a clutch of regional outfits, especially the Aam Aadmi Party which was seeking to expand its influence beyond the national capital, where it won power in 2015.
The BJP was set to wrest Uttarakhand from the Congress, winning 56 seats and leading in another in a 70-member assembly. State chief minister Harish Rawat lost on two seats and resigned within hours.
In Punjab, the Congress was decisively ahead, wining 76 seats and leading in one in a 117-member assembly. The BJP and Congress were neck-and-neck in Manipur and Goa where smaller parties will hold the balance of power in these assemblies.
For AAP supremo and Delhi chief minster Arvind Kejriwal, the poll results punctured his national ambitions for now.
The party won just 20 seats in Punjab and failed to open its account in Goa despite a months-long campaign that saw Kejriwal spending much time away from Delhi.
“We accept the people’s mandate with full humility. All party workers worked very hard. Our struggle will continue,” Kejriwal tweeted.
But few political pundits had foreseen the scale of the BJP’s victory in Uttar Pradesh.
Election commission data showed the party’s vote share in the state doubled to about 40% over the last assembly polls in 2012, a stunning achievement likely also to be credited to Amit Shah, the BJP president and Modi’s chief election strategist. The party bagged 42.6% votes in Lok Sabha elections in 2014.
In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP campaigned on Modi’s pro-development credentials as well as its Hindutva agenda that appeared to have helped consolidate votes on religious lines.
In a state where people tend to vote along traditional caste and religious lines, and successive governments exploited communal divisions to fire up their base, Modi appeared to have expanded his appeal among a cross section of castes and sub-castes that traditionally voted for the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party.
Several other factors also helped.
To leverage Modi’s social status as a member of the Other Backward Classes (OBC) community, the BJP started a special unit in Uttar Pradesh to mobilise OBC support in 2015. Additionally, Shah’s decision to appoint Keshav Prasad Maurya as the party state president ensured a new social combination -- consolidating roughly 40% non-Yadav Other Backward Caste votes.
Given his Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh background, the 47-year-old Phulpur MP received full organisational support and the backing of the sizeable population of Kushwahas in Eastern UP.
“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,” former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah said in a Twitter post.
The Congress admitted that the loss in Uttar Pradesh —its campaign was led by party vice-president Rahul Gandhi, was hurtful.
“Yes, UP is a bad loss, it hurts,” said party spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi. “I agree that, in UP, we need fundamental restructuring for the Congress as a whole. These have to be hard, tough decisions about strategy.”