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Assembly elections 2017: Modi new Shah of heartland as BJP wins big in UP, Uttarakhand

The Bharatiya Janata Party captured 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.

assembly elections Updated: Mar 15, 2017 13:22 IST
Krittivas Mukherjee and DK Singh
Krittivas Mukherjee and DK Singh
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Assembly elections 2017,BJP,Narendra Modi
A BJP worker holds a huge laddu during celebrations after the party’s victory in UP and Uttarakhand assembly elections, at the party headquarters in New Delhi on Saturday. (PTI)

The Bharatiya Janata Party won stunning election victories in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand on Saturday, a personal triumph for Prime Minister Narendra Modi that could now ensure his party’s near-domination of politics in India.

Riding on Modi’s charismatic campaign, the BJP registered the biggest-ever victory by any political party in Uttar Pradesh since Indira Gandhi led the Congress to 309 seats in 1980 before the state was divided. In doing so the saffron outfit replicated its landslide victory in the 2014 national polls.

The results routed the Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance, as well as the Bahujan Samaj Party, once a dominant power in a state where the BJP last ruled in 2002.

Winning the politically crucial state could help Modi set the tone for a second term in the national elections in 2019. The mandate also signaled a ringing endorsement of his policies, especially 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.

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.

Follow our election coverage on Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

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.”

But few political pundits foresaw the scale of the BJP’s victory in Uttar Pradesh, where Modi staked his personal reputation on a high-octane campaign.

Election commission data showed the BJP’s vote share in the UP doubled to about 39.7% over the last assembly polls in 2012, a stunning achievement also credited to Amit Shah, the BJP president and Modi’s chief election strategist. The party had bagged 42.6% votes in Lok Sabha elections in 2014.

Even in states where the Congress was ahead the BJP registered a higher vote share. The party bagged 32.5% votes in Goa to Congress’s 28.4% while in Manipur it got 36.2% versus its rival’s tally of 35.1%.

Congress wrests Punjab, AAP routed

Also at stake in these polls were the survival of the Congress and relevance for a clutch of regional parties, especially the Aam Aadmi Party which was seeking to expand its influence beyond the national capital where it won power in 2015.

The BJP wrested Uttarakhand from the Congress. The two were neck-and-neck in Manipur and Goa where smaller parties will now hold the balance of power.

For the Congress, some consolation came from Punjab, where the party rode anti-incumbency to decisively boot out the Akali Dal-BJP alliance.

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.

Innovative campaign

Early on in the campaign, the BJP sought to leverage Prime Minister Modi’s pro-development credentials but weeks before the close of the polls played its Hindutva card that appeared to have helped it 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 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), 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 a 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.”

Click here for Assembly elections live updates.

First Published: Mar 11, 2017 17:16 IST