Referendum on Modi
A little over halfway his term, Prime Minister rendra Modi has now received a resounding mandate in UP where he led the BJP’s poll campaign from the front. Considering that the BJP has not projected any chief ministerial candidate in this state dubbed the laboratory of the country’s politics, Modi was taking a huge risk. After all, back in November 2015, the same Modi vs regiol satraps strategy had misfired for the BJP in Bihar. Detractors had then questioned the BJP leadership’s wisdom of drafting the Prime Minister to take on Nitish Kumar’s proven record in governce. But Akhilesh Yadav is no Nitish Kumar, notwithstanding his popularity as a youthful leader. The Samajwadi Party’s rule was marked by crimil elements holding sway in the administration, which has long been its bane. To be fair, Akhilesh was likely less to blame for this than sections of his party’s old guard. But Modi exploited the perceived ‘goondaraj’ in UP to the hilt, along with the internecine squabble that has split open the Yadav family. In the bruising face-off with father Mulayam and uncle Shivpal, Akhilesh Yadav lost crucial time in selecting candidates and getting the SP campaign on the road. This played into the hands of the BJP, which had been building on the base established in 2014 Lok Sabha elections in which the party had bagged an astounding 71 out of 80 seats. Not only did BJP tiol president Amit Shah fine tune his booth magement tactics even further, but more importtly, he is now being credited for forging an intricate caste alliance into a winning combition. In this social engineering game-plan, the BJP hived off non-Yadav OBCs from the SP fold, as well as non-Jatav Dalits from Mayawati’s BSP vote-bank. With some canny use of polarising tactics, the saffron party made sure the Brahmin-Thakur upper caste combine stuck to it. Targeting 60 percent of the electorate this way, the saffron party did not even field a single Muslim candidate. Even if delibrate, this is an imbalance the BJP ought to correct in the coming days to govern the country’s largest state where one-fourth of the electorate is Muslim.
With UP’s ‘adopted son’ rendra Modi leading from the front, the BJP has ended up with a historic 325 assembly seats out of 403 in UP, almost a three-fourth majority. The scale of the victory has stunned pollsters, even though several exit polls had predicted that BJP was likely to end up as the single largest party in UP this time. So all projections about the Prime Minister paying dearly for his demonetisation gambit did not come off; rather, the suspicion is that in the class struggle rrative Modi adopted, cash ban was seen by the have-nots as a move to take down the filthy rich. This is where Modi’s perceived integrity has stood him in good stead, the common feeling among large sections of the people being that he is an unconventiol politician most likely to overturn ‘the system’. His identification with development issues seems to have been taken seriously, and he has been cultivating it with initiatives like rural gas connections for women, housing and electricity. The thumping win in neighbouring Uttarakhand (57 out of 70 seats) is an added bonus for the BJP, a state where a little more than half the total number of seats has earlier been good enough for parties to form governments. This is a sweet victory, coming as it does after the abortive attempt to form a government there with the support of Congress dissidents. The fact that chief minister Harish Rawat lost in both the seats he contested indicate how divided a house the Congress has become in the Himalayan state. However, the Congress this time has a good face-saver in angst-ridden Punjab, where it has registered a solid comeback win after 10 years with 77 out of 117 seats. That the widely discredited Akali Dal still maged to somewhat hold its own in pockets in Malwa and the Doab region, helped the Congress beat back the Aam Aadmi Party challenge. As for the AAP, which has drawn a blank in Goa after all its bravado, it will now have to walk its loud talk by really implementing in Delhi its promised altertive model of decentralised development. Closer to home, the fractured mandate in Manipur is still good news for the BJP where it has bagged 21 seats in the 60-member House, where it earlier had none. But the Congress-BJP battle in Manipur indicates a worrisome aspect — that the major issue was as much about safeguarding the state’s territorial integrity as about its development. Surely Manipur deserves better than using an election to address its existential worries.