What hit Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous State, is nothing short of a political tsunami, the scale of which is unprecedented in electoral history with huge ramifications for the country in near future. A swashbuckling triple century scored by the BJP in the 403-member Assembly in the crucial State is the political equivalent of a T20 cricket match. Billed as the semi-final contest ahead of 2019 general elections, the UP poll outcome is a clear reflection of the resounding public endorsement of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership and his policies. After all, the high-octane campaign in five States was turned into a ‘Modi versus others’ battle with the Prime Minister leading his party’s campaign from the front and raising his personal stakes to the highest level. Such was the scale of saffron party’s sweeping victory that it cut across all four regions and traditional caste barriers. Significantly, the BJP did not focus on Ram temple or Hindutva this time, unlike in the past, but made development its unwavering poll plank. For the Congress, which has made a habit of losing elections in State after State after its worst drubbing in the 2014 polls, Punjab has come as a face-saver with Capt Amarinder Singh steering his party to victory. After raising hopes, the Aam Aadmi Party came a cropper both in Punjab and Goa. While the saffron party wrested Uttarakhand from the Congress with a comprehensive win, Manipur and Goa are staring at the prospect of hung Assembly.
Clearly, the Modi magic continues to hold sway over voters as the UP performance is a virtual repeat of the 2014 feat when the BJP secured a majority in 328 Assembly segments. The landslide victory also proves that demonetisation has actually worked as people seem to have appreciated the intent behind the radical move despite the pain and inconvenience it had caused. It was undoubtedly a vote for the credibility of Modi who is seen as someone who has made a sincere attempt to unearth black money and punish the rich and corrupt. The UP verdict reflects the success of BJP’s new social engineering experiment of consolidating non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits to take on the SP-Congress combine and the BSP. The saffron party’s efforts to transform itself from an upper caste-dominated party to an umbrella organisation of most backward classes and neglected sections among Dalits have now come to fruition. A combination of Modi’s mass appeal and micro-management skills of party president Amit Shah has made this reinvention strategy successful. Piggy-backing on Samajwadi Party, the Congress put up a miserable performance and ended up with a single-digit tally. Significantly, its candidates lost the Gandhi family’s bastions of Amethi and Rae Bareli. The results show that the Congress, which was allotted 103 seats as part of the alliance, has actually turned out to be an albatross around SP’s neck. Though Akhilesh enjoyed widespread goodwill for his good work, the adverse impact of the internecine war in the Yadav family was underestimated by his camp. Mayawati came across as the biggest loser with the BSP touching an all-time low tally. In a way, UP offered a rare spectacle of two strong regional parties being handed out a crushing defeat at the hands of a national party driven by one man’s charisma. There is also an indication that people of UP are willing to put the Mandal politics behind them and look forward to a new brand of politics based on development. A clear message is that the people have an emotional connect with Modi, a deep and abiding faith that the man has good intentions and that he would transform India and UP. A key takeaway of poll results is that the NDA government would be encouraged to go full throttle on the reforms programme and take the promised bold steps as a follow-up to demonetisation. The victories will boost BJP’s tally in the Rajya Sabha where it doesn’t enjoy majority now. It gives more flexibility and confidence to the NDA ahead of the Presidential election due in July. The poll outcome is bound to raise questions about Rahul Gandhi’s leadership. The party needs to revisit some of its strategies and restructure the organisation to stay relevant. The inability to nurture strong regional leaders has been its biggest failure leading to a string of electoral defeats. The lesson for opposition parties is that their coming together on anti-Modi rhetoric, without offering an alternative policy agenda, will not work. The non-BJP political formation needs to re-imagine and recalibrate its strategy to stay in contention for the next general elections.