Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charisma seems to have worked once again. Most of the pollsters had predicted that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would come out victorious in the recently-held five state Assembly elections, but none of them could see the kind of victory the party could muster when the results were out on March 10. For instance, in the case of Uttar Pradesh (UP), political Pandits had predicted that the voters will indeed vote the BJP to power but not with the kind of absolute majority that the party could get. That the poll results throw big surprises, at times, was proved this time too.
Right from the word ‘Go’, the BJP and the most of ‘we the people’ were sure that the party would make history by succeeding for a straight second term in the state, like of which never had happened. But it had been taken for sure that Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party would give the BJP a tough fight, keeping in mind that no party could get back for a second successive term in the state’s recent political history.
Then, the natural question arises as to what made the whole scenario change this time in ‘absolute favour’ of the BJP? It is agreed that broadly three factors worked for the BJP: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charisma, bipolar fight, security and the Hindutva issues that were well taken by the ‘aam aadmi’. While Modi used his oratorical skill to woo the voters, his ‘contributions’ in terms of developmental measures in the state were unmatched anywhere in the distant or recent past. This author could see in the people a kind of hope that they could repose full faith in the Prime Minister. Their common reaction was that Modi is a leader who walks the talk. They knew that the PM’s slogan, ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas’ was doable and was already a part of the party’s social uplift movement that could become a game-changer.
And then the relatively better law and order situation in the state after Yogi Adityanath took over the state reigns five years ago as CM also played a big role. The CM had acted ’very tough’ with the criminals and those who flouted the law and order system. And the people somehow felt that only by giving one more chance, they could fulfil their dreams of a happy and progressive state. And, it is true that the election campaigns in the state were mainly focussed on Yogi’s reputation of a tough CM who had done quite well in the last five years. All the Central government ministers and the top party leaders, including the Prime Minister and the Union Home Minister, had a common thread in their speeches during rallies in the state that the CM be rewarded for making the people’s living conditions better and happier in the last five years of his term, with his progressive and inclusive measures.
Secondly, the bipolar fight between the BJP and the Samajwadi Party (SP) gave a definitive edge to the former, with the other contestants like the Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP) and the Congress having failed miserably in winning over the voters. Their candidates not only lost in many constituencies that they had fought, many of them lost their deposits as well. True, these parties, initially, had come out with great hopes of giving an electoral surprise. But the BJP’s mighty campaign trail and good records in the last five years made the voters redo their acts of voting the BJP to power once again, and thereby making a historical and political ‘difference’ that never had happened earlier.
A big jolt to SP’s hopes: At one point of time, it seemed that the Samajwadi Party led by former CM Akhilesh Yadav could give a tough fight to the BJP, and it seemed that Yadav had a good chance of coming to take the reins of the state for a second time after a gap of five years. And even a few political Pandits too had that kind of prediction. But, as the polling days approached, the ‘myst’ started getting clearer to an extent that the BJP’s possible march to the Lucknow throne became almost certain. Even the opinion polls much before the election days had a clear pointer towards the BJP’s victory for a second term. But it needs to be noted that the SP this time did much better than the last time in 2017, with votes’ margin and the seats won relatively much higher. Most pollsters had pointed out that it was quite a tough task for the SP to keep its party alive and yet ‘fight out’ the BJP at the same time.
And then you had another party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, lead by the mercurial Mayawati. True that nobody could ever imagine that her party can do a ‘comeback’, but she could have been a ‘spoiler’ for the BJP or the SP. That too did not happen because her success was relatively ‘insignificant’. Her party’s vote share came down to 12% from 22% in 2017. This was really a great setback for a party that had won the UP throne in 2007 with a good majority. It seems that the party has lost its loyal Dalit voters besides the Jatavs. And her loss was definitely the gain of the BJP. It is felt that the BSP’s loyal voters switched over to the BJP because of its numerous socially beneficial schemes that gave the poor and the downtrodden a hope for a dignified life.
Any critical report or analysis of the polls without mentioning the Congress party’s role and its fate would be not only incomplete but ‘irresponsible’ as well. With only 2 seats in its bag from UP, the party has been hit with a huge political shock. Though it would be too premature to say that it has no future relevance in Indian politics, the fact remains that the party may have to face a harrowing time in the days and years ahead. The party’s basic cadre revival everywhere in the country itself is a big, big challenge; and taking the reins of the country could be just a dream.
The Congress’ general secretary, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, in-charge of the UP election campaign, had indeed ignited the hopes of the Congress revival in the state, but that didn’t happen. As a result, now the so-called image of a ‘winner’ too has vanished away. The problem with the Congress is that it lacks a strong and efficient leadership, and it has lost its contact with the people at the ‘base level’ that constitutes 80% of the vote-bank. From about a dozen states that it ruled in 2011, it is now left with only two states: Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh!
And then, coming to Punjab, what happened there was a kind of a ‘gone conclusion’ right from the middle of the campaign rush by various parties. And that there was a huge problem in the Congress in not being able to keep its house intact in the state helped other parties like the Aam Aadmi Party of Arvind Kejriwal make the most of others’ failings. It was understood much before the election dates that the AAP will comfortably have in its bag the erstwhile Congress-led government. But what happened was a great surprise even for the ‘poll gurus’ because no one had expected that the AAP would ride the wave with a grand majority of 92 seats out of 117 seats in the House. That itself is a record of a best-ever performance by any party after the 1966 reorganisation of the State. As a result, the two traditionally strong rivals in the State, the Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), have been reduced to ‘nowhere’ levels. By and large, one gets the feeling that one main reason for the state being one of the poorest states in the country was the Congress and the SAD’s inability to do anything serious that could uplift the plight of the people. There was also a huge perception among the voters that corruption had gone rampant and it had become ‘cancerous’ in the state’s affairs in the past several decades. This kind of feeling among the people led them to look for something new and try the AAP that promised them all they wanted: Free electricity, free education, free medical facilities for the poor etc. In other words, Arvind Kejriwal, the CM of Delhi and the convener of AAP, could touch the people’s hearts with the promise of delivering in Punjab too the kind of Government sops given in Delhi. This ignited the people’s mind and they voted the AAP wholeheartedly to power.
In the rest of the three states, Goa, Uttarakhand and Manipur, the BJP’s victory had been predicted by most poll Pandits. True, there were quite a few commentators who had doubts about the BJP winning this time around in Uttarakhand and Goa, because of several reasons, mainly anti-establishment feelings. That led some to predict that the Congress might gain in Goa and Uttarakhand. The day of the poll results, March 10, 2022, proved such ‘wild guesses’ altogether wrong, and the BJP was returned to power in these states again.
In Uttarakhand, the Congress, led by veteran leader Harish Rawat, had to have a big defeat. The complete rout of Rawat and his party in the state proved a few pollsters wrong. On the other hand, the BJP’s win under the leadership of former Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami too is an unprecedented ‘comeback’ for a second consecutive term. Similarly, in Manipur, the BJP party, lead by N Biren Singh, too was returned to power for the second time. Though the BJP could just cross the majority number of 32 out of 56, the Congress failed to get into a double-digit number of seats. It won only 5 seats. An elated Biren Singh said, soon after the election results, that his party would continue to be in alliance with the Naga People’s Front (NPF) for the next five years too.
It is true that the BJP’s thumping triumph in the recent Assembly elections in four out of five states was more because its consistency and 24×7 hard-work by its cadre at the base levels, reflecting the Modi government’s programmes and successes. Yes, it is also true that a completely ‘disintegrated’ Opposition could not really stand firm against the BJP’s mighty structural strength and resolve. The voters failed to see any alternative against the BJP in the four out of five states that went to the polls. That meant that in the absence of a clear narrative among the opposition parties, it was like vacating the ‘battle ground’ for the BJP to do a clean sweep.
The only setback that the BJP had to face was the outcome in Punjab; but then that was on the expected lines. The AAP sprang up ‘out of nowhere’ as a possible alternative to the Congress, BJP or the SAD in the state. It had got very few seats in the 2017 elections, but this time it could successfully ‘play its game’ on the disappointment and frustration of the people and also the long-drawn ‘battle’ with the farmers. The AAP had sensed a very effective tool out of the farmers’ movement and saw a possible ride to victory months before the elections. One could hear during the campaign days in the state many people saying that the time had come for trying a new face and a new alternative. Nobody can predict right now for sure whether the AAP can fulfil its promises in the next five years. But it is quite likely that the BJP, with its past performance record, can very well come up to the expectations of the people in the four states it was returned to power.
But the highlight of this article has to be the biggest win of the BJP in the Uttar Pradesh poll-outcome. Not that the opposition parties, particularly the Samajwadi Party, were not alive to the need to make the people see in them an alternative to the BJP, they knew and tried their best for an overturning game in their favour but they failed purely because they could not match up to the BJP’s might and Modi’s charisma of swaying the voters and win them over.
(The author is a New Delhi-based Editor-at-large, columnist and professional speaker. The views are his own.)