Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Modi Wave Part 2

Globally, sub-national elections don't get much thought outside their area of interest. When President Trump won the US elections, few people outside the US also knew that his party had swept a majority of Governor's Houses in the country as well. In Germany, the International media celebrates the defeat of AfD in federal elections, but quickly forgets their increasing clout in the states. And in the last round of assembly elections in India, UP in particular, all the self-declared experts got it wrong. Those who considered Prime Minister Narendra Modi's popularity to inevitably decline - quietly hoping for a 2004-style upset in 2019 - also got it wrong.

Ending the BJP's two decade long vanvaas in India's largest state (and also the world's largest sub-national entity by population, at over 200 million people) by leading from the front, Prime Minister Narendra Modi pulled off what even his supporter's would've never believed to be possible - a triple century in UP. A victory of such magnitude was not build from a few bastions, but was spread evenly by geography - from the Western UP districts of Saharanpur and Meerut, all the way to the East in Gorakhpur, home of the new CM Yogi Adityanath, and Varanasi, which the BJP swept entirely for the first time in its history. The many myths created by the Deep Congress - a wave in favor of former CM Akhilesh Yadav, the silent majority behind Mayawati, Jat anger against the BJP, the age-old tradition of Muslim consolidation, and more - were in vain, as the revenge of the establishment that was in full wave in Bihar and Delhi in 2015 collapsed without a trace.

For the BJP, this victory sets the stage for another Lok Sabha majority in 2019, giving Modi a second term as Prime Minister. This will not be easy, but it is now realistic. The Prime Minister's hard work and clever politics have registered with the people of India's largest state, without which a Lok Sabha majority is all but impossible. If the new CM, who is a popular leader in his own right, can keep the BJP's flock together in a notoriously faction-ridden state party, and deliver at a minimum on the law and order front by 2019, then the next general elections will be for the BJP to win. Make no mistake, the clock is ticking and the electorate expects performance.

The Congress continued its decline in the state, coming 5th after the BJP's ally, the Apna Dal, possibly its worst performance in history in the state. What's more, the party put everything into it - Rahul Gandhi personally campaigned endlessly while his sister Priyanka Vadra led the backroom negotiations with the SP. Self-proclaimed Chanakya, Prashant Kishore, first roped in former Delhi CM Sheila Dixit, and then unceremoniously dumped her, as the party's CM nominee. In a matter of weeks, it went from #27SaalUpBehaal to #UPkoYehSaathPasandHai! And yet, it made no difference for the Congress. Their real problem is that they've become the Muslim League of this century - seen as being actively anti-Hindu, with no agenda other than 'protecting' Muslims, while keeping them in abject poverty. In the face of an aspiration for a better life and nationalism, they simply have no answer at all, and it doesn't help that their leadership (the Dynasty) does not have the slightest clue as to how to build a party organization, wrongly believing that the Delhi media can substitute for it.

The SP, as the incumbent, did quite badly, but that is not a big surprise. What's more surprising is that the whole drama of the war in the Yadav clan, and Akhilesh Yadav - 'Mr. Clean' - breaking with his corrupt family, came a cropper. Which is not to say that Akhilesh was not popular - he was - but that popularity alone could not translate into votes. It goes back to the fundamental fact of winning elections - you need organization and strategy beyond, and a real message. Akhilesh lacked all of them, and his own personal popularity couldn't make up for that.

If the Congress has been on the decline in UP since the 80s, the BSP's defeat may just spell doom for the party. From winning  simple majority in 2007, Mayawati first lost big time in 2014, and has now lost again in UP. The person who nourished ambitions to be Prime Minister should now really wonder how she can even become the leading opposition in the only state where the party has any sizable presence. This time, she tried to forge a Dalit-Muslim combination, going as far as preceding campaign rallies with Quranic recitations, but the fact is that aside from Jatav voters, who are spread too thin, Dalits themselves are not buying it. Thus, her core constituency is not with her any more, and any attempt to create a larger coalition will fail without a stable nucleus.

Lastly, this election has ramifications for the rest of the country, as well. This is the third consecutive election that has given a clear majority to a single party, firmly ending the coalition era in the state. And while coalitions do exist in many other state, they are clearly not here to stay. 

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