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BRP Bhaskar: Meaning of a poll verdict
March 14, 2017
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The Bharatiya Janata Party’s stunning landslide victory in the Hindu heartland state of Uttar Pradesh has boosted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image, raising high hopes in the Hindutva camp and deep despair in its foes.

The BJP’s return to power in the state, home of one-sixth of all Indians, after a 15-year gap, confirms its status as the country’s largest party and sets it ahead of rivals in the run-up for the national elections due in 2019.

The BJP’s tally of 312 (not counting 13 seats won by its two small allies) in the new 403-member assembly marks electoral triumph of a magnitude witnessed only rarely – as when the Congress won 388 out of 430 seats in the first assembly elections of 1951-52 and when the people gave 352 out of 425 seats to the Janata Party in 1977 after the end of Indira Gandhi’s Emergency regime.

The UP verdict breaks the spell of electoral drought Modi and the BJP experienced after the sensational 2014 Lok Sabha victory. Delhi state had rebuffed them in 2015 and Bihar, the second largest heartland state, in 2016.

The hopes and fears aroused by it must be moderated with the outcome of the elections in four other states which too went to the polls. Of them, only Uttarakhand, which was part of UP until 2000, gave the BJP a resounding victory.

In Punjab, where the BJP is a junior partner of the Sikh party Akali Dal, the ruling pair lost ignominiously to the Congress, which returned to power after a decade, with 77 of the 117 assembly seats. The Akali Dal’s strength fell from 56 in the last house to 15 and the BJP’s from 12 to three.

The BJP, which was in power in Goa, suffered a setback, its strength in the 40-member assembly falling from 21 to 13. The Congress nearly doubled its strength to 17 and emerged as the largest party.

In the northeastern state of Manipur, the Congress lost power but remained the largest party in the 60-member assembly with 27 seats, against the BJP’s 22.

Acting fast, the BJP managers secured enough support from small parties and independents in both Goa and Manipur to beat the Congress in the race to power.

A conclusion that can be drawn from the electoral verdict is that the people voted against the ruling dispensation in all the states. The BJP’s big win in UP and Uttarakhand is attributable to the communal polarisation promoted by Sangh Parivar associates and Modi’s uncanny ability to derive electoral profit from it, using binaries like graveyard-cremation and Eid-Holi.

There was not even one Muslim among the 403 candidates of the BJP and its allies although the community accounts for one-fifth of UP’s population and BJP vice-president and minority poster boy Mukthar Abbas Naqvi hails from the state. The BJP nominees included Somnath Som, a hate-speech case accused, and Suchi Chaudhury, wife of a riot case accused.

The Samajwadi Party, which draws support primarily from the backward Yadav community, and the Bahujan Samaj Party, the standard bearer of the Dalits, had alternated in power in UP in the last 15 years. This time the SP fought in alliance with the Congress but a rift between party chief Mulayam Singh and his son and Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav botched its chances.

The decline of the SP and the BSP suggests that identity politics is losing its edge.

BSP chief Mayawati has alleged that the BJP engineered the UP victory by tampering with the electronic voting machines. The possibility of hacking of EVMs was first suggested by BJP veteran LK Advani in 2009 and a technician demonstrated how it could be done. A year later University of Michigan researchers claimed they were able to change the results on an Indian EVM by sending messages from a mobile phone.

Many countries have abandoned electronic voting in view of the potential for mischief. Given the Hindutva camp’s poor record as a respecter of laws, Mayawati’s allegation cannot be rejected outright. While not endorsing her charge, the Congress has urged the Election Commission to look into it and dispel misgivings.

Having improved its position in three of the five states which went to the polls, the BJP can now raise its strength in the Rajya Sabha by increasing its representation from these states in the next biennial elections to the house. It can also try to get one from the Sangh Parivar elected as India’s next President.
 
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 The author is a political analyst of reckoning
 

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