By Praveen Rai
The result of state elections reveals that the BJP riding high on pro-incumbency wave retained power in UP, Uttarakhand and Manipur and emerged as the largest party in Goa, while AAP wrested power from the Congress in Punjab. The outcomes in five states is on expected lines as most exit polls correctly fathomed the direction of the mandate. As always, barring a few, most of them slightly deflated the seats BJP will win in UP and Uttarakhand and AAP in Punjab. It reiterates the limitations of political opinion polls, but also points out that its utility extends beyond seat and vote share projections, more specifically, towards generation of knowledge on elections.
The election writings and opinion pieces by domain experts in Delhi-NCR mainstream and social media created an information bubble that BJP is facing a tough challenge from Akhilesh Yadav led SP alliance in UP and it could go down to the wire. On the contrary, the results show that SP trailed in every phase of the electoral race and the complexities and upsurge reported could be due to ideological and wishful imaginations of anti Modi critics. It serves as a reminder of a mythical assumption that political experts and media specialists have enormous experience in interpreting elections, assessing their importance during campaigns, and estimating the effects of unexpected events on the aggregate vote. However, their omnipresence in media spaces and absence of a public audit, the accuracy rates of election forecasts by political scientists and media specialists remains scattered and unknown in India.
The analysis of the assembly election results will broadly try to understand the mandate and pinpoint the impact on political actors, electoral issues, voting choices and its implications on provincial and national politics.
The election results unveil that a twin Modi-Yogi wave swept through UP that propelled the saffron party back to power with a huge victory margin. It won 255 out of 403 assembly seats with forty-one percent votes, which is enormous, but it is 57 seats less than its tally in 2017. The BJP alliance won 267seats that included 12 of Apna Dal (Sonelal) led by Anupriya Patel and six of Nirbal Indian ShoshitHamaraAam Dal (NISHAD). SP won 111 seats that is a jump of 73 from previous elections with an improved vote share of 32 percent. It allies RLD registered victories in eight seats and SBSP won in six assembly constituencies. BSP led by Mayawatiwon a solitary seat despite garnering 13 percent votes, while the Congress managed to win two seats. The election crystallized the domination of BJP and dashed the hopes of caste identity-based regional parties to revive Mandal 2.0 politics in the state.
The saffron party’s pitch of “BJP’s Law and Order versus SP’s Rule of Goons” strongly resonated with the electorate who pressed EVM buttons with Lotus symbol in large numbers to bring back Yogi to complete his state building initiative. It not only reversed the political trend of an incumbent party winning back-to-back elections in last 70 years, but also broke the ‘NOIDA Jinx’ of CMs losing the elections after visiting the NCR city as Yogi Adityanathwent there quite often.The reasons for rebloom of lotus is due to following reasons. One it immensely benefitted from the charismatic personalities of PM Narendra Modi and CM Yogi Adityanath and double pro incumbency advantage that was evidently visible. Modi ‘wave’ cut across caste community divide and fetched staggering votes for the saffron outfit. Two, the caste coalition of upper castes and non-dominant OBCs and SC castes created by BJP in 2014 remained firmly intact (exceptions in some regions and pockets) and they solidly rallied behind the BJP to ensure its return. Three, the efficient and time bound last mile delivery of its several welfare policies created a large electoral constituency of beneficiaries, particularly women, who voted in hordes as a quid pro quo gesture. Four, the poll strategy of SP combine in capitalizing on the pent up anger of Jats due to framers agitation and the alienation of Muslims in western UP did not succeed. The repeal of farm laws and visits by senior leaders cooled down the tempers of Jat community that drifted back in the saffron hold. Finally, the poll arithmetic of SP, RLD and smaller parties did not work evenly, and the transfer of votes was successful only in a few regions and pockets which explains the surge of seats for the alliance.
The substantial gains made by SP and its allies may lead to a fresh churn and impetus for forming a united front of parties opposed to the BJP and try to polarize the political discourse against it in state and national politics. The regional parties saddled in power needs to reverse their prior public apathy and fractional politics, and for a change put in requisite hard work in terms of real development to salvage their public image and consolidate their political stocks.
The election outcome in the land of five rivers shows that AAP broom completely swept away the principal political actors and the existing modus operandi of party politics. The AAP won 92out of 117 assembly seats with the support of four out of ten voters. It gained a phenomenal 72 seats and increased its vote share by 22 percent, while the Congress won 18 seats with 23 percent votes. The SAD-BSP combine won four seats and the BJP grabbed two seats.
The landslide mandate for AAP is due to its non-corruptible image and development orientation and negative voter endorsement against the more feudal and corrupt political parties that ruled Punjab for several decades. While other makeshift political formations did not stand a chance, the ruling Congress squandered it because of its internal rifts and peculiar nature of factional politics. The open discord and dissonance between Navjot Singh Sidhu and Captain Amrinder Singh estranged the long-standing supporters of the party. The appointment of Charanjit Singh Channi as first Dalit CM and Sidhu as state president further amplified factionalism. The blueprint of forging a winning social coalition by using Channi and Sidhu to mass mobilize the votes of Dalits (32 percent of population) and Jat Sikhs (20 percent) backfired totally. The paramountcy of the Dalits in the partnership distanced the dominant Jat Sikhs, as they did not accept a subservient role, and switched en masse to AAP.
The strong anti-incumbency sentiments and the collapse of the Congress campaign benefitted the AAP, which seized the momentum by announcing Bhagwant Mann as its CM candidate. The Kejriwal guarantees and freebies of 300 units of free electricity, unemployment allowance for youth, improvement of educational structure in state-run schools and health-care centres and monthly allowance for women bolstered its credo of development. That it lives up to its promises is something that did not go amiss with the electorate, which rewarded it with a colossal mandate to revive the lost glory of Punjab.
UTTARAKHAND, MANIPUR & GOA
The BJP riding high on ‘Modi’ wave registered back-to-back victories in Uttarakhand by winning 47 out of 70 seats with 44 percent vote share, while Congress improved its tally by adding eight seats and taking the tally to 19assembly seats. The saffron party shed ten seats and three percent votes due to turmoil in state unit that led to change of CMs thrice and failure to stop the surge of Coronavirus cases during Kumbha Mela. However, the electorate of the hill state believed on its poll promise of generating new government jobs, building all-weather Char Dham roads and railway connection between Karnaprayagand Rishikesh to hand it yet another term. Its strategy of appointing youthful Pushkar SinghDhamias CM mobilized the young voters and masked redlines in its report card of governance. However, Dhami lost the elections and joined the elite club of a few CMs who lost while their parent party won the elections. The Congress after dismal outings in previous elections revived under the leadership of Harish Rawat, but its hopes of doing an electoral rebound dashed due to lack of concerted support from high command, absence of star campaigners and local factionalism.
The Biren Singh-led BJP contested the elections in Manipur with a target of winning 40 out of 60 assembly seats. Though it fell short of its expectations, it won 32 seats, while its main challenger the Congress alliance (comprising of CPI, CPM, RSP, JD (S) and Forward Block) could manage to win five seats. NPP, which is an ally of the BJP at the centre, contested alone and won seven seats, JD (U) emerged victorious in six constituencies, NPF won five, and the remaining went into the kitty of a small party and independents. The BJP received approval from the electorate for providing a peaceful and stable government, implementation of development projects, building trust among social communities. The strong appeal of PM Modi and the inauguration of several infrastructure projects by him helped the BJP in coming back to power with a clear majority in the state.
The assembly elections for 40 assembly constituencies in Goa witnessed a multi-party contest between the BJP, the Congress, and its ally Goa Forward Party (GFP), MaharashtrawadiGomantak Party (MGP), Trinamool Congress (TMC) alliance, and the AAP. The saffron party led by PramodSawant provided decent governance but it faced intense public criticism for not fulfilling the 2017 election promise of reviving the iron ore-mining sector and mishandling of Covid 19 pandemic in the state. However, it weathered the storm and benefited from fragmentation of opposition votes to emerge as the largest party, falling one short of the majority (20 out of 40 seats), and will form the next government with the support of two independents. The Congress plus managed to win 12, AAP won two seats and TMC failed to open its account. The Goa result is a true reflection of disunity among non-BJP parties as they failed to join forces before the polls and inaugurate the formal process of forming a national united front to take on the BJP in the next General elections.
To conclude, the narrative of BJP winning state elections primarily due to communal polarization is an overstatement, as its victory in state elections prove that electorate form voting decisions based on good governance and populist policies rather than rhetoric of communal polarization. The victory of AAP in Punjab is a harbinger of its emergence in national politics and it shall no longer contain its political agenda on regional concerns but emerge as a viable alternative. The failure of Congress to retain power in Punjab and win Goa has further shrunk its stature and it seems to be entering the final orbit of decline with the danger of fading into political irrelevance. The huge victory of the BJP in UP authenticates the strengthening of Modi’s vote fetching potential and dominance of the saffron party system. UP is a representative sample of the Hindi heartland states and the force multiplication of Modi wave in ensuring saffron victory in four states vindicates its routinization in winning elections. The state mandates reaffirm that the dominance of BJP is snowballing and it will be a front-runner in Lok Sabha elections 2024.
Praveen Rai is a Political Analyst at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi.