Elections in Uttar Pradesh are known as the mother of all polls. This election, for which the final phase of polling is taking place on Wednesday, has been literally so. The high voltage campaign, the hype, the triangular fight (four-cornered in some places with RLD being in the fray), the strategising, the caste lines that have gone further complicated and the communal overtones in the political speeches – all together have made the UP election a special one.
However, the results of February-March elections to all five states – Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa and Manipur also would be significant for the BJP as well as prime minister Narendra Modi. With BJP chief Amit Shah interpreting his party’s good performance in the civic elections as a stamp of PM Modi’s demonetisation exercise, pundits would see it as a test of the popularity of the PM and that of the note ban.
Going by the ground reports from these states, especially from Uttar Pradesh, and the crowd at his rallies prove that he is still the most popular politician in the country. A victory for the BJP in Uttar Pradesh will have to be credited to him only. At the ground level, there was no appeal for BJP as a party or an organisation nor were its MPs popular. It was simply Modi, Modi and Modi. He will be the first non-Congress prime minister who could be equally appealing to both urban and rural, young and elderly population. People, especially the poorer sections see him as a credible leader who wants to do something good for them. For anyone who has travelled through Uttar Pradesh, PM Modi’s popularity and the affection for chief minister Akhilesh Yadav were proved beyond doubts.
But for PM Modi, the elections are not just to endorse his popularity, but also to keep the roads to 2019 cleaner because it will be a harbinger for the next Lok Sabha polls. A victory in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and in smaller states like Goa and Manipur would place him as the unquestionable supreme leader who can easily make it in the next parliamentary polls too.
Good performance in at least three of these states will also mean good days for his government in Parliament – one can expect more seats for the party in the Rajya Sabha. It will help the BJP in making its task of electing its choice as the country’s next president easier. BJP’s performance in these elections will also have an impact on the attempts of some parties and forces to stitch together an anti-Modi alliance. Although it would make the task tougher, more parties or leaders would feel the need to remain united against the BJP.
A loss means more reliance on friendly allies like AIADMK and TMC for the government in the Rajya Sabha and for the presidential election. The deeper impact would be on the party’s prospects for 2019 because it will embolden the Opposition to isolate the BJP. Not only friendly parties, its own allies in the NDA – Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP and Upendra Kushwaha’s RLSP apart from the long-time irritated ally Shiv Sena – would review their unconditional support to the BJP. Party leaders fear both the RLSP and LJP could even break away from the ruling alliance, if the BJP’s performance in Uttar Pradesh is not stunning.
While a win in Goa would enhance the BJP’s credibility as a party that returns to power, a victory in Manipur would be another success story in the northeast. Party general secretary Ram Madhav’s image as the one who can make the impossible possible would get another filip and it will also be seen as the success story of the coordinated work of Madhav and Himanta Biswa Sarma.
Like in Uttar Pradesh , the election in Uttarakhand is seen as a test of the strategies of Amit Shah. Shah had antagonised the state leaders and the local unit in ticket distribution in both the states. If a spectacular performance in these elections would cement the Modi-Shah combine’s supremacy within the BJP, even their ideological parent RSS would hesitate to question any of their decisions. Despite the murmuring discontent against Shah’s iron hand in the party, no one would raise their voices against him. Shah will emerge as the strongest president BJP has ever had. The number of ministers and leaders who act like cheer leaders will also increase.
A hung assembly in Uttar Pradesh – the possibility for which is really high now – would put BJP’s skills to forge alliances to a test. And the party would put all its might to project its performance as a stellar one and as a solid approval for the BJP and the Prime Minister.