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Yesterday, both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Aam Aadmi Party made historic wins in the 2022 Assembly elections. While the BJP won all four states in which it had been the incumbent party, the AAP completely swept the Punjab polls. In this episode, host Shashank Bhargava is joined by Indian Express’ Liz Mathew, and Manraj Grewal Sharma to decode the election results. Among other things, they discuss the reasons behind BJP’s win, what the AAP’s victory means for its national ambitions, and the lessons that the Congress needs to learn.
Shashank Bhargava: Hi, I’m Shashank Bhargava, and you are listening to 3 Things, The Indian Express news show. Yesterday the results of the 2022 assembly elections were announced, and in more ways than one, these results were historic. This is because the Bharatiya Janta Party won four out of the five states where it had been in power Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur, and Goa. In three of these states, the party won by a clear majority. In Goa, however, it fell just one seat short of the halfway mark. This win is a major boost for the BJP, especially considering it has broken trends that had persisted for years. But it’s not just the saffron party that made history yesterday. The other party that has emerged victorious in these elections is the Aam Aadmi Party, which completely swept the Punjab elections by winning 92 out of the 117 seats. This made it the first regional party to win a second state. As the results were announced, BJP workers in UP celebrated and cheered for Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
Crowd: (Cheering) Yogi! Yogi!
Shashank Bhargava: And they were also celebrations done by the Aam Aadmi Party workers in Punjab.
Crowd: (Dholak sounds)
Shashank Bhargava: Later in the evening, we also heard from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who lauded the BJP workers for ensuring the BJP’s victory in these states and said that these election results will decide the results of 2024.
Narendra Modi: Do hazar unnis mein, jab lok sabha mein hum dobara jeet karke aaye, toh uss gyaniyon ne kaha thha ki “Bhai 2019 ke jeet mein kya hai? Yeh toh 2017 mein hi teh ho gayi thhi.” Kyunki 2017 mein UP ka result aaya thha. Main maanta hun ki iss baar bhi yeh gyaani zaroor kehne ki himmat karenge ki 2022 ke nateejo ne 2024 ke nateeje teh kar diye hain.
Shashank Bhargava: In this episode, we will decode these election results, with a special focus on Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. We will also talk about the reasons why the BJP came back to power in these states, what the Aam Aadmi Party’s victory means for its national ambitions, and the lessons that the Congress needs to learn. For this, Indian Express’ Liz Mathew, and Manraj Grewal Sharma:join us. Liz covers the BJP for the newspaper, while Manraj is the Resident Editor of the Chandigarh newsroom. So we are recording this at around 8pm on Thursday, but pretty early on in the day it had become clear that BJP was coming back to power in UP, Goa, Manipur and Uttarakhand. And that the Aam Aadmi Party was going to sweep Punjab. And this is something that the Exit polls had predicted as well. Now, we’ll start by talking about UP first. This is the first time since 1985 that a ruling party will be returning to power in the state. In previous elections, the people in the state have always voted a different party in power. Liz, what is the reason that the BJP was able to change that trend?
Liz Mathew: So this is one new phenomena. The BJP says it is because of the, its welfare politics and also because of the good governance record it had that has actually helped the BJP to create a positive feeling among the voters that they are Law and Order situation in the state. Yogi Adityanath kept talking about it, Prime Minister Modi kept talking about it, Amit Shah kept talking about it. And the delivery mechanism of the welfare measures, whether it is the housing scheme for the poor or the free ration, it kind of managed to reach out to a larger section of population breaking the caste barriers and the religious lines that these too help the BJP to create that trust among the voters
Shashank Bhargava: And Liz, you talk about its record on crime. Now BJP has been accused of targeting the minority communities disproportionally when it comes to crime. Did that play into the results of this election?
Liz Mathew: Of course because, as we know, in Uttar Pradesh elections are like the caste and religion it really play a role. Maybe BJP and even though you know, at peripherally it will look like a victory of BJP because of its good governance record but you know, undertone of this law and order slogan which they were talking about. If you look at the record, it is mostly anti Muslim propaganda that has been working. Although BJP did not use any of those religious or communal lines in their propaganda or in their promotional videos or something, at the local level, it was much talked about. So the fact that the Muslims in the state, to which the BJP called Gunda Raj of Samajwadi Party, that had helped BJP to consolidate that Hindu support base, which obviously had a fear that the return of SP could mean return of so called Gunda Raj also. This has helped BJP to polarise the election and keep a large section of majority votes with them.
Yogi Adityanath: Bhaiyon aur behenon, yeh wahi Uttar Pradesh hai jiss Uttar Pradesh mein har dusre din ek bada danga hota thha. Aaj Uttar Pradesh ke andar, Gunde ya toh jail ke andar hain ya iss duniya se hi bida ho chuke hain.
Shashank Bhargava: Also, in the last elections the BJP had won 312 seats. This time the party appears to be leading in more than 250 seats, which is not a huge difference. But a lot of huge things have happened in between these two elections. There has been a pandemic, unemployment has been high, there were the issues of the three contentious farm bills. And there seemed to be anger regarding these issues. But why is that this didn’t translate into votes for the opposition?
Liz Mathew: You’re absolutely right. There was resentment among the youth for the joblessness, the lack of new jobs, opportunities and what they call the Bharti for almost two years. But first of all, the pandemic time and the government’s decision to distribute this free ration has created a goodwill for them, one. Secondly, the Samajwadi Party’s failure as to project itself as a credible alternative. The voters were angry, the voters had unhappiness, but they did not look up to Akhilesh as a credible person, as a credible alternative to Yogi Adityanath government or Yogi Adityanath as a chief minister. It’s that trust quotient deficiency I think, which led to BJP is emergence as a very credible party in the state.
Shashank Bhargava: Right and even though Samajwadi Party is way behind the BJP, its vote share has increased from last time. So talk about that a bit and also is Samajwadi’s past essentially affecting a lot of its present.
Liz Mathew: See, I would say SPs, this performance with which 125+ seats is really impressive. It is one of its best performance, one. Second the SP didn’t have a machinery, it did not have many battery of leaders. It was, Akhilesh was a single man army to one extent and still my initial assessment, it may, it’s subject to change in the detail result come, I think to an extent not just that he consolidated the Muslim-Yadav votes, which stood by it very solid, he has managed to put up a non-Yadav OBC face also in the election because he fielded many Rajbhars, Mauriyas, Kumis, and he could cash in on the resentment among them. UP politics is whatever you say, it is still is on caste lines so the certain caste will be upset with you. It doesn’t have that Hindutva identity thing when it comes to caste barriers and all Narendra Modi is one person who could actually transcend that barriers but you know not others could.
Narendra Modi: UP ko badnam karte hain ki yahan ke chunaon mein toh jaati hi chalti hai. Lekin bhaiyon behenon, Uttar Pradesh ke logon ne dikha diya hai. 2014 ke chunaon nateeje dekhe hain? 2017, 2019 ke nateeje dekhe? Aur phir 22 mein bhi dekh rahen hain. Har baar UP ke logon ne sirf vikasvaad ki rajneeti ko hi chuna hai.
Liz Mathew: So I think Akhilesh could manage to keep a portion of, or take back a portion of non-Yadav OBC community vote from the BJP. That is how our Akhilesh’s tally has gone up till now.
Shashank Bhargava: Now, apart from the BJP and the SP, the other party in the fray was BSP. Now in the last elections, it had won 4 seats, and this time it seems to be leading just one. It is one of the lowest performances of BSP in the state. The party chief Mayawati, we know, started campaigning fairly late, and there was just noise about the party on the ground. Has the BJP then benefited from this?
Liz Mathew: Certainly BJP is the party which benefited out of it. It looks like BJP has managed to get a very good portion of Jaat vote which stood by Mayawati throughout thick and thin and also the other Dalit community. So BJPs gain in this election is, even if it lost remain, it may have lost some of the OBC votes from 2017. What it gained is the Dalit support base BSPs disintegration has helped BJP to get into because Dalits are very unlikely to vote for SP so they voted with the BJP and they stood with BJP that is the major advantage of BJP in this election.
Shashank Bhargava: And Liz, when we talk about bucking the trend, this has happened in Uttarakhand as well. Since the state was formed in 2000, no party has come back to power. It has always alternated between Congress and the BJP. But BJP again has come back to power there. And this happened even when there was a lot of chaos going on in the BJP in the state right? In the past one year, the state has seen three chief ministers, Trivendra Singh Rawat, Tirath Singh Rawat, and Pushkar Singh Dhami. So what did it for the BJP in Uttarakhand?
Liz Mathew: Again, you know if I can believe what the BJP leaders are saying, Prime Minister Modi’s image has really helped them despite all the odds and also the opposition’s failure in putting up a very formidable force against the BJP. The Congress unit, the main opposition unit in Uttarakhand, has been always fighting and it was not a single unit and although similar infighting was there in the BJP. So BJP could manage this kind of victory means the Prime Minister’s image and the trust in the BJP, the party that could deliver infrastructure as well as the welfare scheme has really helped the party to emerge even in Uttarakhand as a winning party.
Shashank Bhargava: Okay, so now we talk about Punjab. The Aam Aadmi Party has swept the elections that this was the second time that the party was contesting from the state. It has now removed the Congress Party from Punjab. Out of the 117 seats, it has won 92. So Manraj, what was about Aam Aadmi Party’s message that resonated with people in Punjab?
Manraj Grewal Sharma: They said you have spent 70 years, last seven decades voting for two parties, which is either Congress or Akali Dal-BJP combined. And what have you got in return? I mean, the development is only about lanes and drains. Your unemployment is increasing, your youngsters are leaving in hordes. I mean earlier they used to leave through illegal means, now they go out to study. There are very few people who want their children to remain in Punjab after class 12 The flow of drugs hasn’t stopped despite Congress promising to wipe the scourge from the state and there is a crisis in agriculture. So Punjab is in a decline. And all of this is because your two parties could not do enough for your development. So give us one chance, that is what Kejriwal was said, “Ek Mauka Kejriwal aur Bhagwant Mann ko.” So see how we work and for that what they did is they said “Here is a Delhi model of development. You have seen us work in Delhi, come to Delhi. See how we revamped the health infrastructure, the education how people don’t have to pay much for power, water, how they make great savings every month, and we will do the same here. All you need to do is give us a chance, Ek Mauka.
Song: “Ik Mauka dena abh Kejriwal nu. Ik Mauka dena abh Kejriwal nu.”
Shashank Bhargava: And in particular when you talk about Kejriwal’s promise of free electricity, this is something that must have resonated with a lot of people in Punjab considering the power crisis, right?
Manraj Grewal Sharma: Absolutely. The power tariff was very high in Punjab as compared to the neighbouring Haryana and Himachal Pradesh and even the Union Territory of Chandigarh. So, although Channi had reduced it, the former Congress Chief Minister, but the fact is that people hadn’t started getting the revised bills. There were several parts where they had got it and there was this distrust, the popular, you know, distrust with the ruling party that they may slash the bills now, but once they come back to power, they will raise them they will jack them up again. Whereas Kejirwal was an unknown entity and he was promising to make good on his promises, giving the Delhi example.
Shashank Bhargava: So Manraj, apart from the anti-incumbency and the issues that the state has been facing, the Congress Party also saw a lot of infighting in the past few months, which also led to the former Chief Minister, Captain Amarinder Singh resigning from his post, how much did that affect things for the Congress?
Manraj Grewal Sharma: I think it just added to the whole narrative of Kejriwal saying that you can’t trust these parties and they’re inefficient because when your own, when Congress which was ruling the state, when its own leaders, right from a senior leader like Navjot Singh Siddhu, when they themselves were going out of their way to criticise their own government, this began sometime in April last year, then it just gave more weight to Kejriwals charges against the government. Because when people within the government itself were targeting their own government, it made people believe that whatever he was saying was right, and it gave a lot of ammunition to the opposition, which was largely Kejriwal. So there was a lot of infighting and infighting was to this extent that they call their own government corrupt, which was a big issue.
Manraj Grewal Sharma: Because here was Bhagwant Mann, the CM face of AAP who does have a very keen reputation. So on the one hand, you have Congress, where the PPCC chief himself is saying that things are not right there is Mafia Raj here, then your, the Chief Minister, you oust Amarinder Singh, you know, he goes out raging against the party, he tells everyone that I have a dossier of all my MLAs doing illegal sandmining. So all of that compounded, and I think it worked very well in favour of AAP.
Shashank Bhargava: And this is the first time that the Aam Aadmi Party will head a full-fledged state. I mean, it is in power in Delhi right now. But for example, in Delhi, the police isn’t under the control of the party. So with this win, what challenges is the AAP likely to face in Punjab?
Manraj Grewal Sharma: Yeah, this is going to be a very interesting time for AP as well, because Punjab has got a very strong bureaucracy. And what has happened is during the militancy during the dark decade of militancy, bureaucracy got a lot of power, because we had governors rule, we had presidents rule for about five years. So all of the administration was manned by the bureaucrats. And even now, you know, when you compare the officialdom in Punjab to the other states, they do have a different attitude and more power, if I can say that. So they will have to figure out how to work in tandem with them. And that will be interesting. It’d be interesting to see who gets the upper hand, whether it’s the bureaucrats who dictate AAP leaders who also happen to be newbies. Most of them don’t have any administrative experience as such. They are a lot of first timers, they’ve never really been a minister and some of them may have been counsellors but they haven’t really governed the state so to say, I mean, even your CM face, he’s an MP alright, but we don’t really know about his governance capabilities.
Shashank Bhargava: And Liz what do you think it means for the party’s national ambitions?
Liz Mathew: It will definitely raise the party into a new pedestal in the sense like now it is the first regional party in the history of India to win a second state I mean, a second assembly. That is there and also you know, that after it is a Mamata Banerjee is emergence and the national picture has come up after her TMCs victory in West Bengal, she did not have anything beyond that. But now in the new coming days, we will see there is election in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat also where also Aam Aadmi Party would definitely go and try their luck. It might get some vote, I mean, if not seats, which will make another step closer to its stature as in a status as a National Party and when the 2023 is born Kejriwal will be the one who who is hogging the limelight in the opposition space because with the disintegration and the weakening of the Congress further, you know, that opposition space is opening up and here the leaders are taking over like Mamata Banerjee or Stalin or Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao is taking that because there is no one so with this kind of election victories, obviously Kejriwal will be there and Kejriwal will be one leader to kind of a force to reckon with in the opposition space. We cannot say that he can be pitched against Narendra Modi because to be pitched against Narendra Modi or BJP at the national level, you need to have at least 100 seats in the Lok Sabha seats you know, or at least to be a main force or a force to be reckoned with even to be in the second place at least in 100 to 200 seats as long as it is not there. You cannot pit yourself against Narendra Modi at national level but of course you can claim the space in the opposition and keep others or you know others can rally behind him that is a possibility and the prospects for him.
Shashank Bhargava: So basically right now when it comes to the opposition leaders, Kejriwal is the next star after Mamta Bannerjee’s victory.
Liz Mathew: It will naturally be because he made such a magnificent victory in a state like Punjab it’s not like a city state like Delhi and also like he said his prospects of going to other states and making significant growth and significant emergence is like very strong than compared to other parties.
Arvind Kejriwal: Punjab ke nateeje, bohot bada inquilaab hai. Badi-badi kursiya hil rahi hain aaj Punjab ke andar. Bade-bade shadyantr kiye hain in logon ne. Anth mein yeh saare ikathe ho ke bole “Kejriwal atankwadi hai.” Aaj, inn nateejon ke jariye, janta ne bol diya, desh ki janta ne bol diya, “Kejriwal atankwadi nahi hai. Kejriwal desh ka saccha saput hai”
Shashank Bhargava: Okay, so now this is the larger question about the Congress Party, Manraj, what lessons can the party learn at least in Punjab?
Manraj Grewal Sharma: The biggest lesson it should take from this defeat is to present a united front. It was so badly splintered in the last couple of months. And all the squabbling happened in public, they made a public spectacle of themselves. So they have to present a united front and they can’t let one person hijack the agenda of the entire party they have a lot of soul searching to do, because they made several mistakes. One is when there was this rebellion brewing in the party, the high command should have been here right at the beginning to ask, you have these 77 legislators you can sit them down and you can decide what to do next. I mean, if you feel so strongly against the Captain Amarinder, you could have acted earlier. When it comes to the legislators in Punjab and the high command, there is a huge gap, it seems not everybody gets the access to high command. And it seems there are several layers between them. Because what was so evident to anybody who was reading the papers, or even he who was going to the social media, it seemed the high command was totally unaware of that is the gap they will have to bridge. They will also have to revamp their image of not being a corrupt party who allows the mafia to get away with revenue leakage from say liquor from sandmining, because these are the charges that were levelled by their own party men. So they will have to do a lot of housecleaning.
Shashank Bhargava: And it will also have to do something about Navjot Singh Sindhu?
Manraj Grewal Sharma: Yes, he has lost now and his wife had said you know we had a flourishing career in the entertainment industry and we left everything my husband left everything to come here. And if we don’t make it this time, we will say goodbye. And as for AAP it has a great canvas in Punjab because there are so many things that are wrong at so many levels be it agriculture, be it industry, be it jobs, education health. So if AAP really puts its mind, puts all its might into making a difference here, it will have a model to show the rest of India and you will have Punjabis themselves being its biggest ambassador.
Shashank Bhargava: Manraj did the farm laws at all play a role in these elections? We know that the BJP was nowhere in the picture in Punjab. But the farm agitation was a big big event. So what role did they play? Did they affect the elections?
Manraj Grewal Sharma: You know, farm laws per se did not play a role. They were repealed. And everybody was happy about the fact that the year long agitation had made the Prime Minister repeal the laws. But what the farm agitation did do is it gave us a very discerning voter, a very questioning voter. So the voter started asking questions like “is development limited only to lanes and drains? Shouldn’t you be paying more attention to industry? Shouldn’t you be paying more interest in attention to education or to health? So in that way, they did change the political narrative.
Shashank Bhargava: And coming back to the Congress Party Liz, what lessons does it need to learn nationally because the party was nowhere in the picture in UP and it lost Uttarakhand, it lost Manipur, and it is trailing behind BJP in Goa.
Liz Mathew: See, tell me why should a voter vote for Congress when its own house in disarray in not in one state, in all those states. Like you know, it didn’t have a clear agenda or a clear leader in any of the states. Here in Uttarakhand Hareesh Rawat wanted to go back to the state and put the house in order which he was not containing and controlling things in Punjab, where also it failed, where it was in power, it had a chance like Manraj has just told you like it itself has foiled its chance. So back then in Uttarakhand also, although he like he was not even declared as the chief ministerial candidate. So that uncertainity, that ambiguity in those the leadership then you know, the voters are like Manraj just mentioned, they are more discerning and they want a clear clarity. And we have seen it in the other elections like, you know, like, last year, when we were covering Kerala elections, there also Congress’ problem was was going to be CM candidate, you don’t have a face. So this same thing like even if the party has a very strong organisation and a network at the ground, when you don’t have a clarity on the leadership, it happens. So in Goa it’s the same, in Manipur, it’s the same, half of the party leaders were going to other parties, you know, walking over to the other parties in Punjab, when Maranj has just explained what happened. So it’s like voters when they have a choice, why shouldn’t they vote and they looked at BJP as a party, okay, which we can put hope on, even if you’re not very happy with the way it has functioned in the last five years. Okay. It has done something. It is a party which is having it visible activities on the road, tell me which was the last mobilisation the Congress stayed on the ground in the national level or in any of the states? There was nothing. Even in the states like Uttarakhand and Goa where the BJP was in power. Even in Manipur, the Congress managed to mobilise the people against any of the policies of the government, any of the decisions of the government? No, so why should people vote. The politics is all about like mobilisation of the people, people come together and you know, oppose a certain party in power and stand against the government decisions, whether it is bad for the people or if it is damaging to the state’s interest for which the Congress was not present or visible. So why should the people vote for Congress in these states?
Shashank Bhargava: Right, and also, we are not going to get too much into the specifics of Manipur and Goa elections. But is there anything that stood out for you in the BJP campaigns in these two states?
Liz Mathew: No, Goa you know, it is like, I mean, I’m sure, you know, internally speaking, if we spoke to any leaders, you know, none of them was giving Goa such a mandate. They were all very ambiguous. It shows that, you know, there was an urge to among the people to see a government, you know, a decisive government who can actually carry on with it’s like, you know, whatever the programmes and schemes of the incumbent government that showed and in Manipur, obviously, you know, the BJP is that Northeastern in agenda, you know, keeping Northeast interest in town or you look east or whatever they call that has some kind of traction. That is why people obviously welcome them or kind of endorse their dominance in the state politics. Our Northeast anyway has a tendency to stand with the centre so that the most of the funds have to come from the centre, this double engine thing before the BJP took it as a slogan actually, it worked in the Northeast since like time immemorial.
Shashank Bhargava: Yeah, I think a lot of states in the Northeast feel that if they vote for the party in the centre, they’re more likely to get benefits from welfare schemes. And you know, the state will get more funds, but okay, so we have talked about the lessons for the Congress. But what do you think Liz, the BJP will take away from these wins?
Liz Mathew: Let’s see for BJP, it is the first time that a pro-incumbency factor which they call now is in place now. And now the BJP has emerged as this as a stable, very strong national party and only national party. You know, like when you look at the number the Congress is weakening further, because there is no other party which has a presence in almost all the states in the country and Congress is the main opposition where Congress is, once the Congress is fading obviously it is the BJP keep on continuing its march to like you know it’s peak. Obviously everyone thought that it will the peak has come and the party is going to ebb you know like but it is not happening. That shows that you know, the BJP definitely, the party sees it as a step closer to 2024 victory.
Shashank Bhargava: And how do you think it’s going to shape what the BJP is going to do in the next few years?
Liz Mathew: See one significant factor will be the focus on the welfare politics also BJP is not that much of a party which really want to like focus on the welfare scheme. You know, the situation the atmosphere is so conducive for a welfare politics in the country. One BJP leader was saying actually all across the world it is playing so obviously the focus will be on that and the BJP has managed to mobilise this labharti which is the beneficiaries so that has emerged as a separate vote bank for them.
Shashank Bhargava: Basically, these are the set of voters who have benefited from the welfare schemes of the BJP.
Liz Mathew: Yeah the labhartis as well as women. These two vote banks have come up for BJP now, so they will be focusing on that, both women and the beneficiaries.
Shashank Bhargava: Okay, so this is my last question to both of you. I’ll start with you, Manraj, as a journalist who has been covering politics for so many years, is there anything that surprised you about these elections?
Manraj Grewal Sharma: I’m surprised by the huge mandate people gave one party. All these heavyweights all our Chief ministerial candidates, all our former chief ministers, all of them lost. It was a proper wave, the kind of which Punjab hasn’t seen ever since its reorganisation in 1966. And people kept saying, you know, there are so many other factors at play, how can one party sweep, they would say how can one party sweep Malwa? Malwa has 69 seats, but AAP got 65 of the 69 seats.
Shashank Bhargava: Liz, what about you?
Liz Mathew: You know, I wanted to talk about it’s not a surprise or something. What I am curious for the coming days in the BJP’s internal equations how it is going to reshape because you know, it is the first time it’s after since 2014 when BJP came into power with the splendid majority we have seen the regional satraps in the BJP have kind of like gone away. And you know, it is a centralised party. Now for the first time a chief minister under this post-Modi and Shah has emerged as a very powerful leader. See this is a first time Chief Minister is getting mandate for himself. You know, if you look at the top leadership of the party except Modi, nobody got a mandate for himself. Now Yogi has got that and Yogi will be equivalent to all kind of immediately after Narendra Modi when it comes to as a sought after personality or a leader for election campaign. This used to be Amit Shah now when the Yogi has come up. So how is it going, it will have its ramification in the internal power equations in the party, how it is going to be played out. It is something that any political observer who’s like watching BJP will be interested and keen to know
Shashank Bhargava: You were listening to 3 Things by the Indian Express. Today’s show was written and produced by me, Shashank Bhargav with help from Damini Jaiman and was edited and mixed by Suresh Pawar. If you like the show, then do subscribe to us wherever you get your podcasts. You can also recommend the show to someone you think will like it. Share it with a friend or someone in your family. It’s the best way for people to get to know about us. You can tweet us at @Expresspodcasts and write to us at email@example.com