Narendra Modi wins the semi-final

Knapps

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11, Mar 2017

The Uttar Pradesh assembly elections were touted as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policies, especially on his demonetization decision. With the BJP on course to cross the 300 mark in its biggest ever win in the state, it is undeniable that the ‘Modi wave’ is still surging. 2014, it appears, was not a fluke. If 2017 was indeed the semi-final, Modi would enter the grand finale in 2019 as a hot favourite.

What has Uttar Pradesh decided?

Uttar Pradesh, which has witnessed long stretches of political instability and fractured verdicts, has picked a clear winner in 2017 just liked it did in 2007 (BSP) and 2012 (SP).

Right from the early trends to the latest official results from the Election Commission of India, there was only one party leading the charts.The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has swept to power in Uttar Pradesh with more than 300 seats in the state (the exact number will be settled by the evening), with the ruling Samajwadi Party (SP) and Congress alliance on around 65 seats and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) on a mere 17 seats.

  • BJP chief Amit Shah's backroom “social engineering”, putting up a candidates' list without a single Muslim candidate, the party's “internal rebellion” and the absence of a chief ministerial face were all discussed and debated in popular and intellectual circles. An hour into the counting of votes, it was clear that BJP was heading for its biggest victory ever in Uttar Pradesh, eclipsing even its tally during the Kalyan Singh days (the 1991 elections when it won 221 seats).
  • The Narendra Modi wave continues to surge in Uttar Pradesh.This landslide victory for the party has exceeded the expectations of even the BJP.
  • Though the results suggest that Uttar Pradesh is now willing and able to move beyond caste-based politics, digging deeper into the BJP strategy (discussed under Where) indicates that may not be the case.
  • Such is the scale of BJP’s victory that BSP leader Mayawati, whose political standing has been routed in these elections, is claiming that “either the Electronic Voting Machines did not accept votes other than BJP, or the votes of other parties have gone to BJP in the EVMs”. 😀

Why are the results surprising?

The surprise comes not as much from BJP’s victory as it comes from the scale of the win. Such an emphatic victory is not possible in Uttar Pradesh without cutting across caste lines.

  • This result was supposed to give us clarity on whether Narendra Modi’s political capital increased or diminished on account of his disruptive policy — the demonetisation of Rs 500, Rs 1,000 notes on 8 November last year. The opposition parties painted demonetisation as an ‘anti-poor’ move. They expected to gain from it. The flaws in the way the note ban was implemented, prompted even former prime minister Manmohan Singh, to use phrases such as ‘mammoth tragedy’ and ‘organised loot, legalised plunder’ to describe Modi’s move.
  • However, the trends seen in various surveys and certain civic poll results indicated that the Prime Minister continues to enjoy the ground support of people despite heavy criticism from many economists and political rivals on the note ban move.
  • The best case (for the BJP), as determined by various political analysts, was demonetisation not harming the party.No one expected the party to benefit from demonetisation.
  • It is clear now:the poor see demonetisation as an ‘anti-rich’ move, not as an ‘anti-poor’ step. With his note-ban, Narendra Modi was able to position himself as the champion of the poor. One auto-driver put it brilliantly, when we asked him (in December 2016) if he was impacted by the note-ban:“Whatever I earn during the day I spend it by the night. Thankfully, this (demonetisation) is one problem I do not have to worry about”.
  • The final numbers from Uttar Pradesh will silence Modi’s rivals, who had been projecting the ‘disastrous effects’ of demonetisation on all walks of life, especially on the poor people.
  • After 15 years, the state has allowed national issues to call the shots and a national party to re-renter the corridors of power.

Why is Uttar Pradesh important to national politics

If Uttar Pradesh was a country, it would be the world's sixth most populated. This staggering statistic notwithstanding, the state's impact on Indian politics has been disproportionately large.

  • It sends 80 parliamentarians to the 543-member Lok Sabha, and seven of India's eight prime ministers until 1991 had called UP their home. This tally now stands at 8 prime ministers out of 14-and the downward trend deeply bothers people of the state because it suggests the gradual demotion of this politically charged state.
  • It was to fulfill UP's desire to be at the centre-stage that Modi had decided to contest from Varanasi in 2014, and then retain the seat after the elections at the cost of his old Gujarati bastion of Gandhinagar.
  • BJP's thumping victory in this state during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections took pollsters by surprise. The margin of victory hinted at a possible long-term shift from regional to national issues. The 2017 results confirm it.

With the lotus blooming in Lucknow after a 14-year gap, it seems more likely now that in 2019, PM Modi could become the first non-Congress Prime Minister to retain power.

When were the votes cast?

The elections to the 17th Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly were held from 11 February to 8 March 2017 in 7 phases. The Election Commission, for the sake of logistics, divided the state into seven segments and conducted polling on different dates.

  • Phase 1 - Total 73 constituencies, including a larger chunk of the politically important, western Uttar Pradesh went to polls on 11 February. Key constituencies included the communally sensitive Kairana, Muzaffarnagar, Dadri and Meerut, apart from Ghaziabad, Noida, Agra etc.
  • Phase 2 - Voters from 67 constituencies, in what is known as the Rohilkhand region, chose their representatives on 15 February. Important constituencies included Saharanpur, Moradabad, Pilibhit, Bareily, Kheri etc.
  • Phase 3 - 69 constituencies falling around the Central Ganges planes in the state went to polls on 19 February. The key constituencies were Kanpur, Unnao, Allahabad, Phulpur, apart from the state's capital Lucknow.
  • Phase 4 - 53 constituencies in and around Bundelkhand, arguably the state's most underdeveloped region, went to poll in this phase on 23 February. Important constituencies in this phase included Jhansi, Mahoba, Lalitpur, etc.
  • Phase 5 - Voters from 52 constituencies cast the ballot on 27 February. Constituencies like Basti, Ambedkar Nagar, Bahraich, and Amethi went to polls in this phase.
  • Phase 6 - 49 constituencies voted on 4 March in this phase. Key constituencies in this phase included Padrauna, Mubarakpur, Mau etc.
  • Phase 7 - The last phase of polling were held on 8 March for 40 constituencies in Eastern Uttar Pradesh, or what is colloquially known as Purvanchal. Key constituencies in this phase included Varanasi, Gorakhpur, Jaunpur, Sonbhadra etc. Prime Minister Narendra Modi campaigned extensively in the days leading to this phase.

As per the special summary revision of electoral rolls, there were a total of 14.05 crore voters in Uttar Pradesh as of January 2015.

Voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) machines were used along with Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in 60 assembly constituencies.

Note: VVPAT is a method of providing feedback to voters using a ballotless voting system. A VVPAT is intended as an independent verification system for voting machines designed to allow voters to verify that their vote was cast correctly, to detect possible election fraud or malfunction, and to provide a means to audit the stored electronic results. It contains the name of the candidate (for whom vote was cast) and the symbol of the party/ individual candidate.

Where did the BJP do just the right things to win UP?

This was a matter of taking control of the political destiny of India’s largest state, just two years before the country goes to poll to elect the government at the center. Only one party won; but no party took the campaigning lightly.

It may probably be naïve to just attribute the victory to people’s love for Modi. It takes a lot more than a popular leader to win elections in India, especially at a regional level.

  • Modi-Shah may have won 71 Lok Sabha seats in 2014, but this was their first UP assembly poll - which was a back-breaking test of nerves. The result that mattered more was that BJP won only 55 seats in the 2012 UP Assembly Elections.
  • The party left no stone unturned in reaching out to the voters; including fielding the Prime Minister as the star campaigner in the concluding days.
  • The PM took a huge risk. For a leader who was drubbed in two state assembly polls - Delhi and Bihar- it was an unusual gamble.He put his reputation on the line as Amit Shah acknowledged the party would take the results of Uttar Pradesh as a mandate on demonetisation.
  • The party had been preparing for Uttar Pradesh for a long time with region-specific policies and initiatives. For example, the Ujjwala Yojna or free gas connections for the poor - was launched in Ballia in Eastern UP.

The victory would not have been possible without ‘social engineering’, of which Amit Shah is the supreme master.

  • The BJP after its 17,000 public meetings through ‘Parivartan Yatra’ had got enough feedback. A plan was then crafted to thread an electoral patchwork to attract 10 per cent non Jatavs (Jatav Dalits are loyal to Mayawati), 10 per cent Non Yadav Other Backward Castes (Yadavs are loyal to the SP) and 20 per cent Most Backward Castes.
  • The special parliament session to honour Dr BR Ambedkar, the PM's visit to Dr Ambedkar's home in Mhow in April last year was not aimed at taking away Mayawati's Jatav vote but to attract non-Jatav Dalits among whom Dr Ambedkar is an icon.
  • The Air Force (Prime Minister’s rallies) can only play a supplementary role in a war. Wars and elections are won by armies and the last mile party workers. BJP set up a call centre for 1.38 lakh booths for a two-way interaction - the campaign reaching the last voter and voters' feedback reaching the party. Every booth level was added to a WhatsApp group.
  • The spectacular BJP victory in Uttar Pradesh can be ascribed to micromanagement of the polling booths by the party apparatus headed by Shah. Immediately after the Lok Sabha victory in 2014, Shah practically restructured the BJP organisation which was quite at variance with the old RSS-inspired model. Leaders belonging to different castes were roped in to give adequate weight in proportion to their population.
  • Amit Shah, with caste data at his disposal, created permutations and combinations for each constituency. This was best depicted by the selection of candidates and a campaign guidebook distributed by the party to each candidate with constituency-specific issues and tactics. The BJP even imported caste-appropriate rebels from the SP, the BSP and the Congress.
  • The mad greed of the other parties for the ‘Muslim vote’ worked to BJP’s advantage. While BJP did not actively polarize the ‘vote bank’ (or was careful not be seen as doing so), they benefitted from it immensely. The party dropped enough hints to prove that it is a proud flag-bearer of Hindutva. Mayawati fielded 99 Muslim candidates.The BJP did not field even a single Muslim candidate in Uttar Pradesh. On the contrary, it fielded candidates who were accused as instigators of the Muzaffarnagar riots.
  • Meanwhile, the incumbent Samajwadi Party was fighting the Yadav Pari-'war' after the Yadav scion and UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav finally decided to move out of the shadows of his uncle and father. This high voltage drama was supposed to do two things for Akhilesh: One, he would shake away the 'three-and-a-half chief ministers' tag from his government and emerge as a ‘decisive leader’, and two, he could have his say in the ticket distribution and in forging alliances ahead of the crucial polls. Unfortunately for him, the attempts failed in translating to votes. That he tied up with the Congress and campaigned together with Rahul Gandhi, who has consistently failed to win votes, probably worked to his disadvantage. The Congress Party has performed pathetically in the elections, though Akhilesh let them contest from 105 seats.
  • Bahujan Samaj Party refuses to acknowledge the truth and continues to pay for it. BSP, that has traditionally claimed the unwavering loyalty of Dalit voters in the state, was annihilated in the last assembly elections and Lok Sabha polls. However, BSP supremo Mayawati, once known for her political astuteness continued to bet on Dalit and Muslim votes breaking away from SP in the wake of Mulayam's forced political exile. She is now a political non-force. She is right now busy asking for a “repoll” alleging that the elections were forged to favour BJP.

Who may become the next Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh?

BJP had not named their Chief Ministerial candidate in Uttar Pradesh. Not naming a Chief Ministerial candidate has its own advantages. Ambiguity at the top keeps all contenders and their supporters interested. But now the leadership has to take a call.

Union home minister Rajnath Singh is certainly not inclined to return to Lucknow. In that case if a first time CM has to be chosen then two issues would weigh heavy on the selection process:social composition of castes who have voted for the BJP and the 2019 general elections.

Keshav Prasad Maurya is at the top of the list of preferred candidates.

  • He’s the state BJP president in Uttar Pradesh and a prominent leader of the Maurya caste, the largest demographic segment among the non-Yadav OBCs. He’s close to the major Sangh Parivar leaders, as well as to both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP national president Amit Shah.
  • It was the BJP strategy to mobilise the Other Backward Class (OBC) and Most Backward Class (MBC) communities for the 2017 Uttar Pradesh assembly election that led to the elevation of Keshav Prasad Maurya as the party’s state president in April 2016. And Maurya rose to the occasion.
  • Sharing a similar trajectory with Prime Minister Narendra Modi — the party highlighted the fact that he also sold tea and newspapers before joining politics — Maurya became the OBC face of the party in UP.
  • At 47, Maurya was relatively young and his full-timer karyakarta (RSS worker) background was expected to boost the morale of the BJP-RSS cadre. His RSS upbringing would also provide “energy and help in connecting RSS cadre.”
  • Maurya is credited with conducting the most number of campaign rallies and has campaigned in no less than 206 assembly constituencies. His organisational skills are well recognised.
  • He contested the 2002, 2007 and 2012 assembly elections and was the sitting MLA from Sirathu assembly constituency before getting elected as a Member of Parliament (MP) from the Phulpur Lok Sabha constituency seat in 2014 with a thumping five lakh votes and over 52 per cent votes.

How will the results impact the governance of India?

It is for a reason that Uttar Pradesh is often referred to as the kingmaker state in the country. A win or loss in the UP election for BJP was not just to decide which party will govern India’s largest state for the next five years; it was also supposed to have ramifications on the national-level policymaking with Modi becoming bolder or weaker to take politically tough decisions.

The massive victory in the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls has just given the BJP more power in the Rajya Sabha.Having 53 members in the Rajya Sabha currently, the BJP now has the power to increase the number of their members to beat the Congress'.

  • Uttar Pradesh currently has 31 members in the Rajya Sabha, the largest representation of any state. Out of the 31, 18 are from the Samajwadi party, 6 from the Bahujan Samaj, 1 independent and 3 each from BJP and Congress. By winning 300 plus seats in the assembly elections on Saturday the BJP has surged forward in the Rajya Sabha game.
  • Each candidate needs to poll 34 votes to win a seat and the BJP can now comfortably elect 8 Rajya Sabha members from Uttar Pradesh. With the support of other parties and spare votes of legislators, a 9th candidate may also be a possibility.
  • However, even this resounding UP win will not give the party an absolute majority in Rajya Sabha, where the BJP is short of 50 seats, whereas the state can only offer 9 to the party (now).
  • Even in the best possible scenario the NDA (BJP-led coalition at the center) can just cross 100 by 2019. The present strength of Rajya Sabha being 245, they would fall short of majority even by the end of the 16th Lok Sabha. However, the BJP is planning to win the 2019 General Elections, and meanwhile continue to gain ground in the Rajya Sabha.
  • Why is the Rajya Sabha important Every Bill (except for Money Bills) passed by Lok Sabha has to be passed by Rajya Sabha as well and here NDA is often seen struggling. While NDA accuses Congress and other regional parties of blocking the “development agenda”, the Opposition accuses NDA of not taking into account their suggestions. Both sides have pinned the responsibility/blame of the functioning/non-functioning of the House on each other.

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Tags | Elections 2017 Narendra Modi UP Elections

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