Assembly Election Results 2017

A `tsuNaMo' ­ swept India's most populous and politically heavyweight state of Uttar Pradesh. Powered by a mighty social coalition of upper castes, “most backward“ OBCs and a section of Dalits, BJP crushed rivals SP-Congress and BSP by mopping up 41% of the popular vote, translating into a mandate of 325 seats in the 403-member assembly.

The result established PM Modi as the most popular leader of the country since Indira Gandhi at her peak, and cemented BJP's position as the dominant political player. The spectacular win in India's heartland should ensure that BJP gets its choice elected as the next President in July. It will also help turn the Rajya Sabha arithmetic in its favour, though not immediately.

Apart from a setback in Punjab, where the SAD-BJP combine lost comprehensively, BJP ended up neck and neck with Congress in Manipur and was in with a chance to retain power in Goa despite finishing behind Congress. BJP returned to office in Uttarakhand with a thumping majority , with Congress chief minister Harish Rawat losing both the seats he contested.

The results mean Congress's poor run continues with only Punjab and, to a lesser extent, Goa offering succour. Its attempt to ride on the coat tails of a strong regional party came a cropper in UP. It will be, psychologically speaking, at a disadvantage when it faces off with BJP in Modi's backyard of Gujarat later this year.

The results also sent a sobering message to SP leader Akhilesh Yadav and BSP's Mayawati. The Dalit czarina saw her party suffering another electoral humiliation after drawing a blank in the 2014 LS polls: a clear signal that her tested caste-driven formula has lost its appeal with voters, apart from die hard supporters. Akhilesh's attempt to break free of the image of being a leader of a party which caters principally to Yadavs and Muslims did not find favour with voters either.

The win heralds BJP's return to the Hindi heartland, after a long exile of 14 years forced upon it by political forces unleashed by the Mandal revolution of the 1990s. The win is particularly gratifying for Modi as it helps overcome the setback he suffered in Bihar in 2015.

Meanwhile, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal's hopes of replacing the Congress as a secular national force suffered a setback. His party came in second in Punjab amid indications that AAP's flirtations with pro-Khalistani sections may have caused many voters to reject a party that was once seen as the favourite to win the state. AAP fared even worse in Goa, drawing a blank.

Winning UP was necessary for Modi and BJP as they look ahead to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. With a contribution of 73 seats, the state played a big role in BJP's 2014 victory and better synergy between Delhi and Lucknow may help BJP's effort to retain most of the seats it holds.

The team of Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah will see the handsome victory as a vindication of the government's policies, and look to press ahead with a mix of economic reform and welfarism in the run-up to the next LS elections. The strategy is sharply focused on carving a large right-of-Centre constituency by wooing the middle-class through growth and a focus on financial inclusion programmes for the poor.

Though elections in the other four states were keenly fought, the UP landslide dominated the political discourse as the results were seen as a referendum on demonetisation, Modi's most risky gambit.

The sweep in UP and Uttarakhand has given demonetisation a seal of popular approval and saw Shah asserting that “notebandi“ had entrenched Modi in the hearts and minds of the poor. The political messaging aimed at non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits was substantially undergirded by Hindu mobilisation that hinged on communal tension in western Uttar Pradesh and a perception that law and order was subject to the diktat of local party bosses.

Modi's move to polarise the electorate on the “kabristan-shamshan ghat“ rhetoric was intended to amplify BJP's charge that the SP government has played politics with development. The signaling on law and order was read by voters as a reference to the clout SP bosses like Azam Khan, Gayatri Prajapati and Shivpal Yadav enjoyed in influencing police and administration. CM Akhilesh Yadav's bid to distance himself from this aspect of his legacy came too late.

The future looks more dire for BSP chief Mayawati who had laid great store in fielding 99 Muslim candidates in a desperate bid to lure the minority vote from SP-Congress. Her candidates did get a slice of the Muslim vote but this might have only helped BJP. Her reliance on a solid Dalit base took a battering as it is clear that a goodly section of non-Jatav votes went to BJP. A low tally of 19 MLAs means the party will not even be able to elect a single Rajya Sabha MP in the next five years.

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