Like Congress in 1970s became the Congress (I) – I for Indira – Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has now become BJP (M), with Prime Minister Narendra Modi becoming the party’s defining characteristic. At least, that’s what the results of the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls suggest.
Inside the compound – barely a few meters away from Vidhan Bhawan – BJP workers were celebrating their return to power after 14 years. The slogans being chanted by the young men were chants of “Modi” with the occasional “Jai Shri Ram” and “Bharat Mata Ki Jai”. The power of the “M factor”, as one worker described it, is incredible to behold. It is, as far as BJP’s Lucknow office was concerned, the only reason for the massive victory that BJP has got in UP.
By 10 am yesterday, the BJP office was reverberating with “gaye gaye gaye, gaye Akhilesh” (mocking the Samajwadi Party’s slogan for former Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav). Workers couldn’t have known how definitively BJP would shatter the SP-Congress alliance’s hopes and decimate Bahujan Samaj Party’s aspirations of returning to power, but they were hopeful. At the Delhi headquarters, BJP President Amit Shah said in a press conference, “This is the biggest victory in Uttar Pradesh ever achieved by any party.” While this isn’t strictly accurate, Shah is partially correct. This landslide mandate for the saffron party is the biggest majority for any party since 1980.
“Though we were sure about our victory, we didn’t expect the figures will cross the 300-mark,” JPS Rathore, state vice-president of BJP, told Newslaundry. Earlier the party spokesperson, Rakesh Tripathi had said that if BJP wins in UP, it will perform well in all phases. He turned out to be correct: the results of 2017 polls clearly show that BJP outperformed its opponents in all phases. Of 403 seats, Mayawati’s BSP could manage only 19 and the SP-Congress together won 54 seats (47 by SP alone). In contrast, BJP alone won 312 seats. Even its small allies — Apna Dal and Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party (SBSP) held their own and bagged another 13 seats for the alliance. From Central UP to Banaras, from Western UP to Bundelkhand, BJP crush its opponents.
“After the first two stages, we had said we will win around 90 out of 125 seats but some sections of media discarded it as a political statement,” said Shah in the New Delhi presser. “After the results today, we have won close to 115 out of those 125 seats.”
Not only does Shah stand vindicated now, it seems BJP leaders like Sanjeev Balyan, legislator Suresh Rana and Sangeet Som were able to garner support with their Parivartan Yatra in the region much before the election had started. Traditionally, this region has voted for Rashtriya Lok Dal. It won only one seat this time.
Importantly, BJP got the historic three-fourth majority in the state without fielding a single Muslim candidate. Muslims form 19.3 per cent of the state’s population. Even the reported anger against the notebandi (demonetisation) couldn’t mar BJP’s prospects. According to party leaders, it was a masterstroke, which, along with the surgical strike on Pakistan, increased the popularity in the economically weaker section of society and the youth. Traditionally a BSP stronghold, Bundelkhand went all but entirely to BJP. Even the farming community, despite suffering inconveniences caused by demonetisation, voted for BJP.
‘Modi magic’ might have played a key role in influencing voters’ mindsets, but the organisational strategy executed by Shah cannot be discounted. Party insiders say that units started working for UP 2017 right after the general election in 2014. Right from starting its poll campaign, the Parivartan Yatra, ahead of any other party, to the appointment of booth level office bearers, BJP defeated its opponents with its organisation. It had appointed around 1.28 lakh booth level presidents across 92 district units (UP has 75 districts). Interestingly, while the party was reacting to exit polls, it was also reconfirming the numbers from its booth-level offices on February 9 and 10.
Before Akhilesh Yadav submitted his resignation to UP governor Ram Naik, he held a press conference in Lucknow in which he said, “Maybe people didn’t like the Expressway and they voted for the bullet train… I wonder, did people just turn up at booths but not vote?” It was a more veiled attack than Mayawati’s who bluntly accused BJP of tampering with the electronic voting machines and said she didn’t believe the verdict. The Election Commission, however, said there is “no merit” to her charge.
Clearly, the results took Mayawati by surprise, but considering the chilling silence that enveloped SP’s party headquarters in Lucknow two days before counting began, Yadav probably had an inkling that he was facing a rout. On Saturday, as trends started coming in, there was very little enthusiasm from its workers or leaders. The extent of its failure can be gauged from the fact even debutant Aparna Yadav, daughter-in-law of party patriarch Mulyam Singh Yadav, didn’t win. BJP’s Rita Bahuguna Joshi defeated her by a massive margin of 33,796 votes.
Looking at the final numbers, BSP should feel less dejected than SP. Mayawati’s party might have won just 19 seats, but it has become the second largest party in the state in terms of vote percentage. While 22.2 per cent votes were polled in BSP’s favour, SP got 21.8 per cent votes and the Congress party managed 6.2 per cent vote share. The big question for BSP will need to figure out is how to build on this statistic which suggests that while the party has a loyal base, it hasn’t managed to expand it.
Notably, 39.7 per cent voters polled for BJP (which is the same vote share that the party got in the 2014 general elections). Its allies got another 1.7 per cent vote share, taking the total to 41.4 per cent.
The next challenge for BJP is appointing a chief minister for UP. As soon as a victory was assured, factions within the party started floating names like hardliner Yogi Adityanath and BJP state president Keshav Prasad Maurya. Ensuring the party is able to put out a united front despite its factions will be a top priority for the publicity department of the saffron party. Having won because of the M factor, it will now have to find a leader who can deliver on poll promises. During its campaign, BJP stressed upon alleged irregularities in the allocation of government jobs and appeasement politics. It will now have to fulfil its promises of upping employment and wiping out farmers’ debts.
Such is the faith in Modi (and Shah) that UP’s local leaders seem to be ready to accept whichever name is picked in Delhi by BJP’s high command. In the state, workers are geared up to set up “anti-Romeo squads”. Farmers have been promised more income and waived debts. Its campaign promise of reserving jobs for UP youth was the clincher for many young men, and they will now be expecting employment. Yogi Adityanath has gone on record to say that a Ram Mandir will be built. With all these factors to balance, no wonder Akhilesh Yadav has already delivered a few subtle taunts, saying that he’s waiting to see how the BJP-led government will outperform his.
However, his taunts won’t change the verdict. As far as UP is concerned, M is for not Mulayam or Mayawati, but Modi.
The author can be contacted on Twitter @amit_bhardwaz.