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India's state polls confirm Modi's popularity

Murali Krishnan New Delhi
March 10, 2022

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party has emerged victorious in four out of five states in regional polls, putting the Hindu nationalist party in pole position for the national election in 2024.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has kept control of India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh according to exit polls. The projected victory has proven that the BJP has maintained its popularity in the politically prominent state, which has been marred by religious tensions in the past few years.

The BJP has also won three other states — Manipur, Goa, and Uttarakhand — but it lost the election in Punjab, according to the projected results.

The Indian National Congress, the South Asian country's main opposition party, has failed to perform well in the polls once again.

With four states in its pocket, Modi's BJP is in a strong position to win the 2024 national election, analysts say.

Winning a 'key state'

The victory in Uttar Pradesh has given Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath a big boost. The controversial Hindu nationalist politician has emerged as a key BJP leader in the past few years, with some people now seeing him as Modi's successor.

Adityanath's remarkable election campaign secured his party over 260 seats in the 403-member state assembly.

The BJP has no substantial opposition in the country, which means it is likely to do well in national elections, according to Gilles Verniers, a professor of political science and co-director of the Trivedi Center for Political Data.

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The BJP's solid performance in state elections caught some analysts by surprise, as they believed that rising unemployment, inflation, agrarian crisis and the government's handling of the COVID pandemic had left voters disillusioned.

The regional Samajwadi Party, which has an alliance with the Rashtriya Lok Dal, put up a stiff fight against the BJP though, trying to capitalize on the ruling party's "mistreatment of minorities" in Uttar Pradesh. But, that was not enough to oust the BJP.

"Adityanath has a good record on fighting crimes and restoring law and order in the state. Development precedes religion, which is why people voted for him," Manisha Dwivedi, a BJP activist told DW.

Uttar Pradesh has 80 seats in India's 543-member Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament). The state, along with neighboring Bihar, is crucial for any party to form the central government.

All eyes on general election

"This tremendous victory in Uttar Pradesh will not only give a boost to the BJP in Lok Sabha, it will also strengthen its position in Rajya Sabha (upper house of parliament) and upcoming presidential election," said Prakash Javadekar, a former BJP minister.

The BJP wants to further consolidate its popularity and expand its reach across the country. The Hindu nationalist party is now in power, or in alliance with regional parties, in 16 out of 28 states.

"All myths about the BJP have been proven wrong. We ran a scientific and well-organized election campaign in these states, capitalizing on our development work and not using caste and creed issues," Jitendra Singh, a BJP minister, told DW.

The northern hill state of Uttarakhand was thought to be a tough battleground for the BJP, where the party last year changed its chief ministers thrice in four months.

The only setback to Modi's party came in Punjab state, which was the center of a popular farmers' movement last year. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which rules the national capital of Delhi, allied with other opposition parties in the northern state and won the election with a considerable majority.

 Congress party in decline

"The AAP has been propelled to the center stage in national politics. This will have an impact in the general elections. At the same time, we are seeing the decline of the Congress party," Sudha Pai, a political analyst, told DW.

The Congress party, which had dominated Indian politics for decades after India gained independence from British rule in 1947, has not been able to perform well in state and general elections since 2014. There is now talk of "revamping" the party to stop the BJP surge.

"It is a depressing and dark result for the Congress. It must now bite the bullet and question its leadership," Sanjay Jha, a former Congress spokesperson, told DW.

The elections in five states lasted for over two months, with the first round of voting beginning on February 10 and the last phase ending on March 7.

The BJP will now sets its eyes on polls in the states of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, scheduled for later in the year, before turning its attention to the 2024 general election.

Shashi Tharoor on Conflict Zone

Edited by: Shamil Shams

Murali Krishnan
Murali Krishnan Journalist based in New Delhi, focusing on Indian politics, society and business@mkrish11