While many expected a good performance by the BJP in the UP assembly elections, the magnitude of its victory seems to have stunned even the most ardent of its supporters. Such a victory is unprecedented in the state and is not just the best ever performance of the BJP but also surpasses the Congress victory of 1985 when after the assassination of Indira Gandhi the party secured 270 of the then 425 seats (including what is today Uttaranchal) in the state.
The BJP victory cuts across the different regions in the state and represents a comprehensive vote of confidence. What explains the BJP's stellar performance in this largest state of India? The electoral trends indicate that several factors have contributed to its success. First, it is a conclusive endorsement of the national leadership of the BJP which directly led and directed the campaign in the state. Strategically, the party did not project a chief ministerial candidate and both the national president of the party and its prime minister led the campaign from the front.
In the victory celebrations at the party headquarters in Lucknow, one heard slogans praising the prime minister and his leadership. Thus, clearly, the massive mandate is seen by many as a categorical endorsement of the central leadership of the party. It may be difficult to conclude that the BJP's coming to power in UP is a vote of confidence in the Central government as that was not necessarily an issue during the campaign or the basis for seeking votes.
Many have argued that the BJP victory is a vote for demonetisation. That possibly is stretching the argument a bit too far. Demonetization was possibly a non-issue in the elections and it may be safer to conclude that the campaign against demonetisation cut little ice with the voters. This was clearly high-stake election from the prime minister which required him to invest so much time and energy in a state Assembly poll. The victory in UP, is like a semi-final success giving it an advantage in the second semi-final in the state assembly elections next year and setting the mood for the grand finale: the Lok Sabha elections of 2019.
The Uttar Pradesh results are a setback for the Samajwadi Party-led alliance and the BSP. The five-year rule of the Samajwadi Party did not appear to cut much ice and the internal rumblings within the ruling party has clearly had its negative impact. One cannot rule out an internal sabotage engineered by the faction leaders who lost out in the succession race in the party. Finally, the alliance with the Congress produced little benefit to either the SP or the Congress. The steep fall in the seats won by the two parties is a clear reflection of the inability of the alliance to secure popular support. Mayawati's statement, challenging the fairness of the electoral process will cut very little ice and would be more seen as a lack of graciousness in defeat.
The social alliance that the BJP built up was a key factor that contributed to its success. By crafting a coalition of the Upper Castes, non-Yadav Backward Castes and the non-Jatav Dalits, the BJP was able to offset the loss caused by the consolidation of the minority and Yadav vote on the one hand (to the SP led alliance) and the Jatav vote (to the BSP) on the other. The SP and the BSP were not able to build a social coalition beyond their traditional vote bank.
In the final analysis, any victory brings with it a host of challenges. It would be useful to expand on two f them. Firstly, the BJP has come to power on a promise of expectations of a gigantic proportion. They have promised development (Vikas) and would now need to deliver on development. Any gap between promise and performance will surely result in a backlash in a subsequent poll.
Secondly, given the social profile of the state, the BJP slogan of Sab Ka Saath, Sab Ka Vikas (With everyone, Moving forward) while have to be given practical shape. The party did not field a single Muslim candidate and during the election campaign, several slogans that had deeper communal overtones had been raised. Would the new government in Uttar Pradesh consciously adopt a stand of inclusiveness both in term of the policy and in terms of participation and representation would be the critical question. Will the BJP be able to reign in forces, both within the party and among its wider coalition, who have in the past, pursued an agenda of hate and divisiveness.
As its savours the sweet taste of victory, it may be useful for the BJP to keep in mind that having come to power its focus needs to be on sustaining its support and base both within the state and across the country.
( The author is a leading political scientist)