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The keenly awaited results of the five Assembly elections are largely out. Given the trends as of 2 pm, and they are unlikely to change too dramatically from now, here’s a party-wise analysis of the verdict.
The Narendra Modi and Amit Shah-led Bharatiya Janata Party is the clear winner in these polls. In four out of the five states, they have either routed the opposition ( like in UP) or improved their tally ( like in Manipur) despite not getting the outright majority. The only downer is the verdict in Punjab. But this verdict was on expected lines and, in fact, the final tally may not be as bad as some of the predictions.
To be sure, UP victory and, in particular, the likely margin of it, alone would have been enough for the BJP to feel like a winner. It may sound politically incorrect to say but that is the kind of political heft UP has as a state. This one state alone accounted for 71 of BJP’s 282 seats in the current Lok Sabha. A Bihar-kind of dismal performance would have been disastrous for the BJP as well as Mr Modi. But, it would appear that a fragmented opposition, unlike the case in Bihar, has yielded a bumper victory for the Modi-Shah combine.
The thumping victory in UP and Uttarakhand (earlier a part of the undivided UP) must have a salutary impact on Mr Modi’s chances of re-election in 2019. What caused it this victory? That’s hard to say. BJP leaders will claim credit for every action and the Opposition parties will find every excuse — Ms Mayawati, the BSP Supremo ( although that expression sounds rather hollow right now) has already raised doubts that the voting machines were not functioning properly. I would instead, stick to the larger point that the results show. Mr Modi, the star, and possibly the only real campaigner, enjoys great support in his voter base. He stands much taller than his own party or the RSS, the ideological head. That is not to say that the organisation does not help him.
Mr Modi’s real appeal lies in being a politician who has been able to convince enough people that he is trying to change this country for the better. I suspect, people have voted for him since they believe he is trying to do something good, that he is trying to course-correct India’s destiny. People, fed up as they are of all the other options are not in the mood for quibbling over small details about which scheme was implemented well and which wasn’t. The time for that kind of auditing is still some distance away. For the moment, Mr Modi’s appeal is that he is seen by enough people as someone who is not hampered by dynastic nepotism, crony capitalism, faux secularism or even personal ambition. I know there are enough who disagree on each of these counts but the key question is: Do such people agree on other counts? Do they collectively vote for another leader who could challenge Mr Modi? The answer is a resounding ‘no’.
Since Rahul Gandhi, the Congress vice-president, made UP as a straight shoot-out between Congress+ and the BJP, the results should represent a humongous loss of face. However, the stirring victory in Punjab, another in Manipur and a strong performance in Goa may provide the party and its fledgeling leader some face-saving excuse. The here’s the problem for the Mr Gandhi and the Congress. Unlike the victories for the BJP, where Mr Modi and Mr Shah can take credit and where such victories will strengthen their position in the BJP, Congress victories will do the reverse. That’s because Congress victories are essentially due to local leadership and as such, they will weaken Mr Gandhi’s grip. Or, at least, I hope so. That's why the situation is fluid in the Congress. It should be a sign for the Congress to shift shape, look at another way of leading itself. Congress is important to me to the extent that we must have a credible opposition in any democracy. At the moment that space is vacant. Congress is out but there isn’t an alternative.
This election result— to be more precise the results in Goa and Punjab — is the first time, albeit in its short and noisy existence, that the Aam Aadmi Party has been overestimated. Typically, they have stunned everyone, from their supporters to their detractors, by the extent to which they could punch above their political weight. This time the boot is on the other foot.
However, even though they have done nowhere near what they would have wanted and their supporters expected, there is something to show for their efforts such as being ahead of the SAD-BJP in Punjab.
But to my mind, this result shows an oddity about AAP. AAP is not a party with any clear ideology. They are essentially a reactionary bunch. That is why they replaced the Congress in Delhi and seem to have replaced the Akali-BJP in neighbouring Punjab. To that extent, AAP’s victories are brittle in nature. Their only hope to stay in contention is good governance. they can’t depend on voters liking them for any emotive issue such as religion or caste.
BSP and SP - into thin air:
The two biggest losers of these elections and Rahul Gandhi can take heart from this, are Ms Mayawati of BSP and Mr Akhilesh Yadav of the SP. Both of them have nowhere to hide and both of them have to face up to the existential crisis that Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav faced in Bihar — they must hang together or else they will hang separately!
All in all, the results should calm the nerves in the BJP. A big part of this country has reaffirmed its faith in Mr Modi’s leadership and has told him that they will stay with him in 2019. There is only one caveat, though. If one looks at the seat scenario in the Assembly and compares it with what it was in the 2014 general election, there is only one party which has a negative sign in front of it. Paradoxically, that’s BJP, which is also the biggest winner in these polls. But this is not surprising because BJP had done so astoundingly well in 2014 that it is hard to replicate that result. So there is a slight slide in its support but I am not sure if that will matter on the margin as long as the opposition stays as divided as it has been in these elections.
Now there’s a thought for 2019!