On March 11, the results of the five assembly elections will be out. But all eyes are focused on Uttar Pradesh, where for the first time since 2007, pollsters, journalists and hardcore opinion makers are not able to predict the outcome. And for this, they cite ‘Modi’ factor as the prime reason.
His high-powered campaign which included 23 rallies across the state and three days of roadshow in Varanasi is said to have impacted hugely the political wind, which initially appeared to be blowing in favour of Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party.
The internecine war in the SP patriarch’s family, erupting just a few weeks before the election was declared in Uttar Pradesh and consequent drama in the party which led it to the Election Commission’s door, strengthened Akhilesh Yadav’s position. Co-opted by his uncle and Rajya Sabha member Ram Gopal Yadav, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav removed his father Mulayam Singh Yadav from the party’s national president’s post, and uncle Shivpal Yadav from the post of the party’s state unit chief.
He also expelled Amar Singh and others from the party. This created a positive impression for Akhilesh Yadav among the people of the state. With this anti-incumbency factor, which otherwise could have stuck to his government, lost its meaning.
The pro-Akhilesh narrative, however, started frittering away once the SP aligned with the Congress. As despite SP-Congress’ posters carrying “UP Ko Ye Saath Pasand Hai” slogan and photographs of Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi emblazoned on them, the alliance appeared to be not working in many places. In as many as ten assembly seats, including Amethi, the pocket-borrow of the Nehru-Gandhi family, both alliance partners fought against each other. Whatever bonhomie Akhilesh and Rahul showed before the camera, appeared not percolating down to the grassroots level.
This helped the SP’s rivals, including the BJP to expose the alliance. Yet any slide in the electoral fortune of the SP, or Mayawati-led BSP in Uttar Pradesh would not hurt their leaders’ stake more than the BJP’s. A defeat for the saffron party, which fought the state election without any chief ministerial face, would prove to be a personal blow for Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Political Meaning of Any Defeat for Modi in Uttar Pradesh
A few weeks before assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and four other states were announced by the Election Commission, high currency notes of value Rs 500 and Rs 1000 were demonetised by the Modi government. The demonetisation was undertaken, as per the government claim, to rid the country of evils of black money, terror, drug funding and others. But the move created a huge problem for common people across the country for around 50 days, and 120 people reportedly died inside banks or in the queue outside ATMs during the difficult days.
If the BJP fails to perform well in the election, Modi’s critics, including some of his party men who were up against demonetisation of high currency notes, would spare no moment in pressurising RSS for replacing him. Even if Modi’s bête noirs fail in their plan, a defeat in UP election would put in question his ability to win the 2019 parliamentary election.
Journalists, most of whom have a dislike for him because of his crude, deadpan attitude towards them, would create an anti-Modi frenzy; so much so that he could become a political liability than asset for the BJP and the country. However, it would be on the presidential election the BJP’s failure in UP would cast a deep impact. To be held in the third week of July, the presidential election would not be much of a consequence for Modi. His choice of candidate for the presidential post may not meet with success if the BJP loses election in the state.
It should be noted that for everything, from selection of a candidate to forming of alliances to campaigning strategies, it has been him who mattered the most. Even if BJP president Amit Shah’s say in his party’s electoral plans appeared clear, there was no chance he could overlook Modi while chalking out a strategy for the state.
Therefore, the Uttar Pradesh election has been all about Modi and his magic, charisma and leadership. Despite subtle pressure from the BJP and the RSS, he refused to make anyone the chief ministerial candidate. Also, for the first time, the saffron party didn’t give any ticket to any Muslim candidate. This created a raucous with party senior leaders like Rajnath Singh, Uma Bharti and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi questioning the merit of not giving any ticket to Muslim candidate in Uttar Pradesh. In this background, a defeat for the BJP in the state means a long shadow on the leadership of the Prime Minister.