Modi’s landslide win in Uttar Pradesh state astounds analysts

The state has the highest population of Muslims, who appeared to cast aside their worries about the BJP’s Hindu nationalism and Mr Modi’s checkered history with the Muslim community while he was chief minister of Gujarat, giving his party a solid win of 71 out of the 80 parliamentary seats.

NEW DELHI // The landslide victory of Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party in the state of Uttar Pradesh is a surprising result of India’s election that analysts are attempting to unravel.

Home to nearly 200 million people, India’s most populous state is a complex electoral challenge, fragmented along lines of class, caste and religion.

But those lines seem to be blurring as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 71 out of the state’s 80 parliamentary seats — a stunning reversal of its fortunes in the 2009 election, when it won only 10 seats.

The Congress slide from 21 seats won in a 2009 election to just two seats this year.

The party, which had headed the federal government for a decade, was haunted in the election by corruption scandals and inefficiency over the past few years.

The state also has the highest population of Muslims, who appeared to cast aside their worries about the BJP’s Hindu nationalism and Mr Modi’s checkered history with the Muslim community while he was chief minister of Gujarat. Mr Modi was in power when the state was hit by sectarian riots in 2002 that killed more than 1,000 people — mostly Muslims.

More surprisingly still, the smaller parties that have held the reins of politics in Uttar Pradesh — the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) — were also steamrollered by the BJP.

The BSP and SP won 20 and 23 seats respectively in Uttar Pradesh in 2009. But only five seats went to the SP in this election, and none to the BSP.

So complete was the BJP’s rout of its rivals that it managed to improve its own previous best in Uttar Pradesh: 52 seats in the 1998 election.

Mr Modi certainly deserves much of the credit after he conducted a long and intense campaign in the state that revolved heavily around his message of economic revival.

A January poll by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) showed that 35 per cent of voters wanted Mr Modi as prime minister while only 12 per cent favoured the Congress party vice-president, Rahul Gandhi.

But more important, said Milan Vaishnav, an analyst at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, was “the collapse of credible alternatives”.

Citing other data from CSDS, Mr Vaishnav said a clear majority of those who voted for the BJP would have done so even without Mr Modi’s candidacy.

“Both the SP and BSP had presided over pretty abysmal governments [in Uttar Pradesh] when viewed through a governance perspective,” Mr Vaishnav said. “The BJP, in contrast, was seen as the real credible alternative this time.”

Uttar Pradesh’s agriculture sector, the main driver of the state’s economy, lost nearly 5 million jobs between 2004 and 2012, and only grew by 2.6 per cent — lower than national figure of roughly 3.6 per cent. The manufacturing sector in the state has expanded even slower, at roughly 1.6 per cent.

The dissatisfaction with where the state was headed largely cut across the lines of caste, which has always played a major factor in elections in Uttar Pradesh.

In the recent election, only Muslims continued to withhold their vote from the BJP and its allied parties.

According to data compiled and analysed by a team of political scientists in Uttar Pradesh, only 10 per cent of Muslims voted for the BJP. The majority — 58 per cent — gave their vote to the SP, their traditional champion in the state. In 2009, the Congress won 30 per cent of the Muslim vote. The BSP won 27 per cent.

“One thing is clear: the rhetoric and the success of the BJP have posed a serious challenge to politics based merely on caste or community identities,” the team of political scientists, led by AK Verma of Christ Church College in Kanpur, wrote in The Hindu on Friday.

The BJP’s strategy took masterful advantage of these factors, thanks to a “ground game” executed by Amit Shah, said Mr Vaishnav, that was similar to the Republican Party in the US during the 2000s.

“Shah brought a Karl Rove-ian sensibility to campaign management, and a ruthless sense of where to play up Hindutva [Hindu nationalism], where to focus on development, and how, in some cases, to fuse the two.”

Published: May 28, 2014 04:00 AM


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