To save Modi, BJP must win state polls

Assembly elections 2017: Loss will dent PM's vote-catching image

To save Modi, BJP must win state polls

The Assembly polls of 2017 that were announced by the Election Commission on Wednesday will be seen as a mini referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s demonetisation drive that shook the country.

These elections also come  after his government has completed half of its five-year term.
Therefore, it is a big opportunity for the Opposition, which has felt resurgent after the note ban, to regroup and find a common plank to upset the BJP in these states. 

A win for the BJP will boost image and morale to prepare for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. As BJP leaders say, the elections, particularly in a big state like Uttar Pradesh, can help Modi shore up his government’s image. They can show that the BJP can win a major poll even after a controversial measure like demonetisation, which was described by former PM Manmohan Singh as a "monumental disaster." Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi too called it as “loot of the poor” to rebuff the BJP’s campaign that it was against black money and corruption.

In 2015, the BJP had lost the Bihar elections, which came as big blow for Modi after the 2014 parliamentary polls. This was after the AAP had swept the Delhi Assembly election in the same year.

Therefore, a victory in UP and other states would be shot in the arm for PM. It will also enable the BJP in the Rajya Sabha polls– when they are held to fill vacancies that will arise next year. The BJP can hope to gain majority in the upper house.

On the other hand, a defeat for the BJP particularly in UP  –after Bihar and Delhi– will be seen as a personal setback for the PM, admit party leaders. Modi’s vote catching power will appear to be on the decline despite the internal tussle of Mulayam Singh Yadav’s family in UP and Mayawati facing a lot of problems.

A defeat could fuel internal fissures in the BJP that are likely to get accentuated –though an open revolt against the prime minister or party chief Amit Shah would take time to gather pace. The Congress and other opposition parties will quickly see the BJP’s defeat as a proof that people have rejected demonetisation and Modi’s “cashless” initiatives.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP won 71 seats by winning 328 (81%) of 403 Assembly segments in UP. This was unprecedented in the recent history of Uttar Pradesh elections. In terms of Assembly segments,  the BJP won 253 out of the 403 constituencies with more than 40% vote share. 

Since then, the Samajwadi Party and Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party have tried to regain the lost ground. However, the outbreak of internal tussle in Mulayam Singh Yadav’s family has dented the SP’s prospects.

The Congress, which is not in the pink of health in UP, is not a big player. But it hopes to form an alliance with Akhilesh Yadav if he proceeds to form his own party. For Rahul Gandhi, a defeat for Modi is more important target than any tangible benefit for the Congress.

Among the five states, it is Punjab alone where the BJP does not expect a big win. It is bracing up for a heavy anti-incumbency mood among the voters– as it has been in power in a coalition with the Akali Dal for the last 10 years. Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Admi Party (AAP) and the Congress under Capt Amarinder Singh are giving a tough time.

However, in Uttarakhand, the BJP is confident of vanquishing the Congress government.
In Manipur, the BJP finds the Congress on a defensive wicket.

The political entry of activist Irom Sharmila and athlete Mary Kom have come as a big boost for the BJP.

In Goa, the AAP is challenging the BJP as well as the Congress, which have taken turns to run the coastal state. Kejriwal hopes to break that cycle so that the AAP can be a kingmaker if not the real player.

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