2022: BJP faces key polls, results to be far-reaching

New year, new polls but results will be far-reaching for BJP

Uttar Pradesh will go to the polls with Uttarakhand, Manipur, Goa and Punjab, with the Election Commission likely to announce the dates anytime next month

Political experts believe Uttar Pradesh assembly polls will hold the key. Credit: AFP Photo

As the new year arrives, the BJP finds itself on the cusp of the most consequential cycle of state polls since the 2019 Lok Sabha elections as the results will tell if the road ahead in its bid for a third straight term at the Centre is getting any bumpier or a strong opposition challenge remains elusive.

If 2021 marked the rare occurrence of the Narendra Modi-led government bowing to organised protests, mounted by farmers in north India against three agriculture reform laws, and the BJP's enviable election machinery coming up short against a popular regional satrap in West Bengal, 2022 will reveal if the ripples these developments caused have made impact beyond their immediate implications.

And, political experts believe Uttar Pradesh assembly polls will hold the key.

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It was its massive win in the state in 2017 that had made the BJP favourites for the 2019 general elections, and some preceding setbacks in state elections, including in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, did little to dampen the tide the Uttar Pradesh results had generated in its favour.

As the BJP won 312 seats in the 403-member Uttar Pradesh assembly, National Conference leader Omar Abdullah had then tweeted that "at this rate we (opposition) might as well forget 2019 & start planning/hoping for 2024". His comments were mocked by many but turned out to be prescient.

Uttar Pradesh will go to the polls with Uttarakhand, Manipur, Goa and Punjab, with the Election Commission likely to announce the dates anytime next month. Its sweeping victory in India's largest state in two back to back Lok Sabha polls has been central to the BJP winning a majority of seats nationwide.

Always battle-ready, top BJP leaders have already begun touring the poll-bound states with Modi himself addressing quite a few public meetings in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, launching development projects and targeting the opposition. He has also addressed one public meeting in Goa.

Home Minister Amit Shah, acknowledged for his keen grasp of Uttar Pradesh's political dynamics woven around religion, caste identity, regional peculiarities and local heavyweights besides governance issues, has been frequenting the state, as the party believes that another emphatic win there will do more than anything else to set the tone for the next Lok Sabha polls.

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Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav, too, has mounted an aggressive challenge and sought to counteract the BJP's Hindutva pitch under Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath by joining hands with regional caste leaders and questioning the state government's development claims.

A win for the BJP, especially by a handsome margin, will also be a further boost to its ideological project, but any setback will have far-reaching impact.

In Uttarakhand, the BJP is going to the polls with a third chief minister, Pushkar Singh Dhami, at the helm in last five years. While it would have been considered an obvious disadvantage to the ruling party, infighting within the opposition Congress combined with the ruling party's strong organisation and 'Modi factor' have made the battle keen.

Critics allege that lack of strong action against right-wing activists accused of giving calls for violence against Muslims at a Dharam Sansad in Haridwar in Uttarakhand, where the BJP is in power, is linked to the polls as it would like religiously polarising issues to take centre stage to beat back any anti-incumbency it may be facing in the state and neighbouring Uttar Pradesh.

The BJP on its part has refused to join the issue with opposition parties, and said questions about the event should be asked not from it but the organisers. Police have registered an FIR in the case.

Also Read | UP elections: Development to play big on BJP's poll agenda

It is also pulling out all the stops to make an impact in the Punjab polls, which was seen as a lost cause for it after its ally Akali Dal severed ties and farmers' protest intensified before it changed course by defusing the agitation with the repeal of the three laws.

It has joined hands with former Congress stalwart Amarinder Singh and a splintered Akali faction, and has inducted a number of Sikh leaders, including sitting MLAs, to reach out to the community which had led the agitation against the three laws.

If the Uttar Pradesh polls are being seen as a natural barometer to judge the mood of the nation, a good show by the BJP-led alliance in Punjab will showcase the party's continuing ability to adapt to defy odds.

If 2021 was the year of political and governance challenges for the ruling party as the second wave of Covid convulsed the country before farmer unions marched to Delhi border, 2022 poll results will tell if people have bought into the opposition's charge of incompetence against its governments at the Centre and states in their handling of the pandemic or agri issues or their trust in the party remains intact.

The BJP had cited its success in a number of state polls and bypolls after the Covid outbreak in 2020 as popular endorsement of its handling of the crisis.

Besides the five states, two more states of Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat are expected to face the elections by the end of next year, and the BJP is in power in six of the seven states, making the stakes high for the party.

This is in sharp contrast to four states and Union Territory of Puducherry polls in 2021 in which the BJP was in power in only one state, Assam, which it retained. It is also part of the government in Puducherry.

While the BJP's principal national rival, the Congress, showed little sign of any revival in its fortunes through the outgoing year as it lost badly in Kerala and Assam, it was the success of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress in quelling the saffron challenge in her state which has sowed seeds of possible realignment in opposition camp in taking on the BJP.

What shape the opposition politics will take as it weighs its options may depend a lot on the poll tidings that the new year will bring.

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