Elections in India: Uttar Pradesh should remain in the hands of the BJP

LUCKNOW, India — Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling National Party is expected to remain in power in India’s most populous state, Utt...


LUCKNOW, India — Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling National Party is expected to remain in power in India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, according to snap election results released Thursday, continuing the party’s record of repeated successes at the polls despite growing economic difficulties.

The victory of Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, marks the first time in more than three decades that voters have returned an incumbent bloc to power in Uttar Pradesh, where an estimated 240 million people live. It further cements the rise of Yogi Adityanath, a hard-line Hindu monk who served as the state’s chief minister for five years and is increasingly seen as a potential successor to Mr Modi.

Crowds of BJP supporters began arriving outside the party office in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, before the results began to roll in. The atmosphere was jubilant, with young men cheering and singing as TV presenters counted the seats on a large screen. By late afternoon, the BJP was in the lead with 253 seats out of Uttar Pradesh’s 403-seat assembly, down about 60 seats from its 2017 performance but still a comfortable margin for form the government.

“I’m so happy the BJP is winning,” said Arpit Mishra, a 19-year-old party worker wearing a crisp floral jacket and a saffron scarf, the party color, wrapped around his knuckles.

“They will give Hindutva a boost,” he said, referring to the party’s vision of reshaping India along explicitly Hindu lines. “Our life as Hindus will change.”

The results were also released on Thursday by four other Indian states that voted over the past month, and they suggested India’s opposition politics could undergo a major transformation. Most notably, the Indian National Congress Party, which has held power for most of India’s history since its independence from Britain in 1947, appeared to be continuing its rapid decline.

Early results showed that Congress was losing in Punjab, one of the few states where it still held power, and it trailed the BJP in tight races in the small states of Goa and Uttarakhand. The Aam Aadmi Party, which controls Delhi, had a substantial lead in Punjab, raising the prospect that it would become the first of India’s smaller regional parties to take control of a second state.

Many regional parties are trying to look beyond Congress to Mr Modi, hoping to fight in the 2024 general election. A victory in Punjab would give Aam Aadmi – whose name means “ordinary man” – a advantage over other opposition blocs, analysts said.

Yet while Mr Modi’s party has at times battled powerful regional parties in national and general elections, it would be neither easy nor quick to consolidate any of them into a genuine opposition to challenge the Mr. Modi’s grip on India. And Congress, the largest opposition party with a national presence, has appeared increasingly vulnerable.

Celebrating with a crowd of supporters, Arvind Kejriwal, party leader Aam Adami, listed all the big names in Punjab who he said were ousted by candidates from his party. Charanjit Singh ChanniPunjab’s chief minister during the last months of the Congress government, was beaten by a candidate Aam Aadmi who works in a cell phone repair shop, Mr Kejriwal said.

“This revolution started in Delhi, now in Punjab, and this revolution will spread all over the country,” Mr Kejriwal said.

As exit polls earlier indicated races in Goa and Uttarakhand could be tight, Congress leaders have traveled to both states in recent days to try to avoid any last-minute ‘poaching’ by the BJP – ie attempts to persuade winning candidates to switch sides. In 2017, the BJP used such tactics to form the government in Goa, even though the Congress won a plurality of seats.

This time, prominent members of Congress gathered at a hotel in Goa for what party leaders said was a birthday party for one of them, and its candidates were offered rooms for the night. Indian media reports said it was an effort by the party to stick together and block BJP’s last-minute maneuvers

“Nobody can poach us even if they try their best,” said Girish Chodankar, the Congress speaker in Goa. “We took all kinds of precautions.”

But by late Thursday afternoon, it was clear that the BJP was winning in Uttarakhand and had enough seats in Goa to form the government with the help of a few independent candidates. The BJP was also in the lead in the small northeastern state of Manipur.

Much of the attention during the election season has focused on the prized state of Uttar Pradesh, not just because of its size, but because of the importance it could have for the future. of Indian politics.

Mr Adityanath has faced an uphill struggle from the opposition Samajwadi party, facing heavy criticism for his handling of Covid-19 in Uttar Pradesh and a deepening economic slide. During the pandemic’s deadly second wave, the state’s healthcare system collapsed, with reports of oxygen shortages. Images of corpses on the banks of the Ganges, which is sacred to Hindus, were common.

Still, analysts predicted that Mr Adityanath would remain comfortably chief minister, even if he won with a slightly smaller lead than in 2017, again confirming the BJP’s ability to mobilize and consolidate a strong base of support despite the difficulties. short term.

Mr Adityanath, who always wears his saffron monk’s robe in public, has pushed forward Mr Modi’s vision of India as a ‘first Hindu nation’ with his own brand of strongman politics.

Mr Adityanath has publicly spoken out against what his supporters call the ‘love jihad’: interfaith marriages, which many Hindu nationalists claim are just attempts by Muslim men to convert Hindu women . He also banned the slaughter of cows, considered sacred by many Hindus.

Mr Adityanath had cow sheds built to house the aging cattle, which were soon filled well beyond their capacity, so much so that in parts of Uttar Pradesh the destruction of crops by wandering cattle has become an election issue.

He also encouraged Hindu vigilante groups – some of which he helped start, before becoming chief minister – to ensure the ban on cattle slaughter is enforced and to monitor cases of “jihad”. lover”. This often led to violence against Muslims.

Mr Adityanath’s methods “could serve as a model for other states” in India, said Gilles Verniers, a political science professor at Ashoka University who studies Uttar Pradesh politics.

“We have seen some leaders cite Adityanath as a role model – not just for his policies, a mix of religion and welfare, but for the strongman politics he represents,” Professor Verniers said.

Karan Deep Sing reported from Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, and Mujib Mashal from New Delhi. Hari Kumar contributed reporting from New Delhi.

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