Indian State Elections 2022: A four-out-of-five win for Bharatiya Janata Party

A supporter of India’s ruling party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) displays cut-outs of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath as he celebrates after learning the initial poll results outside its party office in Lucknow, India, March 10, 2022. REUTERS/Pawan Kumar

Reporting and news analyses of any elections in India circles around caste and religion equations in the state/region, the political party affiliation of candidates, and the personality and quirks of the man or woman designated to lead the party and become chief minister. Very little space, if any, is devoted to discussing the policy planks of the numerous political parties and what they wish to accomplish if elected to office, except in terms of pandering to specific caste groups or religious groups and offering freebies to win their votes. This feudal and myopic focus has ensured that much of Indian politics is about the two major divides in Indian society: caste and religion. Given this scenario, and the old, entrenched forces still at play, what transpired in the elections in five states – Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa, and Manipur – makes for some interesting new dynamics, some healthy, some ominous.

These state elections come at the end of the two-year pandemic, and in some ways they were an indication of how the states and the government at the Center had performed these past two years, given that so many had lost jobs, had to move back to their hometowns and villages, and suffered much anxiety and fear.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its election partners won four of the five state assemblies: Goa, Manipur, Uttarakhand, and Uttar Pradesh. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and its election partners swept the Punjab polls. Decimated were the Congress Party and the Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP). Candidates, independent of party affiliations, made major gains in Manipur and to some extent in Goa and made little headway elsewhere.

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The main takeaway is this: the BJP, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi, and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in Uttar Pradesh, reestablish their power and their popularity at the Center and in the largest of Indian states, Uttar Pradesh. While few commentators will remark about the reasons why, other than harping on “Hindu nationalism,” it is important to note that like any citizen, anywhere in the world, in any kind of political setting, the Indian citizen wants some basic assurances – stable incomes, good public services, security and safety, and rule and order. The BJP, to a large extent, and despite the complaints from entrenched forces, and the Opposition, has been able to deliver on “development and progress”: the “sab ka saath, sab ka vikaas” (“everyone’s progress with everyone’s support”) goal has not just been a part of political sloganeering but that which has guided, to a large extent, the BJP policymakers.

This election is a precursor to the 2024 General Elections, and the AAP, while making a mark in Punjab, affiliating with dangerous and seditious groups, poses not just an electoral threat to the BJP but lends its support to fissiparous regional forces that can test the unity and integrity of India as a nation and as a democracy.

The Indian National Congress, and the Nehru-Gandhi family, which still enjoy unwarranted support from the nattering classes in the media and in academia, and still offering the fake potion of “secularism and socialism”, have been shown the door, once again. Given their status as the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, however, they will continue to project themselves as the bulwark of the Indian political establishment.

What we can learn from this round of State Assembly Elections, however, must be leavened with the knowledge of local and regional dynamics. Here, therefore, are some highlights about the outcomes in each of the five states, from the most populous to the least:

Uttar Pradesh:

With an estimated population of 231 million, the state would be the fifth largest country in the world! Nearly eighty percent are Hindus, and nearly twenty percent are Muslims. The northern districts of the state were hewn off the state in 2000 to form the new state of Uttarakhand. With the largest number of seats in the Lok Sabha (80 of the 543), and sending nine prime ministers to Delhi, the state has played and continues to play a major role in national culture and politics. It has, under the chief ministership of Yogi Aditynath, also emerged as an economic powerhouse and a model of good, clean governance.

A state that was part of the “Bimaru” (an acronym that punned on the Hindi word bimar – sick) states – Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh – and known for political corruption, crime, and the thuggishness of its political leaders – it has now found some footing, and a new dynamic under Yogi Adityanath, an inspired as well as a nonconventional choice by Narendra Modi, who has taken major steps to cleanse the state of its political dirt, societal instability, and economic quagmires. That a man wearing saffron, and who is an ordained priest in the Goraknath Math, has been able to lead this vast state and its teeming millions, should not come as a surprise, except for the uninformed or the cussed. Before becoming Chief Minister in 2017, he had been elected as Member of Parliament for five consecutive terms from the Gorakhpur constituency, and had proved himself as a dedicated, disciplined parliamentarian.

The BJP and its partners won 274 seats this time around, compared to the 312 seats they had won in 2017. However, its closest competition, which came from the Samajwadi Party and its known goons (the Samajwadi Party had ruled the state from 2012 to 2017 under Akhilesh Yadav, and when the party lost in 2017, and the man had to vacate his official “bungalow,” it was found that he and his wife had trashed the house, in which they had also installed some thirty-five air-conditioners and installed a variety of luxury amenities. When government officials listed the damage that he and his minions had done to the bungalow, Akhilesh Yadav warned, “These officers should be aware that governments come and go. I have seen officials pick up cup and plates, they should not get into such behaviour”.

Despite all the complaints and the shrill “tut-tuting” by the Indian left and the international media, Uttar Pradesh electors have given a thumbs-up to development and good governance by the BJP while appreciating the support to their faith and belief, including the major reconstruction and beautification of the holy city of Varanasi.

The Bahujan Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh seems to be on the verge of collapse with their vote share reduced from 22.4 percent in 2017 to about 12.7 percent this time. Mayawati, their leader, has receded into the background, for reasons one can only speculate.

Punjab:

With a population of about thirty million, Punjab was the next biggest state to hold elections to the State Assembly. Sikhs are the major group with about eighteen million people, and Hindus numbering about 12 million. Other religious groups are micro minorities in the state, with Muslims being the largest of them. Punajb sends thirteen Members of Parliament to Delhi. With 117 seats in the State Assembly, the AAP won a thumping 92 of them, decimating the Congress Party which had won 77 seats in 2017. The BJP had minor presence in 2017 with three seats, reducing its margin in this election winning only two seats.

FILE PHOTO: Arvind Kejriwal, chief of Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party (AAP), addresses his supporters after taking the oath as the new chief minister of Delhi during a swearing-in ceremony at Ramlila ground in New Delhi February 14, 2015. REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee

The major and emphatic win by the AAP shows that its leader Arvind Kejriwal and his team have developed both a savvy and strength governing the nation’s capital, Delhi, where they have held power for two consecutive terms. They offered better public service, good schools and hospitals, etc., akin to their Delhi political plank, in their 10-point “Punjab Model”. However, despite these promises, and despite the slick, glossy, and professional presentations to the electorate, what is of concern in this win is the wink-and-nod that the party offered the separatist elements in the state, which had gained much leverage during the “Farmers’ Protest” which was heavily funded by Khalistan activists in Canada, the US, and in Europe.

The Khalistan separatists have reacquired strength and influence over the past three decades after terrorism and extremism were squelched in the state. This bodes ill not just to the state, which borders Pakistan, and is therefore a security concern for India, but that such separatism can become beacons to those seeking similar breaks from the Union of India, whether it in the Northeast or in Tamil Nadu or elsewhere.

The collapse of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in this election is indication that the Sikh majority has shifted its allegiance from the SAD to AAP. Bhagwant Mann is set to become the next Chief Minister of the state, and it will be his task indeed to make Punjab prosperous and progressive once again.

Uttarakhand:

With a population of about eleven million, five seats in Parliament, and seventy Assembly seats, the BJP won forty-eight seats this time, reducing its total by nine from 2017. The INC (Congress Party) increased its share from eleven in 2017 to eighteen this time around. Hindus are 83 percent of the population and Muslims are 14 percent. There is a visible Sikh population who constitute about 2.5 percent of the population.

It did not seem that Uttarakhand would return the BJP back to power this time, and it was a close contest till a week before people went to the polls. Bucking the trend in the state where the incumbents were shown the door in previous elections, the BJP did manage to retain its majority, but its Chief Minister, Pushkar Singh Dhami, lost in his constituency. The BJP now has a majority and is in search of a leader to guide the party and helm the government.

Manipur:

With a population of about 3.2 million, and two seats in Parliament, and sixty State Assembly seats, the BJP triumphed over the INC, winning thirty-two seats as opposed to the twenty-one which it had won in 2017. The INC had won 28 seats in 2017 and saw its share crumble to five this time. Independent candidates and other smaller party candidates made much headway in this election winning twenty-three seats as opposed to the ten they had won in 2017.

The Congress Party allied itself with five other parties, including the left/communist parties under the “Manipur Progressive Alliance” umbrella. It surely did not help the Congress.

Goa:

With a population of about 1.6 million, Goa was the smallest of states to go the hustings. Goa sends two parliamentarians to Delhi and has forty State Assembly seats. The BJP which had won only 13 seats in 2017 won twenty of them this time around. The INC, which had won 17 seats in 2017 saw its total reduced to eleven this time around. The AAP, which sought to make a major foray into Goa in these elections won two seats.

Watching the state assembly elections, staggered over a month, and spread across the country from the north and northeast to the south, we can surmise the mood of the country, in general, and conclude that despite one major change in Punjab, the rest of the country could choose to return the BJP to power in the 2024 General Elections. Good governance wins, and the battle against corruption, feudalism, and entrenched political forces do get the support from citizens. The pandemic challenged India, and 2021 tested the will and strength of the Central Government and the allegiance of Indians to the BJP.

Given the nature of the world, the war in Ukraine which can morph into a Cold War or escalate into deadly violent battles across nations, a pandemic that refuses to fade away, extremism and terrorism still posing immediate dangers to India, and society riven across caste and religious lines, encouraged and abetted from both internal and external agents, it would be foolhardy to speculate who will win the electoral battle in 2024. Be that as it may, these State Assembly election results do augur well for the BJP. Whether it is a death-knoll for the INC it is hard to say. We may see the emergence of the AAP as a national player, but the so-called Third Front, under the leadership of Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister of West Bengal, can be given a quiet burial.

Ramesh Rao Photo:communication.columbusstate.edu

Ramesh Rao is a professor of communication at Columbus State University, Columbus, GA, and is editor of the online portal, “India Facts”.

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