Modi might have lost UP elections already
In Bihar, the BJP was at least in the race to the throne, but Uttar Pradesh may not be so merciful.
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Apparently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi sleeps just four hours a day. Chances are, Bihar elections would have taken away even that. Just last year, aided by a publicity blitzkrieg unseen in politics, a massive Modi wave uprooted Congress and pushed Congress' PM face Rahul Gandhi 10 years back in his political career. Just 18 months later, Modi too suffered the biggest jolt of his political career. LS 2014 saw the rise of Narendra Modi into a political rock star, Bihar 2015 saw the rise of his possible nemesis.
As a political party, the BJP would analyse the reasons behind its drubbing in Bihar and quickly move on to other states. But, for Narendra Modi it is a stain he wouldn't be able to wash for long. Why BJP lost Bihar is for more worthy writers to enlighten us about, but what Modi lost after Bihar is apparent.
I've been travelling in UP, mainly near the state capital region, for the last few days. The echo of BJP's debacle in Bihar can be heard very clearly here. UPites love politics; it's their favourite pastime gossip. Even during the not-so-newsy days they are never short of topics to discuss it. And I say this for general UPites, not any more-politically-aware class; because there is no such class that enjoys politics less than the other. Even amid the Diwali fervour, Bihar results retain the top spot among the most happening conversations. More than who won, it is the who-lost-Bihar point which is discussed. Such chatter is usually inconclusive, but in a state where people wear their political opinions on their sleeves, it gives a clue of what the UP elections, due in 2017, may hold for the BJP.
In LS polls, BJP's vote share in the state was 42 per cent. It was a substantial increase from the last state Assembly elections in 2012 when the party got a mere 15 per cent votes. In an SP, BSP stronghold where BJP hasn't been in power for the last 20 years, it is a fairly impressive number. It wasn't achieved without the Modi magic which took over the state, along with the country. The Modi magic wasn't only about the development plank. Especially, because Akhilesh Yadav too had won UP riding on it. It was equally about Narendra Modi's charisma, and the "hope" of good governance. What Modi spoke from the dais while addressing Bihar rallies, damaged both.
It isn't difficult to sense the disappointment when people dissect the whys of the Bihar loss. Invoking cow and caste in Bihar has damaged Modi's image as a progressive politician. Bad press that followed all this didn't help. In UP, the general feeling is that voters have been disillusioned by the BJP. BSP and SP have upped their game which changes things further. Whether BJP fights UP with Modi at helm or not, the challenges at hand would be different this time. And it would be true for forthcoming state elections as well as the big one in 2019.
Unlike last year, when all parties were ill-prepared to compete with the BJP's social media connect and PR strategies, this time around the situation is different. The surprise element of a 360 degree campaign is gone, and Modi's rivals are better prepared. Nitish has already trumped Modi using his former campaign manager. UP too is preparing for the battle. The Akhilesh government has sped up the work on all the major developmental programmes. With a massive ad campaign, strong social media presence, and sacking of eight non-performing ministers he has also undertaken an image makeover exercise.
Media can debate whether these are mere cosmetic changes, but, for voters, it creates a perception that the government is working. Riding on grassroots level engagement, Mayawati's BSP too is much talked about. Its comeback in recently concluded panchayat elections shows the party is gaining its voters back. Another advantage these parties have is strong leadership at state level, as well as district and city levels, an advantage the BJP doesn't have.
Like Bihar, caste dynamics work in UP too. After 2014, BJP had a chance to tweak it a little if not much. SP and BSP have a loyal voter base in Yadavs, Muslims, and Dalits which form more than 40 per cent of UP's population. Post-Bihar, especially when BJP's image has taken a beating due to the whole intolerance conversation, UPites don't seem to be in a mood to experiment with their political loyalties. 2017 may be a tough fight between BSP and SP. In Bihar, the BJP was at least in the race to the throne but UP may not be so merciful.