Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 February 2020

Victory in India state elections gives BJP strong mandate

Prime minister Narendra Modi's political party performed well in state elections in two key states, but must still make alliances, writes Samanth Subranmanian.
Indian musicians and supporters dance in front of a portrait of Indian prime minister and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Narendra Modi during celebrations outside the BJP office following state elections in Mumbai on October 19. Punit Paranjpe / AFP Photo
Indian musicians and supporters dance in front of a portrait of Indian prime minister and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Narendra Modi during celebrations outside the BJP office following state elections in Mumbai on October 19. Punit Paranjpe / AFP Photo

NEW DELHI // The Bharatiya Janata emerged as the single largest party in state elections in Haryana and Maharashtra, proving that it was still riding the surge of popularity that swept it to power in national elections earlier this year.

In Haryana, the BJP won an absolute majority, the first in the state’s history, with 47 out of the 90 seats in the state’s assembly. In Maharashtra, however, the BJP won only 122 out of 288 seats, and it will have to form a coalition with at least one other party to form the government.

The final tally of seats won by various parties was released by India’s Election Commission on Sunday night.

There were celebrations at the BJP’s headquarters in Delhi and Mumbai on Sunday, as party workers distributed sweets and set off fireworks.

In both states, governments led by the Congress, India’s oldest political party, were unseated. The Congress’ poor performance comes on the heels of its comprehensive defeat by the BJP and its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi in the national elections in April-May.

The Congress won in 42 seats in Maharashtra, down from the 82 it had won in 2009. In Haryana, the Congress won 15 seats, down from 40 in 2009. It lost power in Maharashtra after 15 years and in Haryana after 10 years.

Abhishek Manu Singhvi, a Congress spokesperson, attributed his party’s losses to anti-incumbency — to the electorate’s tendency to vote the opposition into power in each fresh poll. “What you cannot alter, you have to endure, and endure cheerfully,” Mr Singhvi told the Times Now television channel.

Although the widespread popularity for Mr Modi — called the“Modi Wave” by television channels — helped the BJP win Haryana, it was less effective in Maharashtra, said Pradyuman Maheshwari, a Mumbai-based political analyst.

“I think the BJP would have been aiming to win around 160 seats. In all their advertisements, they talked about how their goal was a clear majority,” Mr Maheshwari told The National on Saturday. “So their tally isn’t something they’ll be jubilant about, exactly.”

Mr Modi himself led the BJP’s electoral campaign in these states, speaking at more than 50 rallies across Haryana and Maharashtra. He often spoke at three or four events a day, reminiscent of his energetic canvassing when he was running for prime minister.

As in his speeches during the national election, Mr Modi emphasised the theme of economic development. “Our government is dedicated to the poor,” he said on more than one occasion. “We want to do big things for the poorest of the poor.”

The old electoral tenet in India that people voted only for candidates from their caste, he said, had “become a thing of the past. The nation is moving towards the politics of development.”

But Mr Modi’s popularity “didn’t cut as much ice as expected,” Mr Maheshwari said.

“This is a win for the BJP, of course, but it’s a comedown for Modi,” he said. “In Maharashtra, the voters tend strongly to favour local parties like the Shiv Sena. So it’s as if the voters were telling Modi: ‘We trust you, but we just don’t trust you enough to give you the majority.’”

Before the election in Maharashtra, the BJP had split with its old ally of the Hindu right, the Shiv Sena, believing that Mr Modi’s magic might enable it to win the state on its own steam.

The rupture generated a few weeks of bad blood. Uddhav Thackeray, the president of the Shiv Sena, accused the BJP of opportunism. “They were with us when they needed us and left us when the need was fulfilled,” Mr Thackeray said earlier this week. “Why did they stab us in the back?”

But after exit poll results on Wednesday showed that neither the Shiv Sena nor the BJP would get an absolute majority, Mr Thackeray had softened his stand. “There is no need to have arguments or bitterness anymore,” he wrote in an editorial published on Friday in the party newsletter Saamna.

The BJP, for its part, reached out to the Shiv Sena on Saturday morning, as the election results began to trickle in. “The Shiv Sena is not our opponent. The Sena will always be our friends,” Devendra Fadnavis, a BJP politician in Maharashtra and one of the party’s leading candidates for the position of chief minister, told reporters.

“In many ways, the results signify the continuing rejection of the brand of politics on offer from the Congress and its allies at the centre and in the states,” Samir Saran, an analyst at the Observer Research Foundation, a think tank, said. “It is also confirmation of Narendra Modi as the leader with momentum.”

ssubramanian@thenational.ae

* with additional reporting by Agence France-Presse

Updated: October 19, 2014 04:00 AM

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