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Waiting for March 11

Waiting for March 11
On March 11, the Election Commission will announce the results of Assembly elections in five states—Goa, Punjab, Manipur, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand. Needless to say, the stakes are very high for certain political parties and their leading players. The latest round of polls comes at a time when the Narendra Modi government has gone past the midway point. Its promise to revamp the economy is still a work in progress, allied by some unusual and disruptive policies.

There has been little progress in cleaning up India's financial system, especially banks in the public sector. Despite positive growth figures, investment and business activity are in the doldrums, while job growth remains elusive. Besides, the government introduced its controversial demonetisation measure last November, which has reportedly decimated the informal sector and left rural India reeling. Under these circumstances, a favourable verdict for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Uttar Pradesh, for example, would be a devastating blow to Modi's political opponents within and outside the party. Many political commentators had claimed that the Prime Minister had expended all his political capital on demonetisation without any real returns. Talk of Modi's waning popularity is premature. In fact, the very opposite seems to have happened, as the BJP swept local elections across India.

Will Uttar Pradesh remain immune to this trend? Some in the media, even those usually inimical to the Prime Minister, were already predicting a BJP victory in Uttar Pradesh even before the final phase of polling. Challenging the Prime Minister here is Akhilesh Yadav, who by most accounts is a popular Chief Minister. In alliance with Congress, after successfully taking over the Samajwadi Party from his father, there is a lot on the line. Failure to secure reelection, however, may not necessarily be disastrous, with the party now apparently in his hands. Nonetheless, there will be opponents within the party, who could instigate serious trouble. The BJP will also have to contend with the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party, who some believe is the real dark horse in the UP elections. The national media has largely ignored her to their peril.

Despite positive growth figures, investment and business activity are in the doldrums, while job growth remains elusive. Besides, the government introduced its controversial demonetisation measure last November, which has reportedly decimated the informal sector and left rural India reeling. Under these circumstances, a favourable verdict for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Uttar Pradesh, for example, would be a devastating blow to Modi's political opponents within and outside the party. Many political commentators had claimed that the Prime Minister had expended all his political capital on demonetisation without any real returns. Talk of Modi's waning popularity is premature. In fact, the very opposite seems to have happened, as the BJP swept local elections across India. Will Uttar Pradesh remain immune to this trend? Some in the media, even those usually inimical to the Prime Minister, were already predicting a BJP victory in Uttar Pradesh even before the final phase of polling. Challenging the Prime Minister here is Akhilesh Yadav, who by most accounts is a popular Chief Minister. In alliance with Congress, after successfully taking over the Samajwadi Party from his father, there is a lot on the line. Failure to secure reelection, however, may not necessarily be disastrous, with the party now apparently in his hands. Nonetheless, there will be opponents within the party, who could instigate serious trouble. The BJP will also have to contend with the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party, who some believe is the real dark horse in the UP elections. The national media has largely ignored her to their peril.

In fact, the very opposite seems to have happened, as the BJP swept local elections across India. Will Uttar Pradesh remain immune to this trend? Some in the media, even those usually inimical to the Prime Minister, were already predicting a BJP victory in Uttar Pradesh even before the final phase of polling. Challenging the Prime Minister here is Akhilesh Yadav, who by most accounts is a popular Chief Minister. In alliance with Congress, after successfully taking over the Samajwadi Party from his father, there is a lot on the line. Failure to secure reelection, however, may not necessarily be disastrous, with the party now apparently in his hands. Nonetheless, there will be opponents within the party, who could instigate serious trouble. The BJP will also have to contend with the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party, who some believe is the real dark horse in the UP elections. The national media has largely ignored her to their peril.

A win in India's most populous state will undoubtedly pave the way for Modi's re-election in 2019. There are definite comparisons one can make between Modi and Indira Gandhi. Both leaders have taken a liking to the untrammelled use of executive power. Like the former Congress matriarch, Modi also seemingly exudes a certain degree of charisma, and as reports go, remains popular despite glaring failures. In a recent column, Aakar Patel, a fierce critic of Modi, says, "The BJP will remain the dominant party in India for a long time. And those who do not like it or its policies must face up to this fact." Victory in at least three states, including UP, could go some way towards confirming this fact. It could also result in better days for the Modi dispensation, especially in the Rajya Sabha, where the party can expect more seats, aid the party's task in pushing its choice as the country's next President. A loss would mean greater reliance on regional parties like the Trinamool Congress and AIADMK in the Upper House.

At a more fundamental level, a defeat could embolden the Opposition—both the Congress and regional parties—to isolate the BJP. In Goa, the BJP is fighting as the incumbent, against the Congress and newcomer to the state, the Aam Aadmi Party. Of greater significance for the party would be a win in Manipur against the Congress, adding another success story from the Northeast. Whether the party manages to introduce desperately needed development measures and resolve the tribal enmities that have devoured the state for decades is another matter altogether. After its grand success in Assam, a win in Manipur would further consolidate its presence in the Northeast and relegate Congress to a place outside the corridors of power in yet another state. In Uttarakhand, the situation is touch and go.

The contest between the BJP and Congress is mired in defections that have caused a sense of dilemma among voters and more importantly, the cadres. Defeat in UP and one of the other three states could prove to be a major blow for the Prime Minister. Humiliating defeats in Delhi and Bihar in 2015 remain fresh in the party's memory. The loss of face in Delhi, for example, had led to a long-standing feud with the ruling Aam Aadmi Party government. Tensions have now seemingly subsided after new Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal recently took office. With an assured majority in Lok Sabha, there is no immediate threat to the BJP-led government. Critics, however, both inside and outside his party will grow more vocal and may threaten prospects of a repeat win in 2019.

At a more fundamental level, a defeat could embolden the Opposition—both the Congress and regional parties—to isolate the BJP. In Goa, the BJP is fighting as the incumbent, against the Congress and newcomer to the state, the Aam Aadmi Party. Of greater significance for the party would be a win in Manipur against the Congress, adding another success story from the Northeast. Whether the party manages to introduce desperately needed development measures and resolve the tribal enmities that have devoured the state for decades is another matter altogether. After its grand success in Assam, a win in Manipur would further consolidate its presence in the Northeast and relegate Congress to a place outside the corridors of power in yet another state. In Uttarakhand, the situation is touch and go. The contest between the BJP and Congress is mired in defections that have caused a sense of dilemma among voters and more importantly, the cadres. Defeat in UP and one of the other three states could prove to be a major blow for the Prime Minister. Humiliating defeats in Delhi and Bihar in 2015 remain fresh in the party's memory. The loss of face in Delhi, for example, had led to a long-standing feud with the ruling Aam Aadmi Party government. Tensions have now seemingly subsided after new Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal recently took office. With an assured majority in Lok Sabha, there is no immediate threat to the BJP-led government. Critics, however, both inside and outside his party will grow more vocal and may threaten prospects of a repeat win in 2019.

Humiliating defeats in Delhi and Bihar in 2015 remain fresh in the party's memory. The loss of face in Delhi, for example, had led to a long-standing feud with the ruling Aam Aadmi Party government. Tensions have now seemingly subsided after new Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal recently took office. With an assured majority in Lok Sabha, there is no immediate threat to the BJP-led government. Critics, however, both inside and outside his party will grow more vocal and may threaten prospects of a repeat win in 2019.

At a more fundamental level, a defeat could embolden the Opposition—both the Congress and regional parties—to isolate the BJP. In Goa, the BJP is fighting as the incumbent, against the Congress and newcomer to the state, the Aam Aadmi Party. Of greater significance for the party would be a win in Manipur against the Congress, adding another success story from the Northeast. Whether the party manages to introduce desperately needed development measures and resolve the tribal enmities that have devoured the state for decades is another matter altogether. After its grand success in Assam, a win in Manipur would further consolidate its presence in the Northeast and relegate Congress to a place outside the corridors of power in yet another state

. In Uttarakhand, the situation is touch and go. The contest between the BJP and Congress is mired in defections that have caused a sense of dilemma among voters and more importantly, the cadres. Defeat in UP and one of the other three states could prove to be a major blow for the Prime Minister. Humiliating defeats in Delhi and Bihar in 2015 remain fresh in the party's memory. The loss of face in Delhi, for example, had led to a long-standing feud with the ruling Aam Aadmi Party government. Tensions have now seemingly subsided after new Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal recently took office. With an assured majority in Lok Sabha, there is no immediate threat to the BJP-led government. Critics, however, both inside and outside his party will grow more vocal and may threaten prospects of a repeat win in 2019.

At a more fundamental level, a defeat could embolden the Opposition—both the Congress and regional parties—to isolate the BJP. In Goa, the BJP is fighting as the incumbent, against the Congress and newcomer to the state, the Aam Aadmi Party. Of greater significance for the party would be a win in Manipur against the Congress, adding another success story from the Northeast. Whether the party manages to introduce desperately needed development measures and resolve the tribal enmities that have devoured the state for decades is another matter altogether. After its grand success in Assam, a win in Manipur would further consolidate its presence in the Northeast and relegate Congress to a place outside the corridors of power in yet another state. In Uttarakhand, the situation is touch and go.

The contest between the BJP and Congress is mired in defections that have caused a sense of dilemma among voters and more importantly, the cadres. Defeat in UP and one of the other three states could prove to be a major blow for the Prime Minister. Humiliating defeats in Delhi and Bihar in 2015 remain fresh in the party's memory. The loss of face in Delhi, for example, had led to a long-standing feud with the ruling Aam Aadmi Party government. Tensions have now seemingly subsided after new Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal recently took office. With an assured majority in Lok Sabha, there is no immediate threat to the BJP-led government. Critics, however, both inside and outside his party will grow more vocal and may threaten prospects of a repeat win in 2019.
However, it is the Congress which faces a tougher examination and challenging questions about its future. Its leadership, defined by the Gandhi family, has recovered little from its humiliating defeat in 2014.

In every subsequent poll since, the party's electoral footprint has shrunk, save Bihar. The party's success in Bihar, though, was marked by the fact that it was an understudy to two regional outfits—Janata Dal (United) and Rashtriya Janata Dal. In Uttar Pradesh too, the party has taken up the role of junior partner to the Samajwadi Party. Reports on the ground suggest that the party may have in fact stalled the progress of Akhilesh Yadav. The party's best chance is in Punjab led by its charismatic state leader, Amarinder Singh. What the Congress has in its favour is Singh's leadership and the unpopularity of the two-term Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP alliance.

Despite these factors, the Congress is engaged in a dogfight with a resurgent Aam Aadmi Party, which some political analysts contend could pull off a dramatic upset. Of course, the blame for a poor performance will not be laid at the door of the Gandhi family. Many of its loyalists would happily come forward to take the hit, delaying inevitable questions of the family's culpability. The Congress is desperate for a victory in Punjab. At the hands of the Gandhi family, the country's oldest party is in danger of imploding, resulting in a vacuum filled by regional players. There is no doubt that there are other political parties ready to take up the role seemingly vacated by the Congress in national politics. The obvious contender here is the Aam Aadmi Party. A win in Punjab would lay the ground for its national ambitions.
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