UP results big boost for Modi
But Congress-mukt Bharat is still a distant dream.
The BJP's overwhelming success in UP, bolstered by its good show in neighbouring Uttarakhand, will go a long way to draw a veil over its disappointing turn-out in Goa.
The BJP will also be disheartened by Congress's victory in Punjab even if it was expected. In Manipur, too, it faced a stiff challenge from the Congress. These results show that the BJP's concept of a Congress-mukt Bharat is still a distant dream.
From this standpoint, both the BJP and the Congress, with their claims of being "national" parties, have reasons to be pleased – and displeased - with the outcome of the elections in the five states.
For the BJP, of course, UP has been a remarkable success story – a virtual rerun of its excellent performance in 2014 when it won 71 of the 80 Parliamentary seats, which means that it was ahead in 328 of the 403 Assembly constituencies. This time, it has very nearly repeated that feat.
If it can govern the state competently enough, eschewing communal tension, it can use the present success as a launching pad for the much bigger contest of 2019. Moreover, the angst in its ranks after the demoralising defeats in Delhi and Bihar in 2015, and in West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Puducherry in 2016, will be dissipated by the UP victory.
The party will also be relieved that the dire prognosis of eminent economists like Amartya Sen and Prabhat Patnaik about demonetisation has been proved wrong. It was "hard work" which paid off and not the carpings of Harvard, as Modi mockingly said.
It may well be that the Prime Minister's dramatic act of withdrawing about 86 per cent of the high-value currency notes from circulation to strike at the parallel economy of black money and counterfeiting was seen as the kind of boldness which was behind Modi's success in 2014.
But it wasn't only the "pro-poor" demonetisation which helped Modi. He was also helped in UP by an essentially fractious Samajwadi Party, riven by family feuds, and a lacklustre Congress led by an "immature" Rahul Gandhi, as former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit said.
But even as the BJP gloats over its success in U.P., Goa will be a disappointment, for the former Portuguese colony is one of the most cosmopolitan of the Indian states. The party's failure there shows that Modi's claim about the BJP being everyone's party – sabka saath, sabka vikas – is not widely believed.
Arguably, the former RSS chief in the state, Subhash Velingkar's brief revolt, has hurt the BJP not only because of the rifts it caused but the reason for it – Velingkar's insistence on marginalising English-medium schools in order to "save" Konkan culture from the prevailing lifestyle of "pig, pegs, and prostitutes" in Goa, as he said.
Since comments such as these showed that the BJP remained an insular party of communal-minded Hindus, the improvement in the Congress's position is understandable.
The Congress will be delighted, of course, by its success in Punjab even if it has come because the anti-incumbency factor hurt the ruling Akali Dal-BJP combine. Besides, the Congress had in Amrinder Singh a formidable figure who can be said to enjoy the trust of the people.
But the party's main worry, though unstated, will be Rahul Gandhi's future. It is evident that he has failed yet again, especially in U.P. which is supposed to be the karma bhoomi of the Nehru-Gandhi family as it has given three Prime Ministers to the country.
What the Punjab result has shown is that the party can succeed with ease if only it has a dependable regional leader. This applies to Manipur as well where Chief Minister Ibobi Singh has been able to build up a base of his own.
But even though Amrinder Singh has thanked Rahul for the party's win in Punjab, it is evident that the gesture was for the record only, for few can believe that the heir apparent had any role in the Congress's good showing in Punjab or elsewhere. Yet, the culture of sycophancy is so active in the party that Amarinder Singh had to pay the routine tribute.
Unless the party can get rid of this demeaning habit and encourage local leaders to grow in stature, its future cannot be bright. It may win a few elections on the rebound because of the anti-incumbency factor afflicting its opponents. But for sustained good showing, the Congress has to realise that the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty has outlived its political utility.
In the BJP's case, it is just the opposite. Modi has everything going for him at the moment. But he remains the only winner in the party. As a result, he had to campaign intensively in U.P. to lead the party to success. As Akhilesh Yadav said, the BJP would have wiped out in Modi's absence. IPA
(The writer is a political analyst. Views expressed are strictly personal.)