Tectonic shift after UP win

Speaking to the press after the Bharatiya Janata Party's stupendous showing in Uttar Pradesh, Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Saturday said it represented "a tectonic shift in Indian politics". Winning over 300 seats with a vote share of 40%, the BJP's victory in UP is nothing short of stunning. This is a near repeat of the party's performance in the 2014 general elections at the state level. It is an affirmation of the massive popularity Prime Minister Narendra Modi enjoys among the masses and party president Amit Shah's shrewd electoral management. The party even shattered the 212 tally it garnered at the peak of the polarising Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi movement of the mid-1990s.

Considering that UP sends 80 members to the Lok Sabha, and 31 to the Rajya Sabha, the highest for any state, this victory reinforces the party's position as the central pole in India's politics. With governments in 15 states, after its victory in UP and Uttarakhand, the BJP has attained a degree of dominance of national politics in a way it has never experienced since its inception. At this juncture, it is hard to deny comparisons with Indira Gandhi in her heydey. Narendra Modi is today India's most popular mass leader. He has acquired total control of a national ruling party as no Indian leader did since the Congress matriarch. There are certain conclusions one can draw from these results.

Barring a miracle of a massive change of fortunes, the BJP is set to retain power in 2019. Modi has understood and captured the national picture like no other Opposition leader. In the words of the noted political scientist, Yogendra Yadav, "BJP now enjoys political hegemony—brute state power, electoral dominance, and popular legitimacy. Counter-hegemony now needs a fresh narrative." Many column inches have already been dedicated to why the BJP won in UP—a rainbow alliance of various caste communities, especially its re-capture of non-Yadav OBCs, the Prime Minister's mass popularity, the lack of viable political narrative from the opposition, division of Muslim votes, and the Centre's several welfare schemes like the free LPG connections for the rural poor. One thing, however, that the results in UP have completely dismantled is that 'notebandi' would lead to a loss of votes.

The bottom line remains that it was poorly designed policy, which disrupted the lives of millions. But the people have widely accepted the narrative pushed by the BJP that demonetisation was a legitimate form of state intervention targeted at the wealthy and dishonest. Modi has decisively won that battle. Will he now get off the electoral bandwagon and shift focus on the economic reforms this country desperately needs like he did in Gujarat after 2007? Tough decisions will have to be taken on the bad loan cancer afflicting India's financial system. Employment generation is a critical challenge, for which there are no easy answers. There is also the question of durable peace with Pakistan and the festering Kashmir problem. Will Modi use his political capital, credibility and much-lauded skills of persuasion to foster the kind of development and peace India so desperately needs? After this victory, there is no space left for the BJP to blame Congress or various state governments for its shortcomings. It's the establishment now.
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