Narendra Modi’s golden opportunity to reform India

After the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)'s landslide victory in Uttar Pradesh, PM Modi's political clout has been reinforced and the party is in a strong position to reshape India's economy and politics. Murali Krishnan reports.

Holi, the festival of colors, began early for India's ruling BJP, which won a landslide victory in India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh (UP), and also won the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, according to results released Saturday.

The victories in both states, which many pollsters and political scientists had not predicted, are being seen as a clear endorsement of BJP leader and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's popularity. More importantly, the victories are a vote of confidence on Modi's economic stewardship after the controversial decision last November to scrap high-value rupee notes, aimed at eliminating corruption and untaxed "black money."

Speaking about the victory in a celebratory speech in New Delhi on Sunday, Modi said, "It demonstrates a faith in democracy and the electoral process and, in this, I can see the foundation of a new India."

The BJP came in second to the opposition Congress party the in the states of Goa and Manipur, but it is nevertheless expected to form the government in these two states with the help of regional parties and independents.

The only consolation for Congress was returning to power in the northern state of Punjab after a 10-year gap.

After being in power in Delhi, the Aam Aadmi Party's (Common Man's Party) quest to seek a pan-Indian footprint failed. The party won no seats in Goa and came a poor second in Punjab, winning 22 seats.

"The BJP is now in power – on its own and with allies – in 14 states, which account for over 60 percent of the population and over 70 percent of the geographical area," political analyst Shankar Aiyar told DW.

"For the BJP there is a window of opportunity of 18 to 20 months to accelerate the pace of change," he added.

The tsunami effect of the state election victory, which caught many observers unaware, has forced the BJP's opponents to acknowledge that Modi's reelection chances in the 2019 Indian general elections look brighter than ever before.

"The victories in Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Uttarakhand have reconfirmed that Modi is the most dominant political leader," P Chidambaram, a former minister in the Congress government and Modi critic, told DW.

In a tweet, former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah said, "At this rate we might as well forget 2019 and start planning, hoping for 2024."

"This is a tectonic shift in Indian politics. It is a bigger victory than the 2014 elections and demonstrates that Modi is an effective communicator and understands the pulse of the people," Yogendra Yadav, Indian politician and political scientist told DW, adding that the opposition parties in India needed to formulate a long-term strategy to counter the BJP.

"Modi has a lot of acceptance from the people and the balance of power is more tilted towards him rather than BJP or the NDA," he added.

Impressive victory

The coalition put together by BJP President Amit Shah, who crafted and conducted the election strategy in UP, was instrumental for the party's return to power after 15 years in the state of over 200 million people.

BJP won an impressive majority of 325 seats (including alliance partners) in a 403-seat assembly.

"The historic mandate given to the BJP will give a new direction to Indian politics," exclaimed a jubilant Shah. "It will end the politics of caste, dynasty and appeasement."

The brute majority with which the BJP steamrolled its opponents, which include the alliance of the regional Samajawadi Party and Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party, has strengthened Prime Minister Modi's claim to a second term in 2019.

It is widely considered that the party controlling UP directs political discourse throughout the country. The victory will also help the BJP's numbers in the Rajya Sabha (upper house of parliament), which will help the BJP to push its legislative agenda.

Weak competition from Congress

Questions are again being raised about Congress Vice-president Rahul Gandhi's leadership after the party's poor showing in UP, where he had focused his attention with an intense campaign. In his own parliamentary district Amethi, the BJP won four out of five assembly seats.

But the oldest political party in India faced its biggest-ever electoral humiliation in the 2014 general election, after being reduced to just 44 seats in parliament. Since then, the party has been struggling to make a major impact in the electoral landscape and stay politically relevant.

"We are facing an existential problem," senior Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar, told DW. "Regional and state leaders have to be promoted, or at the least allowed to work on their own and only then can the party's situation change."  

Despite the electoral losses, especially in UP where it was reduced to single digit figures, the big question remains if Gandhi’s leadership can inspire the grand old party for future battles.

Report by Murali Krishnan (New Delhi); DW

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