Win in UP 2022 could create Modi-Shah-Yogi triple engine for LS 2024


Is history about to repeat itself? Narendra Modi rose to national prominence after winning his second successive assembly election in Gujarat in 2007.

By 2012, the Vajpayee-Advani BJP leadership duopoly had shifted – to use a contemporary political cliché – from a twin-engine to a triple-engine Vajpayee-Advani-Modi. The rest is history.

Modi faced initial resistance from Vajyapee-Advani. It took a third Gujarat Assembly victory in December 2012 to break through and challenge Advani for the party’s candidacy for prime minister in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

Modi’s task was made easier by Vajpayee’s retirement from active politics due to poor health. Only Advani stood in his way. But Advani, an 86-year-old lion aging in 2013, was asked to step aside for Modi by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS).

If Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath wins the 2022 State Assembly ballot by a large majority, will Modi-Shah’s BJP’s dual engine turn into a triple engine of Modi-Shah-Yogi?

As they say in any relationship, it’s complicated.

If Yogi wins big – which means over 275 to 300 of UP’s 403 assembly seats – he will seek a national role. Will Modi-Shah welcome a third engine into his well-oiled twin-engine political machine?

The developing situation in a potential Modi-Shah-Yogi troika has three significant differences from the past Vajpayee-Advani-Modi troika.

First of all, Modi is not a Vajpayee. He is in good shape and still has fire in his stomach.

Second, Amit Shah is not Advani. At 57, he is almost 30 years younger than Advani in 2013. Shah will remain Modi’s heir unless circumstances change dramatically – poor health or a string of big electoral defeats under his watch.

Third, Yogi is not Modi – not yet. At 49, he’s got the age on his side. As an MP for Lok Sabha for six terms and chief minister of India’s largest state with a population almost as large as Pakistan, he has extensive administrative experience.

A big victory in UP in the spring of 2022 could transform the equations within the BJP. Although not a former RSS pracharak like Modi, Advani or Vajpayee, Yogi has the blessings of RSS. Also, keep in mind that Shah doesn’t have an RSS history either.

If Yogi delivers UP in a decisive way for the BJP, he will inevitably switch to no. 3 in the party pantheon.

If the BJP is satisfied with a simple majority in UP, its rise will slow down. And if the BJP loses UP or the assembly is suspended, Yogi’s national ambitions could be ended.

So how is UP likely to vote in February-March 2022 when the multi-phase elections begin? Given the amount of time Modi spends campaigning in UP, the BJP is taking no chances.

There is lingering resentment in western UP over the agitation by farmers. Farmers in Jat believe farm laws were only repealed due to the series of seven legislative elections in 2022 and could be reinstated in some form after major state polls end.

During the year-round farmer unrest, BJP leaders were often barred even from entering some Jat-dominated villages in western UP. Spirits have cooled since then, but suspicion remains.

The region commonly referred to as the “Western UP” represents about 15% of the state’s 403 seats – a significant but not decisive number. The main strengths of Yogi are the improvement of law and order, the rapid development of infrastructure and effective management of Covid-19 after the first setbacks.

The BJP, meanwhile, does not shy away from advancing its Hindutva agenda. The Kashi-Vishwanath Corridor and Ram Mandir in Ayodhya are blatant attempts to polarize the Hindu vote.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi aided the BJP cause by aggressively positioning Hinduism against Hindutva, which could alienate many undecided Hindu voters from Congress and the Samajwadi party.

The UP 2022 assembly ballot will also be a severe test for Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra. As a state official, Gandhi-Vadra is in a lose-lose situation. The UP poll is essentially a BJP-SP fight, with Mayawati’s BSP playing a deliberately moderate role, which could help the BJP garner Dalit votes.

The vote share in Congress is even expected to fall below the 6.25% won in 2017. At 50, Vadra-Gandhi has time, celebration and family on his side. They will guarantee its future in Congress – but not the future of Congress in the UP.

Akhilesh Yadav also faces a litmus test. If he loses to Yogi again, his political career could be frozen. The Yadav-Muslim vote bank gives the SP a 20 to 25 percent vote share.

It may not be enough to stop Yogi. This was not enough in 2017, when the SP won 21.82% of the vote, but only 47 seats.

For Modi-Shah, a decisive victory in the 2022 UP Assembly elections is essential ahead of the Lok Sabha 2024 ballot. The duo know that elections in Uttarakhand and, later in the year, Himachal Pradesh could be delicate.

In Punjab, Amarinder Singh’s BJP-Punjab Lok Congress alliance can at best hope to play a cameo role and secure a stuck assembly, denying both the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Congress free run that they were waiting for.

In 2023, eight state elections, including difficult ones in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, await the BJP. A poor performance in UP will disrupt the pitch of the party in the future.

For Yogi, the election of the UP assembly is also a referendum on his management of Covid-19. The Ganges purifies but those who live on it have a long memory.

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