Modi wins key state by expanding appeal

BJP supporters celebrating outside the party's Delhi headquarters with a cardboard figure of Mr Modi. Analysts say that Mr Modi's tip of the hat to Hindu nationalism may have helped the BJP clinch the vote of poorer and lower-caste Hindus in a state
BJP supporters celebrating outside the party's Delhi headquarters with a cardboard figure of Mr Modi. Analysts say that Mr Modi's tip of the hat to Hindu nationalism may have helped the BJP clinch the vote of poorer and lower-caste Hindus in a state that is 20 per cent Muslim.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BJP consolidates Hindu vote in Uttar Pradesh beyond its traditional upper-caste, middle-class supporter base

The huge victory notched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party in India's most populous state showed its success in expanding beyond its traditional upper-caste and middle-class supporters and consolidating the Hindu vote, experts say.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) received 40 per cent of the vote and won 312 out of 403 assembly seats in Uttar Pradesh - the first time it has come to power in the state in more than 15 years.

Regional parties Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party - which had dominated state politics - won only 47 and 19 seats respectively. The BJP's bitter national rivals, the Congress Party, did even worse, managing only seven seats.

The BJP won only 47 out of the 403 assembly seats in the last state elections in 2012, but clinched 73 out of 80 parliamentary constituencies in the 2014 general election.

"The results clearly indicate they got support from a cross-section of voters," said Professor Sanjay Kumar, director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. "The BJP did well in stitching together a social coalition and in increasing the support base. But the one big factor was the popularity of Modi."

Analysts pointed to his successful outreach to the poor and different Hindu castes, including the marginalised Dalits, formerly known as "untouchables".

Mr Modi had launched a slew of schemes for the poor in the run-up to the elections, from free cooking gas connections to discounts on housing loans. BJP president Amit Shah stitched together support from groups not usually aligned with the party.

Uttar Pradesh, with its population of 204 million, is home to 6 per cent of the world's poor. Industrial activity is sluggish, while the law and order situation is seen to have deteriorated in recent years.

Indian newspapers used superlatives to describe the BJP win, with some calling it "Tsunamo" - a play on "tsunami" and Mr Modi, who is sometimes referred to as Namo.

"Modi's March,"said The Indian Express, while The Times of India reported: "Modi wins heart of India, gets head start for 2019", in a reference to the general election, which is due in 2019.

The BJP held victory celebrations yesterday at its Delhi headquarters, where supporters chanting "Modi, Modi" gathered in large numbers to see the Prime Minister.

While BJP leaders maintained it was Mr Modi's popularity and development agenda that won the elections, analysts noted that a consolidation of the Hindu voteaided the Hindu nationalist party. The BJP did not field a single Muslim candidate in a state where 20 per cent of the population is Muslim.

Mr Modi had also reached out to Hindus by accusing the Samajwadi party, which was then ruling, of bias against the Hindu majority in favour of the Muslim minority. He said at one rally that if uninterrupted power supply was given for the Muslim festival of Eid, then it should also be provided for the Hindu festivals of Holi and Diwali.

"This was Hindu nationalism in a subtle and different way. It was telling the Hindu majority injustice had been done to them," said Prof Kumar.

Dr Aftab Alam, of the Uttar Pradesh-based Aligarh Muslim University, said the BJP kept saying Muslims were uniting against the party. "This had a psychological impact on Hindu voters who consolidated behind the BJP. This is one of the reasons for the landslide victory."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 13, 2017, with the headline 'Modi wins key state by expanding appeal'. Print Edition | Subscribe