The just concluded round of assembly elections have churned up two prospective prime ministerial candidates, Yogi Adityanath and Arvind Kejriwal — apart from Mamata Banerjee, who apparently threw her hat in the Goa ring with precisely that national ambition in mind.
Aged 49 and 53 respectively, both Yogi and Kejriwal have time on their side. But, given the BJP’s strong showing in this round of elections, Yogi might feel more encouraged about the foreseeable future — unless Kejriwal is able to accomplish the unlikely feat of winning Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state, Gujarat, in December this year.
That seems like a big ask. So, let’s take a closer look at Yogi’s prospects. His national ambitions became obvious when, before the campaign for these elections formally began, the UP government had put out full-page advertisements in newspapers across the country, showing large pictures of Yogi with collages to depict development in UP under his leadership.
His positioning himself for national leadership may have the backing of the RSS high command, which has shown signs of not being entirely pleased with Prime Minister Modi.
Modi had seemed to be keeping a distance from Uttar Pradesh in the phase when those advertisements were published all over the country, but perhaps a rapprochement was reached thereafter. For, Yogi’s projection became restricted to the state, and Modi latterly gave much time and attention to the UP campaign.
However, now that Yogi has emerged as a putative alternative, with the stamp of electoral success, one wonders if the mother organisation might push for him to be given experience at the national level, so that he may gain more national and international exposure.
Modi Gets The Credit
Within the party, however, Yogi is still in Modi’s shadow. At the victory celebration on Thursday evening, party president JP Nadda credited the set of victories solely to Modi. And, Modi mentioned that it as an NDA victory. There was no need to acknowledge that, since his party has a comfortable majority on its own, in the Lok Sabha and each of the assemblies it has just won. But the NDA could be significant to the extent that partner parties — notably Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar — might be expected to back Modi rather than any alternative.
At least in Uttarakhand, the BJP’s victory can be entirely credited to Modi. The chief minister lost his own seat. Even in UP, some perceptive reporters held, during the campaign, that people at large were rooting for Modi at least as much as for the chief minister.
Still, the resounding victory in UP is bound to be seen as a thumbs-up for the Modi-Yogi duo. Indeed, Modi repeated in his celebration speech the campaign phrase, “double-engine ki sarkar” (referring to the state and central governments working in tandem to maximise development and welfare).
Modi also stated that the UP victory had paved the way for another victory in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, just as the 2017 UP assembly election victory had shown the way to 2019.
The 22-year age gap between them suggests that, if Yogi is to replace Modi, that would be in the long term. Most analysts presume that it will happen in seven or 12, or even more, years.
One has to wonder, however, whether the younger leader may want to move to the centre, if only to learn the ropes. He is quite capable of installing a trusted aide as chief minister in Lucknow, in order to devote himself to national politics.
After all, he got himself elected as CLP leader five years ago against the central leaders’ wishes. In doing so, Yogi demonstrated that he had the support of cadre on the ground, and that he could get elected to lead the party in the state on the basis of that cadre’s support.
Contrast To Last Year
Overall, this round of elections are far more encouraging for the ruling party than last year’s round. Among the five states contested then, it had won only Assam. And even there, the BJP did not get the largest vote share.
The party had put in every effort to wrest power, or at least make a strong impact, in West Bengal, but was sorely disappointed even after the prime minister and Union Home Minister Amit Shah gave a great deal of time and energy to that campaign.
The TMC’s victory there had given hope to those who back the spectrum of Congress-related parties — that a joint effort by parties that had once been part of the Congress could together give the BJP a run for its money at the national level.
However, the Congress has been trounced in all the states this time around, even though a fresh face from the Gandhi family (Priyanka) led its campaign in UP, it presented fresh faces at the helm in Punjab, and it had good prospects in Uttarakhand and Goa.
In an oblique reference to Priyanka’s campaign to target girls (‘ladki hoon, lad sakti hoon’, I’m a girl, I can fight), Modi emphatically thanked women voters for, as he put it, being his protection (‘kavach’).
The Congress failed to capitalise on public disgust at frequent changes of failed BJP chief ministers in Uttarakhand. And it could not wrest back either Goa or Manipur, even though sections of voters were disgruntled over the BJP’s buying over MLAs after the 2017 assembly elections, when the Congress had won more seats than the BJP in both states.
The Congress’s efforts in Goa were manifestly lacklustre in the run-up to these elections. TMC and AAP worked much harder, and were able to win a couple of seats each, while the Congress ended up with less seats than it won the last time.
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