New Delhi: In a replay of the April-May general election, a development and anti-corruption plank, propelled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s personal popularity, appears to have helped the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) cut across social barriers in Maharashtra and Haryana—states dominated by feudal, Dalit and community politics.

This the first time that the BJP has emerged as the single largest party in the Maharashtra and Haryana assemblies. And it has done so without major regional alliances or even a prominent state leader.

The party won 47 of the 90 assembly seats in Haryana and 122 seats out of the 288 constituencies in Maharashtra. In Haryana, the BJP got 33.2% of the votes and in Maharashtra 27.8%.

Executing a campaign strategy echoing from the general election, the BJP superimposed a national perspective on local issues in order to cut through potentially divisive social identities, raising issues like jobs, good governance, cleanliness, labour reforms and industrial growth.

“Modi is a great communicator and he connects with the young and old alike. By talking their language—about jobs, cleanliness, aspiration—he was successful in attracting them to vote for his party," said R.S. Yadav, a political science professor at Kurukshetra University in Haryana.

“We have to free Haryana from corruption, muscle power and criminal elements… We want to encourage industry where there is scope of industrial development and encourage agriculture where there is scope for agro growth," Modi’s website www.narendramodi.in quoted him as saying at various rallies in Haryana.

Yadav said the state assembly elections show a continuation of the momentum generated by Modi at the general election. In Haryana, the fact that the BJP has come from almost nowhere in 2009 to forming a government on its own in 2014, is a testimony not to the party’s local influence but to the importance of national issues among voters in any state, he added.

The BJP won seven of the eight Lok Sabha seats it contested in Haryana in the 16th general election this year, polling 34.7% of the votes.

Broken down to the assembly level, the BJP led in 51 of the 72 assembly segments it contested. On Sunday, its performance was almost identical—it won 47 assembly seats.

There is a feeling in Haryana that the development projects executed by outgoing chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda were focused in a small number of areas such as Gurgaon and the Rohtak belt. In addition, youngsters think caste and money are pre-requisites for getting a job, Yadav said. They voted for BJP candidates because a strong leader like Modi came along, talking about employment and aspirations, he added.

However, Yadav said the party will need to build its cadre at the grass roots, which is still not strong in the state.

“Whether it’s Haryana or Maharashtra, people have rejected caste and regional biases while voting. They realized that only the BJP can give them good governance," said Bizay Sonkar Shastri, a national spokesperson of the BJP. “Over any other issue, our party has one national agenda—development, a strong economy, betterment of youth and poor."

BJP president Amit Shah told reporters on Sunday that voters in both the states supported the good governance and clean image of Modi.

Randhir Tokas, a resident of Gurgaon, said Modi tried to talk about issues that are close to the hearts of educated youngsters, including jobs, industrial growth and taking pride in the country. He also spoke about Pakistan and the border dispute at several rallies.

“The education level and awareness level among common Indians have gone up and anybody talking about their problem or national issues finds support. Like any other part of India, the youth in Haryana want job and, at least, he spoke about it, unlike many others," said Tokas, indicating how Modi managed to dilute regional and caste politics.

There is, however, a diametrically opposite point of view.

Kushal Pal, associate professor and head of the political science department at Dyal Singh College in Karnal, said traditionally, because of its proximity to Delhi, elections in Haryana have a bearing on what happens at the centre. Pal said while development and youth issues were important, the most important point was the BJP’s “overt and covert" campaign strategy.

Pal said the presence in its ranks of influential upper caste Jat leaders Rao Inderjit Singh and Chaudhary Birender Singh helped the BJP corner a portion of the Jat votes. The BJP gave more than 26 seats to Jat candidates, he said. On the other hand, its heavyweight leaders such as Sushma Swaraj and Rajnath Singh canvassed for the support of non-Jats. The 27% non-Jat, other backward classes (OBCs)—dominated by the Yadav, Gurjar and Saini communities—were a divided lot, which may have benefited the BJP to some extent. “This consolidation helped the BJP," Pal said.

It was clearly a strategy of the party to woo both Jats and non-Jats, Pal said, adding that winning the support of religious leader Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh of the Dera Sacha Sauda brought definite advantages for the BJP. “Top this with anti-incumbency, the focused campaign to highlight the ‘misrule’ in the state helped the BJP."

But the BJP’s Shastri said the voters in both the states voted to reject dynastic rule and in support of the BJP’s message of development.

“The BJP’s agenda remains the development of Maharashtra. We want to provide jobs to our youth. Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj belongs to everyone and belongs to every era. Caste and vote bank politics have become a thing of the past. The nation is moving towards politics of development," Modi said on his website.

Experts said the continuing poor showing of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) party, which managed to win a solitary seat, is an indication of how voters in 2014 are interested in development rather than regional biases.

In Maharashtra, the All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) made an impressive debut by winning two seats. The party’s electoral impact, especially as far as the so-called Muslim vote is concerned, has been profound. While many Muslims tend to vote for secular parties such as the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), broken political alliances and voter polarization emerged as key factors in these elections, prompting a shift in votes to the AIMIM.

Venkat Ananth contributed to the story.

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