Home / Politics / News /  How the Modi wave swept the northern states

New Delhi: After a short-lived alliance, the Mahagathbandhan in Uttar Pradesh (UP) has broken up. The alliance between the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), two erstwhile rivals, was meant to act as a bulwark to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India’s most politically important state. In the elections though, the Mahagathbandhan was brushed aside and has now crumbled as the BJP swept UP.

This dominance was mirrored in other regions of north India. In Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Bihar and Jharkhand, the BJP and its allies enjoyed near-sweeps. The National Democratic Alliance’s (NDA’s) stranglehold on northern India will have important implications for the economy and future elections.

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The BJP’s performance in the north in this election nearly matched its stellar showing in the previous election. In 2014, the BJP had swept north India winning 134 seats of the 180 on offer; it won 122 this time. North India refers to 10 states and Union territories (UTs): Bihar, Chandigarh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Jammu and Kashmir, Delhi, Punjab, Uttarakhand and UP. In nine of these states and UTs, the BJP’s vote share rose compared to 2014, while in seven of these states and UTs the party also increased its victory margins (the difference between the winner and the second-placed party)

At the heart of this northern success lies the BJP’s performance in UP. The party won 62 of the 80 seats and secured 50% vote share—building on similar success in the 2014 election and 2017 state elections. The BJP’s rise in UP and the decline of its competitors could portend a new form of politics in the state.

Traditionally, the defining feature of UP politics has been caste. Certain caste groups vote for certain parties. It was this caste arithmetic that brought the SP (traditionally supported by the Yadavs) and the BSP (traditionally supported by the Jatavs) together into the Mahagathbandhan. But the BJP’s popularity in UP seems to be transcending traditional caste divides. A significant portion of both Yadavs and Jatavs voted for the BJP in 2019 instead of the Mahagathbandhan, according to post-poll survey data published by the Lokniti team at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS). More importantly, the BJP was able to rally support from the other dominant groups in the state such as the upper castes, non-Yadav other backward classes and non-Jatav scheduled castes.

Bihar is another state where caste politics is prominent. Here, too, the BJP, through strategic alliances, was able to secure broad-based support. The BJP-Janata Dal (United) alliance in Bihar managed to win the votes of all major groups apart from Yadavs and Muslims, according to Lokniti-CSDS data. The NDA in Bihar was also boosted by a weak opposition. The United Progressive Alliance of the Congress and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) was a fragile alliance, and was hindered by the absence of former RLD leader Laloo Prasad, who is a strong election campaigner, according to an analysis by the Lokniti-CSDS team.

As in other parts of the country, underpinning this cross-caste support for the BJP was Narendra Modi’s popularity and general satisfaction with the central government. In Bihar, a significant portion of voters was willing to give Modi a second chance despite not receiving benefits of flagship central government schemes, suggests the Lokniti-CSDS data.

In UP, there was significant discontent with the BJP-led state government. Voters in UP were not happy with the state government on a range of issues, including the problem of stray cattle. In the event of a snap election, more voters would choose SP chief Akhilesh Yadav as the chief minister than the incumbent BJP chief minister Yogi Adityanath, according to the Lokniti-CSDS data. Despite the concerns with state governance, Modi’s popularity ensured a BJP victory. For nearly half of all voters, Modi was the preferred choice for Prime Minister. The Lokniti-CSDS team estimates that the BJP would have got 12% fewer votes were it not for Modi.

Across the north, the BJP’s success was driven by the Modi wave. In eight northern states, the proportion of voters preferring Modi for Prime Minister was greater than the national average (47%). In Himachal Pradesh, where the BJP swept all four seats with a remarkable 69% vote share, 71% of voters preferred Modi and 25% only voted for the BJP because of Modi, suggests the data.

Unsurprisingly, the only regions where Modi was not very popular were the only places the BJP did not succeed. In Punjab, where the Congress dominated, only 30% said they wanted Modi as the Prime Minister. In Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), there was a stark contrast in how the state’s two regions viewed Modi and the BJP. In Jammu, 62% wanted Modi for Prime Minister, but in Kashmir, the figure was less than 2%. J&K also captures the polarization of the support for the BJP. In Hindu-dominated Jammu, the BJP enjoyed popular support and consequently electoral success, but in Muslim-dominated Kashmir, the BJP has little traction.

All these results could have immediate implications. For instance, the BJP’s unpopularity in Kashmir could manifest in greater discontent in the valley. The BJP’s popularity in Haryana and Jharkhand gives it an edge in state elections later this year, although it is worth keeping in mind that voters have voted differently in assembly and Lok Sabha polls in the recent election.

In the long run, north India could become even more politically important if Lok Sabha seats are adjusted to population and states, such as UP and Bihar, with high fertility rates are allotted more seats. This could allow the BJP to deepen its political hegemony, drawing from its strength in a region where it has traditionally enjoyed the greatest support.

This is the concluding part of a five-part series on the Lok Sabha election verdict.

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