Young Indians want a more prosperous country in their lifetime and appear to have seized on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to deliver it.
Headlines following the elections declared Modi, “King of the Heartland” after results in state assembly elections. Modi’s BJP Party swept the polls in two of five states –- Uttrakhand and Uttar Pradesh (UP).
But it is the vast UP with its plains that stretch to Nepal that resonates the loudest. With Modi’s personal appeal, his party secured 80 percent of the 403-seats up for grabs in the legislative assembly of the state that is the most important battleground in the country.
Poor and agricultural, Uttar Pradesh is emblematic of India, suffering power shortages, poor education and challenged sanitation.
All of the country’s fault lines run thru the UP — caste, class, communal divisions.
Modi’s BJP engineered the victory in part by fielding candidates who spring from “Other Backward Classes,” a term used by the Indian government to classify castes which are socially and educationally disadvantaged. The party with its strong Hindu base did not draw a single member from the UP’s sizeable Muslim community.
Modi captured the public imagination, in the words of the Asian Age newspaper, barnstorming the state “as though the devil was on his heels,” promising to lift up its 220 million people.
Adding to the drama of India’s election was the cliffhanger outcome of the country’s so-called “demonetization.” In a political gamble, Modi last year ordered all 500- and 1,000-rupee notes pulled from circulation, a bid to force anyone who held large stashes of unreported wealth to come clean. The move pulled most of India’s cash from circulation, occasioning a massive money shortage. The election was seen as a referendum on Modi’s decision. The efficacy of the exercise is still unclear, but voters, fed up with corruption, evidently agreed that a crackdown was in order.
The win in the UP improves the math for Modi’s party in the Upper House of Parliament. The members are elected from the state assemblies, and the UP has 31 members in the 245-seat body.
With this new mandate, Modi will likely continue to go after financial corruption. He will also be able pursue other reform such as greater tax compliance.
But Modi’s party did falter in three other states. There were fractured verdicts in the western state of Goa and the northeastern of Manipur. The large northern state of Punjab went resoundingly anti-incumbent, handing the state to the opposition Congress Party, run by the dynasty of the Gandhi family.
The sweeping victory in Uttar Pradesh, however, gives Modi a head start for the national election in 2019 when he’s expected to seek a second term.