Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party won a landslide victory in the politically crucial northern state of Uttar Pradesh, giving the Indian leader a huge boost half way through his term.
The country’s most populous state, where the BJP swept away the ruling regional Samajwadi Party, was the biggest electoral prize of the five states which went to the polls in recent weeks.
"I give my heartfelt thanks to the people of Uttar Pradesh. This is a historic victory for the BJP; a victory for development and good governance," Modi said.
Modi personally led his party’s campaign in Uttar Pradesh, promising growth and defending his controversial ban on high value currency notes, which many had feared would alienate poor voters in an impoverished state.
But in a ringing endorsement of the Indian leader, the BJP won the biggest victory secured by any party in recent decades in the battleground state. According to the Election Commission, it was ahead in more than 320 seats in the 403-member state assembly.
BJP’s chief strategist in the polls, Amit Shah, attributed the huge win to Modi’s pro-poor policies and the “politics of performance.” Calling it a historic mandate, he said that “The country’s poor people have put their faith in a big way in Mr. Modi.”
Party workers held raucous celebrations outside the party office in New Delhi and Uttar Pradesh’s capital, Lucknow, setting off fire crackers and dancing.
Political analysts said the resounding victory in Uttar Pradesh puts the BJP in a commanding position ahead of the 2019 general elections and enhances Modi’s reputation as a strong leader who can make politically risky decisions.
“It's all a win-win situation for Mr. Modi and BJP,” said Sanjay Kumar, who heads the Center for the Study of Developing Societies in New Delhi. “This indicates an approval of Modi’s policies. It also gives an indication that Modi’s popularity is clearly intact, he has been able to establish a good connect with the people.”
Winning Uttar Pradesh was crucial for Modi. After a landslide victory in the national parliament in 2014 and successes in several regional polls, the BJP had suffered big electoral setbacks in Bihar and Delhi.
Top leaders of the BJP called the results a mandate for the prime minister’s leadership.
The victory in Uttar Pradesh will likely silence the strident criticism Modi received for his currency ban, which he said was aimed at cracking down on corrupt people. It will also make it easier for the Indian leader to press ahead with a reform program, which has often met roadblocks in the upper house of parliament where the BJP lacks a majority. But the strong showing in the state will, over time, improve the BJP’s numbers in the upper house, to which the country’s biggest states send the most number of lawmakers.
The results in the remaining four states, which are smaller and of less political significance, were a mix. The BJP ousted the main opposition Congress Party in another northern state, Uttarakhand, but lost power in Punjab, where the Congress party got a convincing victory. The Congress Party also emerged ahead of the BJP in two other states, Manipur and Goa, although it fell short of a majority.
Although the opposition Congress Party got some small consolation from its victory in Punjab, political analysts said the results show the party has not been able to reverse its decline since its stinging defeat in the 2014 polls. “They should not see it as a sign of revival of the Congress nationally. This is just one state which they managed to win because of the misgovernance of the ruling party,” says analyst Kumar.