As Assembly elections draw nearer, the political scene in Uttar Pradesh is becoming interesting by the day. The contest appears largely between Chief Minister Yogi Adatiyanath and the Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav. Yadav recently got a shot in the arm when the farmer leader Naresh Tikait extended his support to him. Tikait also called on the people of the state to support the candidates of the SP which is in alliance with Rashtriya Lok Dal.
Congress, on the other hand, once again doesn't appear to be a force to reckon with in this battleground state which largely decides which party rules at the centre. Or conversely, which decides whether an existing ruling party at the centre continues to enjoy the confidence of the electorate or has forfeited it. So, the significance of the elections for the BJP - a ruling party both in the state and at the centre - can't be overemphasized.
The election will also decide the fate of the CM Adityanath who can very well emerge as a credible contender for the BJP's national leadership with a resounding victory, which some observers and the opinion polls see imminent. And a loss would not only be a big blow to Adityanath's perceived national ambitions but it could also put the BJP's re-election bid in 2024 in jeopardy.
But such a prospect looks unlikely considering Brand Modi remains in the ascendant. All the rival political stalwarts have been reduced to pygmies. India's larger secular opposition is still in tatters and fighting over scraps. Rahul Gandhi may be one of the few major genuine ideological opponents now, but there is no major pan-India leader in sight to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He is now in a zone where a large section of the population in India has begun to attribute divinity to him. Moreover, the Hindutva ideology that he propagates reigns supreme and it is something whose many aspects are now being bought into by the opposition also. There is no national leader in India who wants to be aggressive on secularism including Rahul Gandhi or Mamata Banerjee. Still the opposition unity and the Congress revival as a cohesive party can be expected to offer some challenge to the BJP's overwhelming dominance. But this seems unlikely to happen in the near future.
PM Modi has been in power for seven years now, a long period at the helm when the anti-incumbency factor is expected to come into play. But, on the contrary, the incumbency has invariably worked in his favor.
It has been an unstoppable journey for Modi from his anointment as the BJP's election campaign chief in 2013 to his election as Prime Minister of India in 2014 and the subsequent re-election in 2019. He was earlier chief minister of Gujarat for 15 years. But the years of being in power and its attendant banality have done little to dim his charisma.
What makes Modi tick? What makes him grow from strength to political strength with such effortless ease? The answer to the question is complex, yet seems very self-evident. In his years in India's national political arena, Modi has inventively expanded his political appeal to be all things to all the people -right from the rabidly rightwing to the centrist, if not to the left.
What now? The BJP's absolute control over India has led to the emergence of a "new India" away from Nehruvian secularism. The party has successfully instituted its idea of India into the reigning ideology of the country. But Uttar Pradesh and the outcome of the other four state polls like the one in Punjab will be a litmus test for the BJP. This will largely determine the saffron party's political future.
At stake is not only the mundane question of who rules UP over the next five years but how far further down the saffron road India will go. A win for a party other than the BJP will go some way to arrest the disarray among secular forces and give them the confidence to stand up to Modi. But a victory for the BJP will yet again reinforce the political dominance of Modi and further power his political cult. It will be an emphatic endorsement of his seven years of rule.
As things stand, the opinion polls continue to give the UP to the BJP. The SP is given second place and the BSP a distant third. But the opinion polls are hardly the final word on the outcome of an election as many of them have been bitterly belied over the last few years. What is apparent through the media coverage from the state is that Akhilesh Yadav is emerging as a viable challenger and could be expected to stage an upset. But for now, we can only wait and watch.