Victory In UP 2022 Could Create Modi-Shah-Yogi Triple Engine For LS 2024
If Yogi wins big — which means over 275-300 of UP’s 403 assembly seats — he will seek a national role.
Will Modi-Shah welcome a third engine to their well-oiled double-engine political machine?
Is history about to repeat itself? Narendra Modi shot into national prominence after winning his second successive assembly election in Gujarat in 2007.
By 2012, the BJP’s leadership duopoly of Vajpayee-Advani had turned — to use a contemporary political cliché — from a double engine into a triple engine of Vajpayee-Advani-Modi. The rest is history.
Modi faced initial resistance from Vajyapee-Advani. It took a third Gujarat assembly win in December 2012 to break through and challenge Advani for the party’s prime ministerial candidature in the 2014 Lok Sabha election.
Modi’s task was made easier by Vajpayee’s retirement from active politics due to ill health. Only Advani stood in his way. But Advani, an ageing lion of 86 in 2013, was told to step aside for Modi by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS).
If Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath wins the 2022 state assembly poll by a large majority, will the BJP’s double engine of Modi-Shah turn into a triple engine of Modi-Shah-Yogi?
As they say in any relationship, it’s complicated.
If Yogi wins big — which means over 275-300 of UP’s 403 assembly seats — he will seek a national role. Will Modi-Shah welcome a third engine to their well-oiled double-engine political machine?
The developing situation in a potential Modi-Shah-Yogi troika has three significant differences from the past troika of Vajpayee-Advani-Modi.
First, Modi is no Vajpayee. He is fit and still has fire in his belly.
Second, Amit Shah is no Advani. At 57, he is nearly 30 years younger than Advani was in 2013. Shah will remain Modi’s heir unless circumstances change dramatically — poor health or a series of big election defeats on his watch.
Third, Yogi is not Modi — not yet. At 49, he has age on his side. As a six-term Lok Sabha MP and chief minister of India’s biggest state with a population almost as large as Pakistan’s, he has a wealth of administrative experience.
A big win in UP in the spring of 2022 could transform equations within the BJP. While not a former RSS pracharak like Modi, Advani or Vajpayee, Yogi has the RSS’s blessings. Remember, too, that Shah does not have an RSS background either.
If Yogi delivers UP decisively for the BJP, he will inevitably rise to no. 3 in the party’s pantheon.
If the BJP just scrapes through with a simple majority in UP, his ascent will slow. And if the BJP loses UP or the assembly is hung, Yogi’s national ambitions could be over.
So how is UP likely to vote in February-March 2022 when the multi-phase election kicks off? Given the time Modi is spending on campaigning in UP, the BJP is taking no chances.
There is lingering resentment in western UP over the farmers’ agitation. Jat farmers believe that the farm laws were repealed only on account of the slew of seven assembly elections in 2022 and may be revived in some form after the key state polls are over.
During the year-long farmers’ agitation, BJP leaders were often barred from even entering certain Jat-dominated villages in western UP. Tempers have since cooled but suspicion remains.
The region generally referred to as 'Western UP' accounts for around 15 per cent of the state’s 403 seats — a significant but not decisive number. Yogi’s key assets are improved law and order, rapid infrastructure development and effective Covid-19 management after early setbacks.
The BJP, meanwhile, is making no bones about pushing its Hindutva agenda. The Kashi-Vishwanath corridor and Ram Mandir in Ayodhya are unabashed attempts to polarise the Hindu vote.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has helped the BJP’s cause by aggressively positioning Hinduism against Hindutva, which could tilt many undecided Hindu voters away from the Congress and Samajwadi Party.
The 2022 UP assembly poll will also be a stern test for Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra. As state in-charge, Gandhi-Vadra is in a lose-lose situation. The UP poll is essentially a BJP-SP fight with Mayawati’s BSP playing a deliberately subdued role, which could help the BJP pick up Dalit votes.
Congress vote share is likely to fall below even the 6.25 per cent it won in 2017. At 50, Vadra-Gandhi has time, party and family on her side. They will guarantee her future in the Congress — but not Congress’ future in UP.
Akhilesh Yadav too faces a litmus test. If he loses to Yogi again, his political career could go into deep freeze. The Yadav-Muslim vote bank ensures the SP a 20-25 per cent vote share.
That may not be enough to stop Yogi. It wasn’t enough in 2017 when the SP won 21.82 per cent vote share but only 47 seats.
For Modi-Shah, a decisive victory in the 2022 UP assembly election is critical ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha poll. The duo knows that elections in Uttarakhand and, later in the year, in Himachal Pradesh could be tricky.
In Punjab, the alliance between the BJP and Amarinder Singh’s Punjab Lok Congress can at best hope to play a cameo role and ensure a hung assembly, denying both the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Congress the free run they were expecting.
In 2023, eight state elections, including difficult ones in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, await the BJP. A bad showing in UP will queer the party’s pitch going forward.
For Yogi, the UP assembly election is also a referendum on his Covid-19 management. The Ganga purifies but those who live by it have long memories.
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