India Today - - FROM THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF - (Aroon Purie)

In the plush liv­ing rooms of cities, in ki­rana shops, fac­to­ries and in the fields, there has been lit­tle con­ver­sa­tion in the past two months that goes be­yond de­mon­eti­sa­tion. In­deed, it has dom­i­nated In­dia’s mindspace. With the re­cent an­nounce­ment of five state elec­tions in the next eight weeks, talk is now fo­cused on whether the voter will en­dorse Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s au­da­cious gam­bit. No state mat­ters more in this than the coun­try’s most pop­u­lous one, Ut­tar Pradesh. More than the elec­tions in Pun­jab, Goa, Ut­tarak­hand or Ma­nipur, the UP re­sult will be the acid test for both the BJP as a party and for the Modi govern­ment’s poli­cies. In the 2012 assem­bly elec­tions, the BJP fin­ished third, bag­ging only 47 seats. But just two years later, they re­turned with a land­slide in the 2014 Lok Sabha elec­tions, sweep­ing an as­tound­ing 71 of the state’s 80 par­lia­men­tary seats. Now, half­way through its term, Prime Min­is­ter Modi’s govern­ment will be fer­vently pray­ing for a 2014 re­dux in UP. There are sev­eral rea­sons for this. A favourable ver­dict will bol­ster the PM’s im­age as a pro-poor mes­siah, vin­di­cat­ing his con­tro­ver­sial de­mon­eti­sa­tion ac­tion with the prospect of reap­ing a rich po­lit­i­cal har­vest in the fu­ture. Pos­si­bly, it will even em­bolden him to pur­sue more rad­i­cal re­forms. A de­feat would be a se­ri­ous set­back, per­son­ally, and for his party, as he has iden­ti­fied him­self closely with de­mon­eti­sa­tion. Ei­ther way, it will be a ma­jor turn­ing point for his premier­ship.

Win­ning the UP elec­tion will be no easy task, though the stars seem to favour the BJP at the mo­ment. The in­ternecine war in the Ya­dav clan may dim the prospects of the rul­ing Sa­ma­jwadi Party, and with even the party sym­bol, the bi­cy­cle, now a bone of con­tention be­tween Akhilesh and his fa­ther, Mu­layam Singh Ya­dav, the SP is se­verely hand­i­capped in the elec­tions. That said, they have a young, clean, pro-devel­op­ment can­di­date in chief min­is­ter Akhilesh Ya­dav. These qual­i­ties trans­late into a unique po­lit­i­cal as­set, one that eludes the Bahu­jan Sa­maj Party’s Mayawati, the other big player in the tri­an­gu­lar con­test. The Congress, mean­while, seems re­signed to its fate of be­ing a bit player in the polls as does Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal. The BJP’s vote per­cent­age in the last state elec­tions in 2012 was 15 per cent, and it has to boost this to at least 30 per cent to make a match of it. The party may lament its 15-year-long ex­ile from power in Luc­know, but would be hard-pressed to in­voke even one of its chief min­is­ters who had a pos­i­tive im­pact on the state.

In a state with strongly en­trenched vote banks, the BJP has to come out with a strat­egy that cuts through the usual caste equa­tions. It is bank­ing on PM Modi’s charisma and his de­mon­eti­sa­tion mes­sage of get­ting rid of cor­rup­tion by hurt­ing the rich to the ben­e­fit of the poor. Anec­do­tal ev­i­dence sug­gests that pop­u­lar sen­ti­ment con­curs. The proof of this, of course, will be in the elec­tion re­sults. To this end, the party is work­ing the caste arith­metic too by pro­ject­ing non-Ya­dav OBC lead­ers, and not so much their tra­di­tional up­per caste vote bank. Our cover story, by Ed­i­tor (Re­search) Ajit Ku­mar Jha, ex­am­ines the BJP’s ‘class war’ strat­egy in the light of our re­cent polls, com­bined with ground re­ports from the state. It is early days yet, and UP is al­ways a messy elec­toral bat­tle­field. Any­thing may hap­pen.

I have my own lit­tle the­ory. I be­lieve that to win a state elec­tion to­day, a party has to project a cred­i­ble leader in ad­vance. The days of im­pos­ing a leader from the High Com­mand are long gone. Peo­ple want to know who will actually gov­ern them. The BJP might ar­gue that it won the Haryana and Ma­ha­rash­tra state elec­tions in 2014 with­out a CM can­di­date, but those elec­tions were fought in the af­ter­math of the Modi wave. The BJP lost Bi­har when they fought with­out a CM face in 2015, and won As­sam with a CM can­di­date in 2016. What­ever hap­pens on March 11, at least I will know whether my the­ory works or not.

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