By Sarwar Kashani
New Delhi, Mar 10 (EFE).- Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won four out of five regional polls on Thursday, including in India’s most populous state that holds the key to the 2024 general elections.
Another big takeaway from the state elections was the newbie Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) winning the northern state of Punjab where it unseated and handed a humiliating defeat to the 136-year-old Indian National Congress of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.
The BJP-led coalition was set to secure an absolute majority in the 403-member Uttar Pradesh legislative assembly as it comfortably led in 247 seats, and also advanced to form governments in the states of Goa (west), Manipur (northeast), and Uttarakhand (north).
Uttar Pradesh, also in the north, is home to more than 200 million people, comparable to Brazil. It sends the largest number of lawmakers to parliament — 80 to the Lok Sabha (lower house) and 31 to the Rajya Sabha (upper house).
The win in Uttar Pradesh, with an 80 percent Hindu population, seals a historic second term for the BJP’s Yogi Adityanath, a controversial saffron-clad Hindu monk, known for his anti-Muslim and Islamophobic remarks.
Adityanath, 49, has created history by becoming the first chief minister to win two successive terms in Uttar Pradesh, one of the poorest Indian states, in the last three decades.
“We worked for the development of the state. The people of Uttar Pradesh realized that the BJP’s pro-poor policies would continue only if Yogi Adityanath retains power,” regional law minister Brajesh Pathak told reporters as party workers erupted in boisterous celebrations across the state.
The poll results have set the mood for the general elections scheduled in 2024 when the BJP and his Modi will seek a third term at the helm of national affairs.
Those would be the first parliamentary elections after major health and economic setbacks India suffered due to the coronavirus pandemic that killed more than half a million people in the world’s second-most populous country.
Uttar Pradesh was one of the worst-affected due to the pandemic, particularly during the second wave of the virus, which killed an estimated 23,500 people in the state, leaving horrific images of people dead from Covid-19 on river banks, overwhelmed hospitals, and overcrowded crematoria.
The fatality figures are still considered a gross underestimation of what people suffered.
But that did not cost Adityanath and the BJP their electoral support as the state government passed a slew of controversial laws that, critics say, appeal to the Hindu vote bank.
For example, Adityanath has introduced a controversial anti-conversion bill that entails prison sentences in a bid to crack down on what conspiracy theorists call “love jihad” of Muslim men seducing and wooing Hindu women to embrace Islam.
“The BJP won because they talked about unity, development, and they do not do divisive politics,” a BJP supporter, who gave only his surname Batra, told EFE outside the party office in Noida, Uttar Pradesh.
“General election will be far better than this because Modi is one of the strongest leaders we have.”
Outside the party office in Lucknow, the state capital, a female BJP supporter carried her 1.5 year old bald-headed son dressed as the monk-turned-chief minister, sporting saffron robes, earrings, and a long woodenbegar necklace dangling around his neck.
“He (Adityanath) worked for the welfare of the people. The pandemic was a global phenomenon. He distributed free grains, made sure the state is crime free. He gave us (women) a sense of security,” the woman said praising the poster boy of Hindutva politics.
Election Commission officials began counting since morning tens of millions of votes cast using the electronic voting machines in the multi-phase elections from Feb.10 to Mar.10.
The Aam Aadmi Party led by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal sprung a surprise in the northern Punjab region where it was set to win 92 seats in the 117-member state legislative assembly.