India General Elections: At Halfway Mark, Narendra Modi Looks Strong; Final Result Will Depend on How UP Votes

The third phase of the ongoing national election in India is over, marking the completion of polling in half of the country’s 543-member strong Parliament. To form the next federal government, a party or alliance of parties requires 272 seats. In 2014, it was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which alone had won more than the seats required to form the government, becoming a single party to do so after a gap of 30 years. This time, Modi is seeking his renewal mandate eyeing to repeat the feat of 2014.

Opposition still in bits and pieces, even at the halfway stage

The Opposition is also doing its best to stop the Modi juggernaut. There is no leader of the stature to match Modi in the anti-BJP ranks and hence a number of regional satraps are trying to make bits-and-pieces alliances to beat the BJP and keeping open the possibility of post-poll alliances. But one of the major drawbacks of the Opposition is that they don’t have a consensus candidate to take on Modi, who made the last election a personalised one, as is seen in the presidential systems.

In the Opposition camp, not all are ready to accept the president of the main Opposition Indian National Congress (INC) and the great grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru, Rahul Gandhi, as their main face. On the contrary, they believe that making Rahul the alternative face to Modi could ruin their chances since he has not been too popular with the masses. In India’s most significant political state of Uttar Pradesh (UP sends 80 legislators to the parliament), the two major local players Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) that thrive on caste equations have not taken the INC on board while making an alliance. The INC is contesting the polls alone and it could go to the BJP’s favour in the final count because of a split in the anti-saffron party votes.

Modi is stealing the show while the Opposition is scrambling

Given the shrewd politician Modi is, he knows that the disunity in the Opposition is a golden opportunity for him to seal another term in the office. The uncertainty and confusion in the Opposition in making alliances has diverted the attention from the BJP’s own crumbling alliances. On the top of it, the diversion of focus towards issues related to hyper-nationalism has ensured that Modi keeps control of the narratives. Issues like unemployment, Rafale deal, demonetisation, farmers’ distress have failed to make it as big as one would have thought, thanks to the attacks on para-military personnel in Jammu and Kashmir in February and the air skirmishes with Pakistan that followed.

It will all come down to how UP votes

The most crucial factor in this election that will decide whether Modi comes to power again or not is the result in UP. Last time, the BJP alone had won 71 out of 80 seats in that seat (alliance-wise, it won 73) and that was a major boost to its overall figures. This time, the alliance between two of the major players could see a mega social coalition in place to beat the party of the upper castes. Moreover, the BJP is currently in power in the state of UP and its controversial chief minister there, Yogi Adityanath, has already left people divided and dejected. The two-year of anti-incumbency against the Adityanath government might also go against the BJP.

One of the challenges that Modi and his party could face if the BJP loses big in UP is that they could not make it up elsewhere. The BJP has little foothold in the southern part of India while in several states in the west, centre and north, it had reached a saturation point in 2014 and might find it tough to repeat the same performance. In the east, the BJP is still not at par with parties like the Trinamool Congress and Biju Janata Dal to make serious inroads into their bastions – West Bengal and Odisha – respectively.

All eyes are now on May 23 when the results come out.

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