Months of electoral permutations and combinations by politicians, countless algorithms crafted by poll pundits, macro and micro-level variables in play, as well as the sum of pros and cons assessed by voters across five Indian states face a simple maths test today: in whose favour do the numbers add up? LIVE UPDATES OF UP ELECTION RESULTS
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The counting of votes for the assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa, and Manipur will not just chart the future roadmap for these states but also, in many ways, for the nation’s politics. The polls, particularly in bellwether UP, will give an indication of whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be able to hoist the Bharatiya Janata Party and allies to power for an incredible third straight term at the Centre in 2024, or will the concerted efforts of a constantly shapeshifting opposition bloc finally prevail. Politicians and voters in states due for elections soon will also be watching.
Over 50,000 people have been deployed for the counting of votes at nearly 1,200 halls in the five states and Covid protocols will be adhered to during the process beginning at 8am amid tight security, say Election Commission officials.
While initial curbs were imposed on poll rallies by the EC because of the third wave of Covid lingering, campaigning reached a crescendo in February with top leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and union ministers and chief ministers from the BJP, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra from the Congress, Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav, Arvind Kejriwal from AAP and others rolled out a flurry of roadshows. The poll pots were boiling with eclectic dishes comprising complex mixes of ingredients— such as a ‘tehri’ of Hindutva, law and order, caste considerations, bulldozer campaign, stray cattle menace, etc, in UP, to an ‘eromba’ with development, fighting insurgency, AFSPA repeal, etc, as constituents in Manipur— as found by News18’s team of reporters who extensively covered these states from the ground, and also checked out these and other dishes from the local fare.
The BJP went into these assembly elections while wielding power in four of the five states—UP, Uttarakhand, Goa, and Manipur — as well as the Centre. That was both a boon and a bane, say observers. It had the advantage of being able to put before the voters a report card of the work done in the previous five years by its “double-engine governments”. But it was also up against potential voter fatigue, angst over some unfulfilled and only partly fulfilled promises, unforeseen challenges such as the Covid pandemic, and relentless attacks from rivals.
Exit polls, however, indicate that a historic victory is in store for the BJP led by chief minister Yogi Adityanath in UP. If it happens, this would be the first time since 1985 when a party will get two full consecutive terms at the helm of the state. A fierce fight from the Samajwadi Party headed by Akhilesh Yadav could mean a narrower gap between the two sides compared to the 2017 ‘saffronwash’. Both the Bahujan Samaj Party and Congress may fare worse than their poor showing five years ago. But it’d still be a victory for the BJP’s potent concoction of poll pitches involving Hindutva, “80-20”, “bulldozer”, caste considerations, law enforcement, and development. Rivals such as the SP and Congress attacked the ruling party on a range of issues including inflation, unemployment, Covid handling, stray cattle menace, and farmers’ agitation. The mowing down of a group of farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri was also highlighted by the opposition with union minister Ajay Mishra’s son Ashish Mishra an accused in the case.
The opening round of the mammoth seven-phase elections on February 10 saw a voter turnout of 62.43% in the 58 assembly constituencies in western Uttar Pradesh. The second phase of polling on February 14 for 55 assembly segments registered 64.42% voting. The third phase on February 20 for 59 seats including in parts of the so-called “Yadav belt” witnessed a 62.28% turnout. The fourth round on February 23, which saw voting in state capital Lucknow among others on 59 seats, recorded nearly 61.52% polling. The fifth phase on February 27 for 61 seats including key ones like Ayodhya, Prayagraj, Amethi, and Raebareli witnessed 57.32% voting. A total of 57 seats, including chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s Gorakhpur Urban, voted in the sixth phase on March 3, with a turnout of around 55%. A little over 56% voting was recorded in the seventh and final round on March 7 for 54 seats, including in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s parliamentary constituency Varanasi.
The Congress has only itself to blame in Punjab, say observers, where its comedy of errors prior to the polls may have given the Aam Aadmi Party’s chief ministerial face and former stand-up star Bhagwant Mann the opportunity to deliver the perfect punchline in the form of a sweeping victory, as exit polls suggest.
A voter turnout of about 72% was recorded in Punjab where polling was held on February 20 for all 117 assembly seats.
A victory in Punjab for AAP, which is also in power in Delhi, will give the party an opportunity to implement its governance model in a full-fledged state for the first time.
The experiment of Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi to oust former chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh by favouring Navjot Singh Sidhu, then allowing a further power struggle to fester, before picking Charanjit Singh Channi as the stopgap CM and eventually the party’s face for the polls, while failing to quell intense infighting in time, seems to have backfired, analysts contend.
The Captain joined hands with the BJP but is unlikely to make a huge dent. A few surveys have indicated that a bloc led by the Akali Dal may give a close fight to the Congress for the second spot. The Sanyukt Samaj Morcha— an umbrella union of 22 farmer associations that made their maiden attempt to contest elections following the agri-law agitation of 2020-21 that resonated the most in Punjab— appears to have found the state’s electoral ground too rocky.
The youngest state in the mix doesn’t like repeating governments. But, some exit polls indicate Uttarakhand may make an exception for the BJP this time. Other surveys have made no bones about the possibility of a fractured mandate, which could prompt some high drama after the results come out. Both the BJP and Congress have sent in their key tacticians for such an eventuality. BSP, Uttarakhand Kranti Dal, and independent candidates may become crucial in such a scenario.
The single-phase election here on February 14 recorded a voter turnout of 65.4%, marginally lesser than the 65.6% in 2017.
The BJP replaced two of its chief ministers last year before finally bringing in incumbent Pushkar Singh Dhami, who has relied mainly on Hindutva to find favour with the voters.
Following fierce infighting, the Congress did not project a CM face for the polls, but former chief minister Harish Rawat, who is also the head of the party’s campaign committee, is considered by many observers as the most likely candidate in the event of a victory that at the moment seems like an uphill task.
Resort politics has already made a return to the scenic beaches of Goa after exit polls predicted a close contest between the BJP and Congress with a hung assembly a distinct possibility, in a rerun of the 2017 results. Both parties have deployed their best ‘horse whisperers’, according to sources, while their leaders accuse each other of poaching attempts.
Goa has witnessed the shifting of power largely between the Congress and BJP. However, poll observers feel smaller parties and new entrants are likely to play a crucial role in government formation this time. Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP and Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress created a buzz by entering the electoral contest here but the noise is unlikely to generate any significant returns.
In the 40-member assembly, a party needs 21 seats for a decisive win. The Congress bagged 17 seats in the 2017 polls, emerging as the single largest party, but saw its strength drop to two after several legislators switched to the BJP, which managed to cobble together a government by tying up with the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) and the Goa Forward Party (GFP).
The BJP’s Pramod Sawant became the chief minister in 2019 after the demise of his predecessor Manohar Parrikar, and he dropped two MGP ministers from the state cabinet. The MGP this time contested the polls in alliance with the TMC but seems to have not ruled out backing the BJP or the Congress. Party chief Sudin Dhavalikar has, however, dismissed any possibility of supporting Sawant as chief minister. The Congress is also reportedly in touch with AAP.
The ruling BJP, battling a 10-year anti-incumbency, had to contend with internal rebellion as well. Manohar Parrikar’s son Utpal Parrikar and former CM Laxmikant Parsekar contested as independent candidates after being denied tickets for the February 14 elections that saw about 79% voting in the state.
Exit polls have given the Bharatiya Janata Party the edge in Manipur. The ruling BJP and its two estranged allies — National People’s Party (NPP) and Naga People’s Front (NPF) — fought the elections to the 60-seat assembly separately this time. All of them are part of the BJP-led anti-Congress alliance of regional parties — North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), the Northeast unit of the National Democratic Alliance at the Centre, headed by Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. So the ripple effects of the poll outcome in Manipur will also be felt in neighbouring states such as Meghalaya which has a government including the BJP and NPP, Nagaland that has the BJP and NPF in the ruling formation among others, and BJP-ruled Tripura: all three states will have elections next year.
Issues of lack of development, insurgency, and AFSPA repeal seemed to have struck a chord among the electorate, News18 found on the ground. Some voters were dissatisfied with the BJP but couldn’t see an alternative. Others were pleased with the government for curbing bandhs and insurgency to an extent and bringing in some development. The aspirations are also different in the valley and the less-privileged hills.
The polls held in two phases on February 28 and March 5 recorded turnouts of over 88% and 76%, respectively.
The BJP, led by N Biren Singh— a former BSF man, footballer, journalist, Congress politician, and now CM— has said it will get more than 40 of the 60 assembly seats. The NPP has asserted that this time it will be the king and not the kingmaker. The Congress has promised “change”, without really expounding on it. Many expect Bihar’s ruling Janata Dal (United) to make a mark this time. Its nominees include rebels from the BJP, Congress, etc, and star candidate Thounaojam Brinda, a former top cop.
The Congress had won 28 seats here in 2017. But the BJP, despite getting 21 seats, came to power in the state for the first time, after stitching an alliance with various parties including the NPP and NPF. As a number of Congress legislators had later switched sides, the party this time made its candidates swear oaths of loyalty in a bid to keep its flock together.
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