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Modi Vindicated In Landslide State Elections

After state elections in India this weekend, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been vindicated once again. The New York Times reports:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi led his party to a landslide victory in India’s largest state on Saturday, consolidating his power and putting him in a strong position to win re-election in 2019.

The scale of the victory in Uttar Pradesh’s legislative elections was all the more stunning because it followed Mr. Modi’s politically risky decision to eliminate most of India’s cash. The vote was seen as a referendum on the prime minister, who campaigned vigorously in recent days in Uttar Pradesh, which, with a population of more than 200 million, would be the world’s sixth largest country if it were independent. […]

The margin of victory in Uttar Pradesh was the largest seen by any party in more than 30 years. It gives Mr. Modi a significant advantage in the national elections in 2019, which in turn would bring him closer to his long-term goal of becoming a leader of historic significance, steering India away from its more socialist, secular past.

Ever since Modi implemented his controversial cash ban in November, critics have been speculating that the disruptive measure could cost him dearly in the Uttar Pradesh elections. But the decisive victory of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) suggests that the demonetization policy did not hurt him, and may even have helped. Although the policy certainly inconvenienced many Indians, Modi successfully framed it as a crackdown on corrupt tax evaders, tapping into the populist sentiments that animated his rise. As a farmer in Uttar Pradesh quoted by the Financial Times put it, “He may have hit us in one eye, but he hit the rich in two eyes.”

But although his audacious demonetization policy is paying off, Modi may still not be able to implement the extensive free-market reforms he has long envisioned. Modi’s early liberalizing reforms were blocked harshly and repeatedly by entrenched state interests in parliament, and those obstacles remain despite BJP’s victories at the state level. Still, the recent electoral victory on the heels of the cash ban offers a useful political lesson: anti-corruption reform can work politically in India, even if market-oriented reforms do not. That is sure to affect the party’s political calculations going forward.

Finally, the elections set up BJP for a large-scale governance test in running India’s largest state. The scale of the challenge is huge: with a population approaching 224 million, Uttar Pradesh is larger than France, Germany, and the UK combined, and the state is in the northern ‘cow belt’ of historically poor and backward states, mirroring India’s caste system and ethnic divisions in all their complexity. If BJP governance can accelerate growth and poverty reduction there as it did in Gujarat, BJP has the chance to replace the once-mighty Congress as the natural governing party of India.

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  • D4x

    Good for BJP! India is such a complex land empire that we all should wish PM Modi the best, for all India. This election result appears to be as much about rejecting socialism, and corruption; in favor of economic nationalism, and better governance; than anything else.
    What is not clear is extrapolating Modi’s governance successes in Gujarat to Uttar Pradesh. Coastal Gujarat has a very long history of cosmopolitan trade. Landlocked Utter Pradesh borders the Himalayas, and seems to be the heartland of ancient Hinduism. Ten times as many Indians speak Hindi as Gujarati.

    • D4x

      An excellent explanation of India’s political structure, helping to answer my questions, today at RCWorld, from Geopolitical Futures: “State Elections and Power in India” By Allison Fedirka

      “… State legislative elections in India are important for two reasons. The first is the degree of influence state institutions have on the federal government. Each state’s legislative assembly indirectly votes for its representative in India’s upper house of parliament, the Rajya Sabha. …The second reason is India’s administrative power structure. Given the vast size and diversity of India’s population, much of the governing was legally designed to be carried out by individual states or union territories.

      A national party last ruled Uttar Pradesh in the 1980s, when the Indian National Congress (INC) dominated the country’s politics and came the closest to one-party rule.

      At this point, what we can take away is that two national powers – BJP and INC – are now contesting and winning space in state
      legislative assemblies that previously saw much stronger participation of regional political parties. This raises the question of whether Modi and the BJP will be able to overcome the diversity in the national electorate and party base to garner enough power to successfully achieve single-party rule and implementation of his ambitious economic reforms.”

      • Kevin

        This would have been a very useful addition to the main article.

        • D4x

          TY. I have been studying South Asian history and geography since 2003, but not the political structure of India. Fedirka does an excellent job explaining that, without the alphabet soup of regional parties, which confused me when I read up on Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat before writing my original comment.

          One can wonder if most news about India is viewed through the lens of Identity Politics, and a duopoly: INC and BJP. India’s politics and incredible linguistic+ diversity should be a lesson NOT to be ignored by the NYT or those who still cite the NYT.

          Last time I took a taxi in Manhattan, 2014, I asked my cab driver if he was from Sindh, based on his last name.
          He said yes, but Indian Sindh, not Pakistan. I had not realized Sindh was partitioned…

  • Andrew Allison

    Modi vindicated in the eyes of TAI? Will wonders never cease? [grin] More seriously, he has his work cut out for him but, if he only moves the needle somewhat in the right (pun intended) direction, he’ll have done more for his country than many (if not most) of his predecessors.

  • ljgude

    Ah, ‘Cow Belt!’ I love it and I’ll take it. I love Hinduism and my favorite scared text is the Gita, but I am not sure Arjuna or his chariot driver would approve. Not to mention Bobby Jindal. 😉

    • f1b0nacc1

      (with apologies to Christopher Walken)…. “More Cowbell!”

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