Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party is on course for a landslide victory in India’s most important battleground state, early returns showed Saturday, in a personal triumph that will strengthen his claim to a second term as national leader.
If the Bharatiya Janata Party does wrest control of Uttar Pradesh it would be a ringing endorsement of Modi’s stewardship of Asia’s third-largest economy after his high-risk decision last November to scrap high-value banknotes worth 86 percent of the cash in circulation.
Though premature to call the final outcome, the Election Commission of India said the BJP was leading in 284 of the 403 seats in the northern state, which if confirmed by results would give itthe biggest majority scored by any party in the state since 1980.
The BJP’s vote share based on early counting is more than 40 percent, the election commission said, close to the party’s winning vote share in Uttar Pradesh in the 2014 national election when it won the biggest majority in three decades.
Two months of campaigning
“This will be a phenomenal endorsement for Narendra Modi and will put him on track for winning the 2019 election,” Prannoy Roy, editor of TV channel NDTV said.
Modi threw himself into the Uttar Pradesh campaign after his party got off to a slow start, delivering dozens of rallies and turning the contest into a test of his personal popularity and his radical move to abolish big banknotes to rein in corruption.
“The results will redefine the prime minister’s political destiny and his future course of action,” an aide to Modi in the capital, New Delhi, told Reuters.
Postelection surveys had suggested Modi’s BJP had done enough to come in first in Uttar Pradesh, home to 1 in 6 Indians, but that it might fall short of an outright majority.
Results for four other state elections are also due Saturday, and early counting put the BJP ahead in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand and Manipur in the northeast, while marginally behind the opposition Congress party in the coastal state of Goa.
Congress is ahead in Punjab state, the trends show, offering at least some consolation after Rahul Gandhi, heir apparent to the party leadership, failed again to make an impact.
Voting in Uttar Pradesh, a state of 220 million people, was conducted in seven stages and ended Thursday.
The BJP’s opponents include an alliance between Congress and the ruling Samajwadi Party, a tie-up that caught Modi’s party off guard. A better-than-expected showing by a third party could complicate the picture as results filter out.
A strong BJP showing would be welcomed by investors counting on further economic reforms, including the launch of a national sales tax, in the absence of any credible opponent who might halt Modi’s march to a second term in 2019.
Short of a majority, the BJP could see opponents block its path to power in the state by forming a coalition, although Modi’s party will also look to persuade its smaller rivals to join forces.
“If the BJP fails to secure a majority, then Modi’s economic decisions will be questioned and his failure to create jobs will impact his political future,” said Mohan Guruswamy, who heads the Centre for Policy Alternatives, an independent think-tank.