Holi arrived a couple of days early at the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) office in Lucknow. The party won a stunning three-fourths majority in the 403-member Uttar Pradesh Assembly, its biggest victory in the state.
It will be after 14 years that the BJP will form a government in the state, after Rajnath Singh's term as Chief Minister ended abruptly in 2002.
At last count, the National Democratic Alliance, consisting of the BJP, Apna Dal and the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party, was poised to win 325 seats, ruthlessly decimating its opponents – the Samajwadi Party (SP)-Congress alliance, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD).
The BJP won 312 seats, the Apna Dal won nine and the SBSP four.
Such was the drubbing for the SP-Congress alliance that it managed to win only 54 seats, of which the latter's share was only seven. The RLD won just one seat.
The BSP suffered a staggering fall from 80 seats in the outgoing Vidhan Sabha to 19 in the present House.
The BJP's performance in 2017 elections far outshone its victory in 1991 when, at the height of the Ram temple movement, the party had won 221 seats.
How the polls panned out
Like the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, in which the BJP had won 73 out of the 80 parliamentary seats, the Assembly poll results belied all expectations.
In districts like Basti and Varanasi, the BJP grabbed all the constituencies – five and eight respectively – where Prime Minister Narendra Modi's extended stay for three days was construed as a sign of 'desperation'.
In the Congress's pocket boroughs of Rae Bareli and Amethi, the BJP won six of the 10 seats. Amethi was of special interest, as Congress MP Sanjay Singh’s present wife Amita lost to his first wife Garima, who contested on a BJP ticket.
In western UP, a region where Muslims make up a large chunk of the electorate, and which witnessed communal riots in 2013, the party won 109 of the 136 seats.
In terms of vote share, the party got 39.7% of the votes polled, slightly less than it got in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, suggesting that the party more or less repeated its 2014 performance.
Reasons for victory
BJP national president Amit Shah attributed the victory to the pro-poor work done by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and especially mentioned the Jan Dhan Yojna, the Ujjwala Scheme, and the drive to end open defecation.
“There is no doubt that Narendra Modiji is the most popular leader in post-Independent India. The politics of performance has defeated caste and dynasty politics,” he said, adding that political parties should move past Hindu-Muslim identities.
Shah's statement that “a voter is a voter” appeared to be true. The 39.7% vote share suggested that the party got votes from all castes and communities, especially in districts where it won all the Assembly seats.
If the party worked hard to win Dalit votes through year-long programmes, the Central government’s move to end triple talaq had drawn a section of Muslim women towards the BJP.
“Winning all the constituencies in some eastern UP districts would not have been possible without the support of all castes and communities,” said a local BJP leader. A section of Muslims, however, was of the view that Modi's 'shamshaan-qabristaan' remark had served its intended purpose of polarisation.
The banning of high-value currency notes (demonetisation) was another factor that seemed to have gone in favour of the BJP, as the village poor latched on to the perception created by the Prime Minister that his action had hit the corrupt in high places. That perception helped the BJP to shed its 'urban party' image and extend its reach to rural areas.
The Modi-Shah combination once again proved powerful poll managers for their party. Modi’s pro-development persona and campaign style is said to have largely contributed to the party’s victory. The present pro-BJP wave was said to be a consequence of the high-octane campaign by Modi.
Shah’s strategy of stitching up alliances and fielding winnable turncoats at the cost of incurring loyal workers' anger also seemed to have paid off.
A weak Opposition in the state only helped the BJP. Even as the family feud considerably weakened the Samajwadi Party, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav remained overconfident and failed to read the tea leaves. By allying with the Congress, a rudderless ship in the absence of a seasoned leader, against the wishes of his father Mulayam Singh Yadav, he further harmed his chances.
Though the BSP's vote share of 22.2% in these elections was more than the 19% it polled in 2014, Mayawati did not care about the senior leaders in the party and banked heavily on a Muslim-Dalit combination. As leaders like Swami Prasad Maurya turned to the BJP, Mayawati's over-dependence on minorities alienated the majority community.
Who will be CM?
With the UP elections over, all eyes are now on the BJP's parliamentary board meeting, scheduled to be held in New Delhi on Sunday, where the Chief Minister of the state is likely to be decided.
Shah has dismissed all conjecture about his candidature, while Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh has also rejected the idea. The matter is, therefore, open to speculation.
The other names doing the rounds include Yogi Adityanath, the controversial MP from Gorakhpur, Union Minister of State for Railways Manoj Sinha, Union MoS Culture and Tourism Mahesh Sharma, and the party's state president KP Maurya. Another name being mentioned in Lucknow is that of the city mayor Dinesh Sharma.
Sources in Lucknow said that to balance the overwhelming tilt the party has shown towards OBCs, an upper caste person would be appointed CM. Other sources said that with the OBC card having helped the party in these elections, it would not be averse to the idea of having a CM from among the OBCs.
If the latter view prevails, KP Maurya stands a good chance of being named the CM. His Vishwa Hindu Parishad background may boost his chances, except that the criminal cases against him could be a negative factor.
If not, then an upper caste candidate could be chosen. In that eventuality, Dinesh Sharma would stand a better chance than Mahesh Sharma, as the former enjoys a clean image besides having the background of an academician. His administrative skills, however, have not been tested at the state level.
Siddharth Nath Singh, the party's national spokesperson who won from Allahabad, was also said to be in the race.
Whoever is chosen for the post would be someone ready to function as the Central leadership's puppet, yet strong and assertive enough to implement the party's developmental agenda.