The fabled power of anti-incumbency was expected to pose a challenge to Narendra Modi’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the world’s largest local election – 150 million voters spread over more than 400 seats – in India’s northern Uttar Pradesh or UP state.

After all, no party had managed to retain its majority in the state’s legislative assembly since 1985.

The average tenure of a chief minister during a five-year-term in this politically volatile state has been two years and nine months. No incumbent chief minister has ruled UP for two successive terms since 1947.

Mr Modi’s party and its current UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath have now bucked that trend.

Uttar Pradesh remains direly poor – the nominal GDP per person is less than 1,000 dollars – and is deeply divided on the basis of caste and, now, religion.

It had begun to look grim for even Mr Modi’s powerful government, which swept the last election in 2017, winning 303 of 403 seats.

A poll by India Today magazine in August last year found that inflation, lack of jobs and the handling of the pandemic were the single biggest failures of Mr Modi’s government.

In January, barely a month before the elections, a clutch of BJP legislators defected to its main rival, the regional Samajwadi Party. Critics painted Mr Adityanath as an autocratic, casteist and remote leader.

Yet, the Hindu nationalist party, helped amply by Mr Modi’s rhetoric and charisma, romped home on Thursday, defying predictions by even some of its more sceptical supporters. (On the stump, Mr Modi spoke about the benefits of a “double-engine” government where state and national governments are ruled by the same party.)

How did this happen? As usual, voters have made their choices based on a range of variables.

Hundreds of corpses were found buried in the sand of the Ganges in UP during the pandemic
Remember this is happening in a state where one in five voters is a Muslim and the party has not fielded a single Muslim candidate in any state or federal elections since 2014. Muslims are thought to have overwhelmingly backed the Samajwadi Party.

 

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