It's over. Already. It's over for the Congress, and it's over for the Samajwadis. Refuelled mid-air by Uttar Pradesh, the Modi-led BJP is now cruising towards the big one in 2024, and Yogi will hold the key state that is always crucial in any battle for Delhi.
On the other side, there are two big takeaways: First, the Congress has been quite dead in UP for some time; Yogi has presided over the funeral rites now. Without even breaking a sweat even as he demolished the latest challenger.
In Punjab, the Congress seems to have committed suicide in a landscape where the BJP wasn't even a major player and went a weak solo. This seems to be the new freedom struggle for the Grand Old Party, to free itself from being the national option or even the glue that holds any such alliance together.
And that's the other big thing: the emergence of Kejriwal's AAP as a national party; this will have major political consequences down the line.
Yogi's defence is remarkable, for not only does he look like managing a victory as emphatic as the big saffron surprise of five years ago, but that he has withstood a spirited campaign by the Akhilesh-led Samajwadi Party and its allies. Akhilesh was convinced he was in with a chance, and he was probably right for this was as much of a chance any Opposition will get against the BJP. This is vital: Akhilesh had his best shot, he took it well enough, and it didn't really work. Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander; all that Akhilesh has got is the silver medal of the Opposition spot and more bargaining power for whatever comes together against the BJP in 2024.
Caste combinations didn't work in UP. Trying to avoid fragmentation of the anti-BJP vote didn't work. Adding alphabets to the M-Y plan didn’t work. For the Congress, Priyanka’s best shot so far didn't work. It’s R.I.P. for all.
In Punjab, the Congress was in power and it could well end up in third place. A very poor second seems likely. The state has swung between the Akalis and Congress for much of its history; it will be AAP versus the rest now. Kejriwal will position himself and his AAP as the Opposition’s great hope and the nation’s Grand New Party. But that’s uphill all the way to the peak where a saffron flag flies.
Other key takeaways include:
>> There is no pan-India party to take on the BJP now. It’s the BJP versus regional outfits, all of which have eaten up, and continue to, the mauled leftovers of the Congress. Kejriwal doesn’t have the heft, time or resources to take on the BJP. He will have to fight a battle of position in the Opposition first.
>> This is a victory of the people’s faith, not in a religious sense but in the sense of implicit trust in the leadership of the BJP, Modi downwards. High fuel prices, inflation, border issues, unemployment: the voting public of our nation sees them not as caused or enabled by the government but as problems it is fighting against on their behalf. This beats any caste consolidation or regional concern, and explains why the BJP won 2019 despite regional parties holding their own all through. This also explains why the BJP is on course for 2024. An Opposition split up into disparate regional clusters suits Modi just fine.
>> Goa and Manipur show that the BJP’s pan-India appeal continues to shine. So much for cow-belt putdowns.
>> The Congress has been fighting the BJP but its voteshare has been slowly and surely eaten up by regional parties. It’s almost as if the smaller parties have signed up for Congress-mukt Bharat. It’s going out with nary a whimper, G-23 or not.
Bottomline: The BJP is the recent past, present, and future. The Congress is dead. Regional parties are just about getting by. Modi seems unshakeable.
And, yes, the exit polls got it right.