Good show in crucial state polls will give a fillip to reforms

Good show in crucial state polls will give a fillip to reforms
Good show in crucial state polls will give a fillip to reforms

Elections to the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly this year lead the charge of five state polls which will not only reflect the nation's mood but also determine the pace of reforms in the country. Five states will elect new governments in the first half of this year. Of these, elections to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly are considered the most important and Punjab slightly less so. The other three states - Goa, Uttarakhand and Manipur - are small and politically less significant than the other two, but these results could also provide an important pointer to the national mood as the Narendra Modi government closes in on three years of holding power in New Delhi. Uttar Pradesh is India's most populous state, accounting for one out of every six Indian citizens and elects 80 Members of Parliament. Nine of India's 15 Prime Ministers have been elected from the state and the conventional wisdom in Indian politics is that the road to power in New Delhi runs through Uttar Pradesh. That is why every political commentator worth his salt is trying to read the tea leaves to divine which way the state will vote. Although some early opinion polls have given the BJP a slight edge over its rivals, the political coup by chief minister Akhilesh Yadav against his father Mulayam Singh Yadav and the resultant turmoil in the ruling Samajwadi Party, has thrown up the prospect of fresh political realignments that will become evident in the days to come. This has meant that all political equations as well as the electoral arithmetic of the state will have to be calibrated afresh. The results in UP could have a crucial bearing on the direction of the Indian economy. A good showing by the BJP will vindicate the general impression that the ordinary Indian strongly supports Prime Minister Narendra Modi's bold move to demonetise high value currency notes and take India in the direction of a digital economy. It could also lead to more ambitious and politically contentious reforms that are critical for generating the millions of jobs that Modi promised India's aspirational youth in the run-up to the 2014 elections. Any result short of that will undoubtedly embolden disparate Opposition leaders to come together to present a united front against the BJP in 2019 and make it difficult for the ruling National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre to retain power. And this, in turn, could lead to an increasingly strident Opposition stalling reforms with an eye on electoral dividends in 2019. In Punjab, the BJP shares power with its regional partner, the Shiromoni Akali Dal, the state government is up against a two-term anti-incumbency and a two-pronged attack from the Congress, eyeing a return to power after a decade spent in political wilderness and the new kid on the block, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). The three-cornered race is still too close to call, but even a defeat here for the SAD-led coalition will, at worst be seen as a temporary setback for the BJP if the results in the other states are favourable. If, however, it comes on the back of a defeat in Uttar Pradesh, it could pose a grave threat to economic reforms and the BJP's re-election hopes in 2019. The three remaining states are too small to count individually. State elections are, typically, fought on local issues and should not be seen as a referendum on the Central government. But given the shrill divide between the BJP and the Opposition, the results will, nevertheless, be interpreted as an indication of how the nation views Modi's performance a little more than half-way through his term. And that is what makes these five elections so crucial, not only for politicians but for economic analysts as well.

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