New Delhi: The BJP on Thursday retained power in the politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur while the AAP swept Punjab with a three-fourths majority to give a boost to its pitch for a national role and the opposition camp ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
As counting of votes in the Assembly elections to five states continued tonight, Holi came a week early for the BJP as an incumbent government returned to power in UP after over three decades with the saffron party riding on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's popularity and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath's effective implementation of welfare policies to create a "new history".
The spectacular rise of the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) outside its Delhi turf with an unprecedented mandate in Punjab and a toehold in Goa by bagging two seats also foretells a big likely churn in the opposition camp. While Kejriwal hailed the party's performance in Punjab as a "revolution, it was a hat-trick for the BJP in Goa.
"Poll results highlight people's stamp of strong approval for BJP's pro-poor pro-active governance," Modi said in his address to jubilant party workers at the party headquarters in Delhi. "Those who look at UP through the prism of caste insult it; people of state repeatedly voted for politics of development since 2014."
The outcome of the Assembly polls held over February and March and seen as a barometer of people's mood also saw the Congress' epitaph written on the electoral battlefield.
The Congress, now in power only in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, an all-time low, lost Punjab and could bag only two seats in UP notwithstanding the high-decibel campaign by the Gandhi siblings Rahul and Priyanka. Like Congress, the AAP will also be in power in two states.
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The BJP was also ahead in Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa.
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The BJP raced towards a second straight win in politically crucial Uttar Pradesh and dominated the score chart in three other states while the Aam Aadmi Party announced its national presence with a landslide victory in Punjab.
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As votes were counted on Thursday for elections to five states held over February and March, the possible four-one score for India's ruling party underscoring its political prowess.
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In Punjab, we failed to overcome anti-incumbency of 4.5 yrs of Amarinder Singh govt, people voted for change: Congress
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Election results in five states contrary to party's expectations, but we accept people's mandate: Congress
In trends and results available for the 403 seats in Uttar Pradesh where Adityanath also achieved the maiden feat of an incumbent returning to power in the state after serving a full term, the BJP crossed the majority mark garnering 202 seats and was leading in 53, short of its earlier count of 312.
The BJP's showing in UP also indicated that the devastating second Covid wave last year and the intense protests by farmers against the three contentious farm laws, which was subsequently withdrawn, did not appear to have any major impact on the fortunes of the saffron party. According to Election Commission data, the BJP won or was leading in bulk of the 113 seats in western UP where it was thought to be on a sticky wicket.
"People have buried the politics of caste and religion by ensuring the victory of BJP and its allies in Uttar Pradesh under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi," Adityanath said at the state BJP headquarters in Lucknow where the excitement was palpable with the party workers dancing to popular tunes and throwing gulal at each other.
Bulldozers -- real as well as miniature versions -- were at the centre stage of the celebrations at the BJP office in the state capital as they figured in the poll campaign in a reference to the action taken against criminals and what the state government calls buildings linked to the 'mafia'. SP leader Akhilesh Yadav, a former chief minister, had called Adityanth a 'Bulldozer baba'.
The Samajwadi Party(SP), which made a vigorous bid for power with Akhilesh Yadav attracting huge crowds at campaign rallies, won 75 seats and was leading in 36, a significant jump from the 47 last time.
Adding to the saffron party's tally, BJP ally Apna Dal (Sonelal) won 9 seats and was ahead in three. The BSP, which barely made a campaign splash, was leading only in one seat with a total vote share of 12.7 per cent.
The BJP increased its vote share in almost all the states that went to polls including a marginal rise in Punjab, where it just managed to win two seats.
In UP, the BJP's vote share rose to 41.8 per cent as against 39.67 per cent in 2017 assembly elections, an increase of 2.13 per cent.
The vote share of the SP increased from 21.82 per cent in 2017 to 32.02 per cent.
The BSP had a vote share of 22.23 per cent in 2017 and the Mayawati-led party won 19 seats.
The first set of Assembly elections in 2022, seen as a pointer to general elections two years away, was also the AAP's stepping stone out of Delhi.
In the 117-member Punjab Assembly, the AAP won 92 seats, Congress 18, SAD 3, BJP 2, BSP and Independent won one seat each. In terms of vote share, the AAP won 42 per cent of the total votes cast, as against 23.7 per cent it had won five years ago.
The strong AAP wave in Punjab saw many bigwigs losing -- including SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal and his father Parkash Singh Badal, Congress' Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi from both the seats he contested, former chief minister Amarinder Singh who left the Congress to join hands with the BJP and Punjab Congress president Navjot Singh Sidhu.
The Congress vote share slumped in Punjab from 38.5 per cent in 2017 to 23 per cent, with the party holding on to just 18 seats as against 77 seats it had won five years back.
"First this revolution happened in Delhi, then in Punjab and it will now happen all over the country," Kejriwal said at the AAP party headquarters in Delhi.
"In the coming days, AAP will become a national force...the party will emerge as the national and natural replacement of Congress," party leader Raghav Chadha added while addressing workers at a rented accommodation of its chief ministerial candidate Bhagwant Mann in Sangrur.
From a comedian to the chief minister-designate, Mann, who has come a long way in a political career of just over a decade, said the oath-taking ceremony of the new Punjab cabinet will be held at Khatkar Kalan, the ancestral village of legendary freedom fighter Bhagat Singh in Nawanshahr district.
In the 2017 assembly polls in Punjab, the Congress had ended the SAD-BJP combine's run by bagging 77 seats. The AAP had managed to get 20 seats, while the SAD-BJP had won 18.
"Humbly accept the people's verdict. Best wishes to those who have won the mandate. My gratitude to all Congress workers and volunteers for their hard work and dedication. We will learn from this and keep working for the interests of the people of India," former Congress president Rahul Gandhi said on Twitter.
Belying predictions of A fractured mandate, Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant has been able to deliver victory for the BJP which is coming to power for the third time.
The BJP, which bagged 20 seats, said it has received letters of support from the Maharshtrawadi Gomantak Party (2 seats) and three Independent MLAs, enabling the ruling party to cross the simple majority mark of 21.
The BJP won big in Uttarakhand getting 45 seats to retain power and was ahead in two in the 70-member Assembly even as incumbent CM Pushkar Singh Dhami lost by 6,579 votes in Khatima, a seat he had been winning for the last two consecutive elections.
Throwing a spirited challenge to the BJP as the Congress poll campaign head for the state, Harish Rawat, a former chief minister, could not pilot the party's return to power in the state nor could he save his own seat of Lalkuwa. The Congress won 17 and was leading in two.
In Manipur, the BJP won 31 seats and was leading in one in the 60-member assembly.