Indian voters have given the Hindu nationalist BJP party a resounding vote of confidence by granting them victory in four significant state elections.
The BJP retained power in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous and politically significant state with more than 180 million voters, winning at least 255 out of 403 seats.
Chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, a Hindu monk known for his hardline views, will be the first in the state’s history to remain in power for a second consecutive term, securing his status as a potential successor to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
During his time as chief minister Adityanath often used communal rhetoric seen as targeting Muslims. He banned the slaughter of cows and brought in an anti-conversion law to counter “love jihad,” a theory that Muslims are forcing Hindu women into marriage in order to convert them to Islam.
In a victory speech, Adityanath said: “Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership, today the BJP won a majority in Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur. The voters have blessed Modi’s policies of development and good governance.”
The party, which has ruled India’s central government since 2014, also held on to power in the states of Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur.
Meanwhile, the secular National Congress party, the country’s oldest political party and main national opposition for the BJP, lost seats in Goa and Manipur and failed to win back its former stronghold of Punjab. In Uttar Pradesh, it won just a single seat.
Congress leaders issued sombre statements following the results. “This is a challenging moment for the Congress party and Punjab most certainly has been a disappointment,” said a party spokesperson, Aadil Singh Boparai.
Rahul Gandhi, the de facto Congress leader, said in a tweet that the party “humbly accept people’s verdict. We’ll learn from this.”
Popular Front of India Chairman OMA Salam said the BJP’s victory was the result of the large scale communal polarisation carried out by the BJP.
He said: “BJP as usual relied heavily on communalism to woo the vote bank and by this, they were successful in trumping the livelihood issues and issue-based politics that came to discussion during the elections. The BJP thus diverted people’s attention from the misgovernance and core developmental issues by communalising the voters’ minds and running hate propaganda targeting minority religions. The success of the BJP in the same state and constituencies where the farmers’ protests had turned into a tidal wave of anger is proof of this.
“The secular parties are still standing clueless before the Hindutva election strategies and are relying on soft-Hindutva and half-baked notions of secularism. The need of the hour was not these kinds of outer skin treatments but strategies and broad-based alliances upholding constitutionally assured secular values of the country. They have failed in assessing and addressing the gravity of the situation where communal polarisation, hatred and genocidal calls are posing a serious threat to our existence as a country. These secular parties should now introspect, learn lessons from their failure, and get themselves ready for a fundamental change in approach with regards to the secularism they imagine and practice. They should at least now take a meaningful stand towards saving our country and its constitutional values from the onslaught of Hindutva.”