UP to Punjab to Himachal: 2022, a year of milestone Assembly polls
Out of the seven states that went to polls in 2022, the BJP retained power in five, AAP wrested power from Congress in one, and the grand old party recorded a consolation win
The Assembly elections in seven states this year were crucial for both the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the Centre and the opposition parties led by the Congress because they were expected to set the stage for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, which are 18 months away. In particular, the Assembly election in Uttar Pradesh — the country’s most populous state which wields disproportionate power and is seen as a bellwether for national elections — was the most keenly watched political event this year.
Punjab and Gujarat were important, too. The farmers from Punjab, along with scores from Western Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, had been at the centre of a movement that eventually effected a reversal of the three contentious farm laws. Only a few months ago, in November 2021, the Centre had announced the reversal of the three laws, which brought to an end the months-long agitation by the farmers.
In Gujarat, the home state of PM Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah, the BJP had changed its entire government in September 2021 in an attempt to beat back anti-incumbency in the December 2022 polls. Having successfully staged its comeback in UP, the BJP was looking for its power run to continue in Gujarat; earlier this month, it surpassed its own expectations. Congress was unable to repeat its spirited challenge to the ruling during the 2017 elections and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which aimed to replace the Congress as the main opposition party in the state, failed to make a mark.
If anything, the results of the seven states revealed that the Opposition’s larger objective of forming a credible front against the BJP juggernaut, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, remains a challenge. They also made it clear that the electoral slide of the Congress will continue unabated unless the party reforms itself in a drastic way.
Poll fever grips India in January
Poll fever gripped India early in 2022 with the Election Commission (EC) announcing the schedule for the assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Goa, Uttarakhand and Manipur on January 8. While the BJP-ruled UP went to polls in seven phases from February 10 to March 7, Punjab, Uttarakhand and Goa voted in a single phase on February 14.
The five states, comprising 620 Assembly seats, make up for a little over one-fifth of the country’s population. The BJP won four out of five states: Uttar Pradesh, Goa, Uttarakhand and Manipur. The AAP’s “tsunami” swept Punjab, where it decimated the ruling Congress. The BJP was able to neutralise the resentment of farmers in western Uttar Pradesh and the plains of Uttarakhand by repealing the three farm laws, which the BJP claimed would help double the farmers’ income by 2022.
Except in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, there was a direct fight between the BJP and the Congress in Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa. In the 2017 election, the Congress had got more seats than the BJP in Manipur and Goa, but was unable to form the government. In the bellwether state of UP, the fight — by and large — was bipolar between the ruling BJP and the Samajwadi Party. In Punjab, the contest was triangular as Congress faced stiff competition from AAP, the main opposition party, and the Shiromani Akali Dal, which the Congress had defeated with a huge margin in 2017.
Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls: February-March
Yogi Adityanath-led Uttar Pradesh has been at the heart of the party’s Hindutva agenda for decades. The 2022 Assembly election was a test of the success of its temple agenda: it was the first major election after the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya began after the 2019 General election. The campaign in the state followed the familiar pattern with usual components of Modi’s “strong leadership” and his “development model.”
However, the BJP leaders left no stone unturned in giving the campaign a communal colour, with top leaders making unpalatable remarks against the minority community. The high-decibel election marked a turning point in India’s politics since it was for the first time in over three decades that a party was re-elected in the politically significant state: a state with a population of over 200 million, cutting across caste and communities. Out of 403 seats, the BJP won 273, bagging over 40% of the vote share.
Punjab Assembly elections: February
2022 was the watershed year for the Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP, which stormed into power in Punjab, snatching the state from the ruling Congress. In the 117-member Assembly, AAP secured a record 92 seats, securing an overall vote share of 42.1%. Kejriwal hailed the party’s performance in Punjab as a “revolution”.
AAP had first entered the Punjab poll arena in the 2012 Lok Sabha elections; It went on to become the main opposition after the 2017 Assembly elections. AAP’s splendid performance in 2022 created ripples at the national level. AAP’s Bhagwant Mann, who was sworn in as the Chief Minister, won the elections from Dhuri.
Notably, this was the first time AAP — the ruling party in neighboring Delhi — took the reins of Punjab. AAP’s tsunami made several stalwarts, including three former chief ministers, bite the dust: Charanjit Singh Channi, Parkash Singh Badal and Amarinder Singh. In the run-up to the polls, PM Modi had to return from Punjab without attending an election rally; while the Centre described the reason to be a massive security breach, the then CM Channi ascribed it to poor attendance.
Goa Assembly elections: February
The BJP emerged as the single largest party by winning 20 seats in the 40-member state assembly and reducing Congress to 11 seats. Pramod Sawant took oath as the Chief Minister of Goa for a second consecutive term.
While smaller parties failed to make substantial gains, they got enough seats to disrupt the bipolar fight between the Congress and the BJP; by pledging their support on the counting day, they enabled the BJP to form the government.
The Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress failed to make an entry into the Goa assembly. It did, however, manage to get nearly 23,000 votes on average in the 26 seats it contested. AAP, which won two seats (in Benaulim and Velim, South Goa), also scored slightly above 23, 000 votes in the 39 seats it contested.
Uttarakhand Assembly elections: February
In an effort to shake off anti-incumbency, the BJP had changed its chief minister in Uttarakhand twice in 2021. Its strategy worked. The party, which won 47 out of the total 70 seats, scored a second consecutive victory in the hill state, in a deviation from the norm of the ruling party getting voted out. Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami, however, lost from the Khatima assembly constituency.
The pollsters had predicted a close race between the ruling party and the Congress, but the latter bagged only 19 seats. Congress bigwig Harish Rawat lost the polls. AAP had also thrown in its hat in the fray, having fielded candidates from all 70 seats. It promised a number of freebies, with Kejriwal making several visits to the hill state in an effort to emerge as the third alternative, but did not even get to open its account. Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) won two seats and Independents won two seats, too.
Manipur Assembly elections: February-March
The BJP retained power in Manipur by becoming the second party after the Congress to get a majority in the state’s 60-member Assembly, with 613 candidates contesting across the state. While the BJP won 32 seats, one more than a simple majority; Congress, which had bagged 42 seats in 2012 and was the single-largest party with 27 seats in 2017, was left with just five seats — two less than the National People’s Party (NPP) headed by Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad K. Sangma.
Incumbent CM Biren Singh won from Heingang seat, defeating his rival congress candidate by 18,271 votes. NPP, part of the incumbent government, bagged seven seats and Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) won six seats. The Naga People’s Front and the Kuki People’s Alliance won five and two seats respectively. The repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), the issue of unemployment, and political instability over the last five years dominated the elections.
Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections: November
Even though incumbent Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur recorded his 6th straight win on home turf, his stronghold of Seraj in Mandi district, BJP lost Himachal Pradesh to Congress after the saffron party failed to garner requisite 35 seats to form a government in the 68-member legislative assembly. While Congress bagged 40 seats, AAP managed to win only five.
Confident after its victory in UP and Uttarakhand, the BJP was aiming to retain power in the hill state, and break the tradition of alternative governments since 1982. But the Congress came to power by bagging just 37,974 votes more than the BJP. On December 11, Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu took oath as the CM. The Congress relied on its ‘10 guarantees’ on its poll manifesto, which included the revival of the Old Pension Scheme, the state’s women receiving a monthly compensation of Rs 1,500, free electricity up to 300 units, free medical treatment in every village through mobile clinics and employment opportunities for 5 lakh youth, among others. The BJP had won 44 of the 68 seats during the 2017 elections while the Congress had managed to bag only 21.
Gujarat Assembly elections: December 2022
On December 8, the BJP scored a landslide win in Gujarat, forming the government for the seventh consecutive term. The margin of victory in the state of more than 60 million is seen as a boost for Modi and the BJP. Out of 182 total seats where the elections were held earlier this month, the BJP took 156 seats, marking the party’s best-ever performance in the state, which has been a longtime BJP stronghold.
While Congress won 17 seats, AAP finished at the number three position with five seats. With a vote share of 12.92 percent, however, the AAP made an entry as a formidable third front in the state. Its performance also makes it eligible for the status of a national party; it needed a vote share of six percent and two seats to be recognised by the EC as a national party. The election, days after the Morbi bridge collapse tragedy, was closely followed as a test of Modi’s popularity ahead of 2024, when he will be seeking a third term.