New Delhi: As the New Year begins on a highly unpredictable note with Donald Trump’s imminent leadership of America, the world will cast its eyes on another democracy, the largest in history, namely India, and its Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, who faces a considerable electoral test in Uttar Pradesh, the country’s key heartland state. If Narendra Modi’s party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, wins the election, it will bring some sort of stability to global politics, because the Prime Minister would be strengthened in his campaign to secure the country a preeminent place among the Great Powers. A wise and strong leader begets a wise and strong foreign policy. If Modi loses Uttar Pradesh, however, India’s rise would suffer a setback. Narendra Modi would become less of a risk-taker, and it would make his foreign policy staid, cautious and reactionary.

So how does it look for Narendra Modi in Uttar Pradesh?

One opinion poll published by a prominent news magazine has put the BJP in the winner’s spot in Uttar Pradesh. This writer would not rush to either accept or reject it. Voters in India like voters all over the world have taken to heavily concealing their voting preferences. The British did not know that Brexit was in store though all the gut instinct pointed in that direction. The opinion polls in the United States all gave the presidential election to Hillary Clinton which was when this writer decided in his mind that Trump would emerge victorious as he did. This is not to suggest the opinion poll published on Uttar Pradesh is wrong or likely to be proved incorrect. It may be right. It may equally be erroneous. The point is that answers to polling may no longer be glibly contained in opinion polls. Voters now require greater benign interrogation to reach the truth, and since this has to be done on a mass scale to get a full measure of the trend, the task becomes unmanageable.

The other way to read the political wind direction is to gauge the mood, reaction and understanding of the opposition. Once upon a time, Indian political leaders were geniuses in determining the voters’ pulse. That was the era when they spent less time in Lutyens’ Delhi than in their home regions and constituencies nursing their voters. The best of them did not think of them as voters but part of themselves. They didn’t need opinion polls to tell if they and their parties were winning or losing. They took both denouements in calm stride. But it is important to know that they knew.

That tribe of intimately knowledgeable political leaders are fewer in numbers but not entirely vanished. You can pick them out even in the present circus that passes for national politics. In the choice of alignments they have made, both because they didn’t have a choice and because they did, you can tell something of the future. A most interesting choice has been made by Nitish Kumar who has supported Modi’s “note ban” through thick and thin and even when its execution was deeply flawed. The opposition to the note ban has come from predictable quarters, the deeply corrupt Congress and the thoroughly compromised Trinamool Congress, but it is more than personal honesty and integrity that makes Nitish support Modi.

Nitish believes that Modi personifies the future direction of Indian politics. In this, a qualification is necessary. This is this writer’s analysis as an outsider. He does not have the benefit of any privileged briefing from Nitish’s side. But despite holding this belief about Modi, it does not follow that Nitish will join hands with Modi and the BJP and meekly transfer to the Centre. There is no place in the Centre that will be acceptable to him anyhow. Nitish Kumar ranks in seniority to be Prime Minister. Obviously, there is no vacancy for that at the moment. He will prefer remaining in Bihar and consolidating. If he can make it big in Bihar on his own without needing the crutches of Laloo Yadav’s RJD, he cannot be happier. In that situation, he can lay claim to the post of Prime Minister with the backing of the opposition, and not otherwise. Even that situation seems impossibly far at the moment, but it will never come unless Nitish Kumar leads Bihar on his own strength. It is this writer’s analysis, therefore, that he will not seek the BJP’s support in the event of the coalition arrangement with the RJD collapsing before its time. He wants to go alone, and in going alone, he sees Modi’s brave and daring politics as the future to embrace.

Politicians don’t craft policies to lose. Narendra Modi has not taken the huge risk with demonetization to lose. He has taken a calculated risk. It is his implicit belief that people want public life cleansed. In this belief, Modi is not wrong. The fact that India has not seen riots or sustained violence in the first two hard months of demonetization shows that people have believed in Modi’s good intentions. It is from this that Nitish Kumar’s support to Modi flows. Nitish has picked Modi as a winner. Nitish has changed as a politician. He once liked to flaunt his technocracy. No longer. He has returned to the grassroots in his present term like never earlier. From the grassroots, in his own words, he finds support for Narendra Modi. If this is the situation in Bihar, a state as politically conscious as you can imagine, the circumstances cannot be vastly different in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh. This support is for the person of Modi, mind you, from the grassroots. The BJP does not enter the calculation. In this differentiation, leaders like Nitish Kumar see a scope and chance for themselves. Which is why he has been the earliest and most ardent and robust supporter of demonetization; and his zest and admiration for Modi’s clean and developmental politics have only grown in the weeks since.

If Nitish Kumar’s political instincts are to be trusted, Narendra Modi will be a winner in the rest of his term, and Uttar Pradesh will very likely fall in the BJP’s kitty following the assembly election there. Would Modi have been shaky without Nitish’s support? A little perhaps, but he has shown more than once that he is capable of going alone. Rather, it is the opposition which has been demoralized by the Modi-Nitish bonhomie. Tainted with charges of corruption and black money, the opposition would have gained legitimacy in the campaign against Modi with Nitish on its side. Now it is painted twice over as venal and corrupt, the enemy of the people.

If the world has apprehensions about India and its power status in light of the approaching Uttar Pradesh election in the backdrop of demonetization, it can rest easy. The Prime Minister’s transparent good intentions with demonetization has limited the damage of its flawed implementation, and voters in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere will carry hopes of better times to the polling stations. In the remaining part of the Prime Minister’s term, those hopes have to be met. Year 2019 presents a big challenge to Modi and India. The current lot of elections will likely cohere with the BJP’s internal calculations.