In run-up to the 2007 assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi was invited to address a public meeting in Chittaranjan Park in the heart of Varanasi in support of BJP candidate Shyam Deo Roy Choudhury. Just a few hundred assembled to listen to him and the rally went largely unnoticed.
In December 2013 when Modi returned to Varanasi to address a mammoth rally as his party’s prime ministerial nominee, most saffron leaders were virtually in oblivion.
The hold of the aging triumvirate of Murli Manohar Joshi, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani had loosened considerably. So, while Joshi, the Varanasi MP, addressed the crowd before Modi arrived on the scene, Advani was conspicuously absent and Vajpayee was bed-ridden.
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Politics is indeed a great leveller. The arrival of Modi’s trusted lieutenant Amit Shah, as the BJP’s man in charge of the politically crucial state of UP may have resuscitated the party that had ended fourth in the 2009 elections.
But in the process it demolished the hopes of resurrecting the state leadership that was in the forefront before and after the Ram temple movement.
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Though Shah has not hired managers to organise rallies and strategic conversion of crowds into votes as Gadkari did, it has taken him seven successful rallies across the state to ensure that it’s Modi all the way. Shah, the manager, does the detailing, which goes to the extent of engaging local leaders in organising funds, ground and stage.
A prior discussion on the issues to be raised is also held with the speakers. His tight control can be gauged from the fact that in Lucknow he scolded the local team for suggesting a 56-acre ground, which according to his calculation could accommodate “only” 500,000 people.
“We need a bigger ground to beat Mayawati’s rally,” he is understood to have told the team.
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Strangely, the last seven state unit presidents since 1999 when the BJP’s decline began are almost invisible today.
The faces with which the party once identified itself – Kalyan Singh, who recently returned to the party to augment the OBC vote bank, Kesri Nath Tripathi, the assembly speaker who faced blows to save Kalyan Singh from being voted out in the state assembly in the 1990’s, Vinay Katiyar who spearheaded the temple movement as the Bajrang Dal chief and Kalraj Mishra, the upper caste face of the party -- are busy managing Lok Sabha tickets for themselves or their kin. Shah knows they aren’t crowd-pullers.
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Some others have been given the task of preparing district-level manifestoes, which the BJP proposes to introduce in this election, or strengthening the booths — two programmes that are high on Shah’s agenda.
Party spokesperson Vijay Bahadur Pathak said, “Most of our senior leaders are present on the dais and address rallies but the media’s focus remains on Modi.” The fact is that all senior state-level leaders speak before Modi’s arrival. Only national party president Rajnath Singh addresses the crowds along with Modi.
Even VHP leaders Pravin Togadia, Ashok Singhal, Sadhvi Rithambara, Swamy Chinmayanand and Nritya Gopal Das remain in the shadows.
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