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HindustanTimes Sat,25 Oct 2014

Inside a BJP war room: A day in the life of a candidate

Prashant Jha, Hindustan Times  Purnea, April 18, 2014
First Published: 21:09 IST(18/4/2014) | Last Updated: 21:25 IST(18/4/2014)

Uday Singh is fatigued. It is 3.30 in the afternoon and the BJP two-term MP from the constituency cannot even keep his eyes open. He has had less than three hours of sleep and addressed over three dozen corner meetings the previous day.

But like other candidates on the campaign trail, Singh cannot afford to sleep in peace till the 24th, when Purnea goes to polls.

Facing a tough challenge from JD(U)'s Santosh Kushwaha, who defected from BJP, Singh is relying on the Narendra Modi wave as well as the PM candidate's origins. "In this heavily backward dominated constituency, Modiji's origins have helped me counter the JD(U)." But he also has a solid organisational apparatus, giving a glimpse into the real political advantage BJP has over its rivals.

His key election strategist, Binodanand Sinha, tells HT they have close to 50,000 workers across the almost 1400 polling booths in the state. Each booth-in-charge has grihapalikas reporting to him, and each grihapalika is in charge of ten to twenty families. "We have a booth-wise break up of over 20 castes. Every little shift in voter loyalty is recorded and reported back through multiple feedback mechanisms," he revealed.

Modi has a vast apparatus in Ahmedabad. His call centre workers are in direct touch with the booth-level workers and provide independent inputs to the candidate's office every night. Modi is personally invested in Purnea, where he held one of his early Bihar rallies, because Singh was among the first BJP leaders to take on Nitish Kumar, Modi's bête noire. Singh has his own parallel machinery, keeping track of booth-level dynamics.

During the conversation, Singh and Sinha discussed the exact status of Muslim votes that came in through these channels. A split in minority votes between JD(U) and Congress will help Singh, who got about 9% Muslim votes last time. If Muslims consolidate behind one party, he is in trouble.

But they know that being well-informed is one element. What is needed are boots on the ground, and in this, Singh is aided by ancillary organisations. The RSS pracharaks are out in full force. Baba Ramdev has sent 400 volunteers, who work independently, visit villages, give yoga lessons, and urge people to vote for BJP. The fact that Ramdev is a Yadav helps, for in this seat, in the absence of an RJD candidate, BJP hopes to make a dent among the Yadavs. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has sent people too, but this has more limited impact.

This is all much-needed support, for Singh -- a businessman and younger brother of the retired bureaucrat and now BJP member N K Singh -- faces strong anti-incumbency.

Critics allege that Singh is an 'absent MP', inaccessible to constituents. He responds, "Out of 365 days, parliamentary work takes up 150 days. About 50-60 days go in making plans for the constituency, pushing schemes. I religiously tour the constituency for 60 days a year. And I keep 50-60 days for my business, which allows me to practice independent politics, and family."

Contending that it is humanly impossible for any MP to meet all constituents -- Purnea has a voting population of more than 15 lakhs and 211 panchayats -- Singh argues that a Lok Sabha member cannot get involved in local, panchayat-level politics.

But politics is local and the micro during elections and Singh admits there is often "utter confusion".

"People queue up from the morning, hoping to extract something or the other from the candidate. Sifting through that is the real challenge."


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