The BJP is gearing up to take the Uttar Pradesh election war to the Congress.
After Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s August 3 road show drew huge crowds in Varanasi, Narendra Modi’s Lok Sabha constituency, the BJP is planning a similar event by the Prime Minister in the Nehru-Gandhi bastion of Amethi in October.
“We need to be seen in the fight. Modi’s event there will lift cadre’s morale,” a BJP leader said on condition of anonymity. The party is looking at a road show or a public meeting.
Sonia’s son and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi is the Lok Sabha member from Amethi, a seat that has remained in the Gandhi family for decades.
Uttar Pradesh is due for elections in early 2017 and the BJP is keen to do well in the state where regional parties dominate state polls.
India’s most populous state was central to the BJP’s sweep of the 2014 elections where it won 71 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats. But, the state election is a different ball game, fought on local issues with caste equations playing a huge role.
Textiles minister Smriti Irani, then a rising star of the BJP, gave Rahul a tough fight in Amethi. Modi, too, had addressed a rally in the central UP constituency, seeking support for Irani.
Though Irani occasionally visits Amethi, the BJP has stayed away from the constituency. But, the Congress’ less than impressive showing in the Lok Sabha elections has the BJP believing that a few seats can be won in Amethi and neighbouring Rae Bareli, Sonia’s parliamentary constituency.
Amethi and Rae Bareli have five assembly seats each in the 404-member Uttar Pradesh assembly.
In the absence of a chief ministerial candidate, Modi remains the BJP’s face in Uttar Pradesh, where the party is trying to expand its reach beyond its traditional support base of upper castes and some other backward classes.
The BJP is also looking at a Modi rally in Bundelkhand to launch Prime Minister Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (Prime Minister’s Farm Irrigation Scheme).
There are around 20 assembly seats in the region that was battling drought for years but now faces flood threat to some parts. Bundelkhand is considered a stronghold of the Bahujan Samaj Party, which is looking to dislodge the ruling Samajwadi Party and make a comeback.
Later in the year, Modi will also give the Skill India campaign, which aims to enable millions of young Indians to earn a livelihood, a fresh push from the industrial town of Kanpur.
The Prime Minister has been in the state almost every month this year. He has addressed rallies, launched schemes and even chose Saharanpur in the north to mark his two years in office in May with a well-attended public meeting during which he famously declared himself to be a UP-wallah.
Amethi and Rai Bareli will test the UP-wallah.