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The new BJP: How Amit Shah is putting party’s expansion drive in top gear

The BJP president is at the forefront of a campaign that aims to increase the party’s national footprint.

india Updated: Oct 23, 2017 12:00 IST
Kumar Uttam
BJP president Amit Shah leads Janaraksha Yatra in Kerala.  In his speeches int he southern state, Shah has vowed to oust the Left from its bastion.
BJP president Amit Shah leads Janaraksha Yatra in Kerala. In his speeches int he southern state, Shah has vowed to oust the Left from its bastion. (Vivek Nair/ HT Photo)

It was a drizzling June morning, when Amit Shah arrived at the Dalit-dominated locality of Chengalchoola in Kerala’s capital Thiruvananthapuram. The Left’s domination of the locality was evident from the flags, posters and graffiti on walls.

But Shah was unfazed in his speech: “Communists are wiped out from the world and the Congress from Delhi. We are here to stay….” True to his words, Shah has stayed focused on the Left bastion. He visited Kerala twice this month. “People ask me what more the BJP wants…. We are not just election winning machine. We are working towards making this country a jagat guru (world leader),” Shah said at one of his June meetings.

The BJP’s Kerala push encapsulates its efforts to expand. Numbers tell the story. The BJP and its allies rule 18 of 29 states, covering 68% (or 2.2 million square km) of the country’s geographical area and 67% (810 million) of her population—that is more than double the US population. It has 1,410 out of 4,120 MLAs in the country. It boasts of 110 million members, almost as much as Japan’s population. It formed government in nine out of 13 states that voted after 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

As it is, everything seems to be working for the party, especially the undiminished popularity of PM Narendra Modi, a continuing downslide of the Opposition and the BJP’s new social engineering formula centred around numerically superior but non-dominant OBCs.

A nationwide tour

At the national executive meeting of the BJP in Bhubaneswar last April, Shah announced a 95-day countrywide tour. It started from Jammu on April 29. A separate 15-day programme—Deendayal Upadhyay Vistarak Yojana— focused on booth level meetings in West Bengal, Lakshadweep, Telangana, Odisha and Gujarat.

Put together, the 110-day tour —travelling about one lakh km by road, rail and air— covers almost every state and Union Territory. Shah has covered 16 states so far. “We are aiming for geographical expanse of the BJP and a greater acceptability of party’s ideology,” Shah said.

But there is a method to the madness.

“In every meeting, he asks party leaders to strengthen the booth level structure,” says BJP’s information technology cell head Amit Malaviya.

A booth comprises 700-1,000 voters and booth committee members are instrumental to disseminate party’s messages, opinions and political propaganda at the grassroots level. In Uttar Pradesh, BJP formed committees in 1.28 lakh of the 1.47 lakh polling booths. It BJP won a landslide in the bellwether state.

The BJP by numbers
  • The BJP and its allies rule 18 of 29 states, covering 68% of India’s area and 67% of her population.
  • As many as 1,410 of the 4,120 MLAs in the country belong to the BJP. The party has 110 million members.
  • The party formed government in nine out of 13 states that voted after 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
  • BJP president Amit Shah Put is on a 110-day tour of the country. Travelling by road, rail and air, he has covered 16 states so far

When he is in Delhi, Shah’s focus is on synchronising the work of the party and the government. For instance, the government’s recent decision on sub-categorisation of OBCs could boost the party’s outreach towards to the socially weaker sections. When the PM recently revamped his team, it was left to Shah and general secretary Ram Lal to deal with “non-performers”. Shah has replicated a highly successful Gujarat model in Delhi—that is, a complete synergy among the organisation, the government and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the party’s ideological mentor.

Mission 350

The BJP’s as-yet undeclared mission for the 2019 general elections is winning 350 seats on its own, more than its 2014 figure. But much of its success—or failure – depends on three factors.

First, the ‘Modi wave’ should sustain till 2019. BJP is confident of it, especially in the absence of a challenger. Second, its social engineering should click. Starting with Modi’s projection as ‘son of a backward’, in 2014, the BJP’s influence has grown among the OBCs. To try and create a coalition of non-dominant castes, the BJP appointed a non-Jat as Haryana chief minister, a non-Maratha as Maharashtra CM and a non-tribal as Jharkhand CM. There is a an image makeover attempt—from a “Brahmin-Baniya” party to an all-inclusive one.

Third, party leaders hope the BJP’s forays into hitherto uncharted territories in the south and north-east of the country should produce results.

“The main reason for the continued dominance of the BJP in national politics is the absence of a viable alternative. There is hardly any leader who is in a position to match the credibility of Narendra Modi,” says Sanjay Kumar, director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, a Delhi-based think tank.

“Modi is a very big asset for the BJP at this moment, his image of a no-nonsense politician who cares for the national interest has hogged the mind of Indian voters,” he adds.

Saffron surge in full swing post-2014 Lok Sabha polls
BJP witnessed a resurrection across country after it stormed to power at Centre. At present, party has formed or is part of govt in 18 states

Uncharted territories

The party’s goal for 2019 rests on the belief that it will retain most of the 282 Lok Sabha seats and gain more. For instance, the BJP and its allies won only 10 of 25 LS seats in NE states in 2014. BJP-led North East Democratic Alliance has been floated, bringing eight political outfits under one umbrella.

“We are working towards a Congress-mukt northeast,” says Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, also the NEDA chairman. In 2014, the BJP drew a blank in Kerala (out of 20), won one each in Odisha (21) and Tamil Nadu (39) and two in West Bengal (42). Except Tamil Nadu, where it might have to ride piggyback on the AIADMK or one of its factions, the BJP is making its presence felt in all other states.

In a meeting with senior leaders last month, Shah gave each of them the charge of five Lok Sabha seats—totaling 120 seats that the BJP has never won.

“Not that we are not looking at 2019 or 2024 but our idea is to stay in power perpetually and not just for one or two terms,” a BJP functionary told HT.