2017 a year of challenge, declares Shah as BJP sets sights on UP victory

  • Kumar Uttam and K Sandeep Kumar, Allahabad
  • Updated: Jun 13, 2016 01:37 IST
Prime Minister Narendra Modi listens to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah during the party's two-day national executive meeting in Allahabad. (AP)

BJP chief Amit Shah called 2017 as the party’s “year of challenge” on Sunday as he attacked the Samajwadi Party government over the recent Mathura violence and the alleged exodus of Hindu families from western Uttar Pradesh’s Kairana town.

Shah told BJP executive members that the “atmosphere of violence” in Uttar Pradesh – the most important of the five states that go to polls next year – was a “serious concern” and the lack of governance was equally baffling.

“The present Samajwadi government each day is expressing its helplessness in dealing with these situations,” Shah said in his inaugural speech at the two-day BJP national executive meeting.

His reference to Kairana – where over 250 Hindu families left after alleged extortion demands from Muslim gangs – indicated the BJP won’t stick to the development plank alone as it aims to return to power in India’s most populous state after over a decade. The BJP promptly rejected suggestions that it was planning to polarise voters on communal lines but said there were issues other than development.

“BJP’s focus is development. But incidents like Kairana and Mathura expose the lack of development, peace and deteriorating law and order situation in the state,” telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told reporters.

In Mathura, 29 people died after a police anti-encroachment drive in a city park triggered violence earlier this month. The BJP claimed the squatters were patronised by the SP.

Winning Uttar Pradesh is crucial for the BJP and Shah’s ambitious target of returning to power at the Centre in 2019 with a greater majority than it got in 2014. Shah did not speak about the “leadership” issue that puzzles the party in the state but asked workers to ensure that the party gets an absolute majority.

Speaking at the same event, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked party leaders to not take the Opposition lightly and accept changes -- a possible reference to speculated large-scale changes in the party brass and council of ministers.

Shah’s focus on communally divisive incidents such as Kairana and the state BJP’s zeal to keep them in public focus is in line with the party’s larger electoral strategy of consolidating the Hindu votes in Uttar Pradesh, where a polarisation of minority vote has always troubled it.

Muslims account for over 18% of the state and have largely remained faithful to the ruling Samajwadi Party. Its principal rival, the Bahujan Samaj Party, is trying to make inroads among community members with plans to field about 80 candidates from India’s largest minority community.

The BJP wants to counter any such shift of Muslims from the SP to the BSP by consolidating the Hindu communities like it did in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, when it won 71 of the state’s 80 seats.

Shah asked BJP workers to “toil hard, make preparations and bring a full majority government”, even as he suggested the party workers to take the message of Modi government’s welfare schemes to the masses with the help of social media and other initiatives.

Shah was full praise for the Modi government for economic growth and welfare measures. He drew a parallel between the present and past government, saying policy paralysis and scams were the hallmark of the previous government.

“Vikas Parva celebration that has seen senior ministers travelling to various parts of the country is the new standard of democratic accountability and a unique example of public contact,” Shah said.

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