One way to deal with a problem is to sweep it under the carpet.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) did exactly the same during its national executive meeting in Allahabad, refusing to get drawn into any debate over its chief ministerial face and keeping the focus largely on building a narrative for the next year’s assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh.
The party, top leaders told Hindustan Times, will wait for at least three more months to take a call. This will be followed by several rounds of in-house assessments and consultation with its ideological fountainhead, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
Till then the saffron party will fall back on the troika of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union home minister Rajnath Singh and party chief Amit Shah to lift the campaign through public rallies and keep the BJP pot boiling.
Discussion on the sidelines of just concluded national executive meeting was largely focused on building connect with workers and voters. Each party MP has been told that winning assembly seats in their parliamentary constituency is their duty.
Party leadership reiterated the need for a synergy between MPs and booth committees that is responsible for getting voters out of their home on the poll day and exercise franchise in the BJP’s favour. It will assess at frequent intervals, through different ways, the ground situation and party’s position vis-à-vis its nearest rival.
These organisational activities in UP will be supplemented with rallies of Modi, Rajnath and Shah. Together they are expected to address about 100 rallies until the polls scheduled to be held in January.
And Modi will address the crowd at least once every month.
“All these should give us a better understanding of our strength and weaknesses by August and September. Our campaign will pick momentum after monsoon and by the time we will be in a position to take a call on whether or not to project a face,” a BJP functionary told HT.
Senior Union ministers – Arun Jaitley, Nitin Gadkari and Ravi Shankar Prasad – told reporters over last three days that no decision has been taken on the party’s CM face in Uttar Pradesh.
Taking a call is not easy and the indecision is hurting the BJP’s prospects.
The strategy, for now, is to keep Rajnath – BJP’s last chief minister in Uttar Pradesh – at the forefront.
There are two reasons behind it. First, he is first among equals in Uttar Pradesh and the number two in the Union government. Rajnath at the forefront minimises the scope of discontent among second rung leaders who aspire for the chief ministerial job. He is one of the few BJP leaders with following in every part of the country’s most populous state.
Second, he remains the first choice of the party as the chief ministerial face. Feelers have been sent to him about it, but he remains reluctant to move out of North Block to take up a job he handled more than a decade ago. The benefit of keeping him at the forefront is that if he changes his mind at the RSS’ request, the investment on him won’t be dead.
BJP strategists have another worry. What if Rajnath does not take up the job? Will it be too late by August-September to find a replacement for him? Is exposing PM Modi beyond a point, like it did in Bihar, a right strategy?
The party’s options are limited.
Sultanpur MP Varun Gandhi, whom internal surveys have shown as the first choice for the CM’s post, is not in the best of terms with party’s leadership. His left of the centre politics is not in sync with the BJP’s plan of action either.
Union human resource minister Smriti Irani is an outsider and Gorakhpur MP Yogi Adityanath is too polarising a figure to be asked to lead the party.
Others claim Union minister Mahesh Sharma, Lucknow mayor Dinesh Sharma, BJP state president Keshav Prasad Maurya and others do not stand even a chance in front of stalwarts like Mulayam Singh Yadav, Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati.
“The Congress, too, seems to be readying to project a face. That will further bring under pressure to declare ours. We may have little time in hand,” a party MP from Uttar Pradesh admitted.
The BJP campaign strategy will largely depend on the choice of its face.
In Allahabad, it presented a mix of development and Hindutva. The PM skirted controversial issues in his speech both in the house and the public rally – while Amit Shah went the whole hog to warn people about entire UP becoming Kairana if the SP government was not booted out.
This is largely going to remain the party’s line for some time. And it will be a while before one gets to know whether development or Hindutva will take precedence over the other issues.