Buoyed by electoral victories in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has begun preparing for the Lok Sabha battle next year. Following the recent reverses of the Congress, BJP leaders are increasingly speaking in confident tones, telling the world that they intend to rule India again.
The first major step the party has taken in this direction is to project the veteran L.K. Advani as its prime ministerial candidate, ending the era of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the one man credited with making a once marginal outfit the first choice of millions across the country.
On Friday, BJP leaders Arun Jaitley and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi flagged off a 'rath' - a retrofitted caravan - to be used by Advani and party president Rajnath Singh at a rally scheduled for Feb 10 in Rampur in Uttar Pradesh.
The reason behind choosing Rampur is obvious: terrorists attacked the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) camp there Jan 1, killing seven security personnel and a civilian. And the other places in Uttar Pradesh picked for BJP meetings are significant too: Lucknow, Varanasi and Gorakhpur too have suffered terror attacks.
The mood at the BJP's two-day National Council meeting here Jan 28-29 was one of confidence. The party discussed the elections and the distribution of ticket. The BJP has already decided its themes for the next polls: good governance, security and development.
Although Hindutva related issues will play a key role in the campaign to return to power, the BJP realises that it needs to take along with it political parties that are not comfortable with a Hindu nationalist agenda.
Political analyst Mahesh Rangarajan told IANS that Advani was already walking a tight rope. "In Advani's speeches there is absence of old issues. Instead he is talking about innovative development, good governance, security and neglect of farmers," Rangarajan said. "The way he has sequenced this is important."
Party sources say that the services of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who crushed the Congress in the December assembly elections, will be used to sweep rightwing votes.
The BJP is hopeful of coming to power in Karnataka, where elections are not far off. If the BJP does win there, it will be the first southern state the party will get to rule.
However, it is not going to be cakewalk for the BJP nationally.
Analyst Rangarajan pointed out that the BJP desperately needs allies to forge a winning coalition. Nine of its partners have deserted the party since 2004 when the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) stunningly lost power.
"They (BJP) need more parties to join them," he said.
As of now, the NDA has only the Janata Dal-United, Biju Janata Dal (BJD), Shiv Sena and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). Some former NDA allies are exploring the option of forming a Left-allied Third Front.
"It is also important for the party to win in Uttar Pradesh. Whenever they have won seats there, they have formed the government. So the state is important for them," Rangarajan said.
The BJP won only nine seats in Uttar Pradesh in 2004, a sharp fall from the 32 they bagged in 1999.
Some party leaders admit, although they don't speak about this publicly, that Advani is not as popular as Vajpayee, while party president Rajnath Singh lacks stature and continues to be seen more as a Uttar Pradesh leader.
As for Modi, some feel that his charisma may not work beyond Gujarat.
In order to mop up maximum support, the BJP has announced it would reserve a third of all posts in the organisation for women. BJP general secretary Sushma Swaraj is expected to play a key role in the coming elections.
As of now, BJP leaders are confident that they can unseat the Congress in any Lok Sabha battle.