Uday Singh is fatigued. It is 3.30 in the afternoon, and the two-term BJP MP from Purnea cannot keep his eyes open. These days he sleeps for less than three hours a day. Only the previous day he addressed over three dozen corner meetings.
Singh cannot afford to sleep in peace till April 24, when Purnea goes to polls.
Facing a tough challenge from JD(U)’s Santosh Kushwaha, who defected from the BJP, Singh is relying on the Narendra Modi brand as well as the PM candidate’s origins. “In this heavily backward-dominated constituency, Modiji’s origins have helped me counter the JD(U).” But Singh also has a solid organisational apparatus.
His key election strategist, Binodanand Sinha, tells HT they have close to 50,000 workers across the 1,400 polling booths in the state. Each booth-in-charge has grihapalikas reporting to him, and each grihapalika is in charge of 10-20 families. “We have a booth-wise break up of over 20 castes. Every little shift in voter loyalties is recorded and reported.”
Modi has a vast apparatus in Ahmedabad. His call centre workers are in direct touch with booth-level workers, and provide independent inputs to the candidate’s office every night. Modi is personally invested in Purnea, where he held one of his early Bihar rallies, because Singh was among the first BJP leaders to take on CM Nitish Kumar, Modi’s bête noire.
Singh has his own parallel machinery, keeping track of booth-level dynamics. During the conversation, Singh and Sinha discuss the exact status of Muslim votes as per their data. A split in minority votes between the JD(U) and Congress will help Singh, who got about 9% Muslim votes last time.
But they know being well-informed is one element. What is needed is boots on the ground. In this, Singh is aided by ancillary organisations. RSS pracharaks are out in full force. Baba Ramdev has sent 400 volunteers, who urge people to vote for the BJP while giving yoga lessons. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has sent people too.
This is much-needed support, for Singh — a businessman, and younger brother of the retired bureaucrat and now BJP member, NK Singh — faces strong anti-incumbency.
Critics allege Singh is an ‘absent MP’. He responds, “Out of 365 days, parliamentary work takes up 150 days. About 50-60 days go in making plans for the constituency and pushing schemes. I tour the constituency for 60 days a year. And I keep 50-60 days for my business and family.”
Singh argues an MP cannot get involved in local politics. But during elections, politics is local and micro.
The BJP war-room in Purnea represents all that this election is about — countering local anti-incumbency with a national Modi brand; the party’s clear organisational superiority over rivals, use of technology; and candidates remaining wedded to politics of identity, keeping a close tab on caste and religious arithmetic, despite the rhetoric of development.