The Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) first state convention since it came to power in Maharashtra – and completed one year at the Centre – kicked off on Saturday at Kolhapur in western Maharashtra, once a bastion of the Congress and NCP. It began on an expansionist note, with a rallying call from party president Amit Shah, who urged party workers not to leave a single seat, block or village in the state without a BJP flag.
Shah, who inaugurated the two-day convention, told party leaders – from state MPs to district-level presidents and workers – that they must adopt and own the seats the party won in the Lok Sabha polls to ensure that “only lotus gets elected everywhere”.
Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis went as far as to say that the party’s pre-poll split with the Shiv Sena has proved to a boon for the BJP, allowing it to achieve its full potential in Maharashtra. “If we had not taken this decision (of parting ways with the Sena Sena), we would have never known our true strength,” Fadnavis said.
The BJP emerged as the single largest party in last year’s assembly elections, winning over 120 seats and forming the government. The Shiv Sena was later included in the government, but only on the BJP’s terms, and remains unhappy with what it considers a raw deal.
The relationship between the two parties is likely to be strained further by the BJP’s call for expansion. When asked about the party's ambition to dominate in the state, Danve said, “We fought the polls separately and later came together to form a government. There is no deal between us to not spread our party base and grow. We have our ambitions and they may have theirs.”
The BJP is now preparing for elections to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and gram panchayats, in which it will take the Shiv Sena head-on.
In an indirect taunt to its ally, Shah said: ''Those who talk to us, or about us, should consider our stature before saying anything.”
Shah's statement follows consistent attacks from the Shiv Sena, and the opposition, on the NDA government’s performance over the past year. The party is wary of the fact that growing criticism – especially over its land acquisition bill and farmer suicides – in recent months could sully its reputation. At the convention, Shah and chief minister Fadnavis took this challenge head-on, recounting various achievements of the central and state governments, and emphasising the need for the party’s loyal foot-soldiers to convey this message to every voter.
The CM also dismissed rumours that his government would not see out its tenure, saying he was certain that it would complete five years and return for a second term.
Taking off from the convention, the party's top brass has organised a four-day ‘people's welfare programme’ from May 26 to May 31, in which central ministers will tour the state, state ministers will tour their districts, and district-level presidents will tour villages to spread word of the central and state governments’ achievements. A massive outreach programme is already underway to enroll more primary members.
Ahead of the BMC elections, which test the state BJP unit in the coming months, Shah also used the convention as an opportunity for a performance review of ministers. He was slated to meet state ministers late on Saturday night.
The party's decision to hold the convention in Kolhapur, once a stronghold of the Congress and NCP and currently dominated by the Shiv Sena, is in itself an indication of its ambitions. In the last assembly polls, Sena won six of the 10 seats there, while BJP won only two.