Bharatiya Janata Party and its ally Akali Dal are in power for over nine years in Punjab, facing the high-stake assembly polls due in 2017. Being a minor coalition partner, the saffron party will contest 23 of the 117 seats. The party may be contesting only on one-fifth of the seats, but what voters drop in its bag is of huge importance in perception building, especially when Prime Minister of the country belongs to the saffron party. Party’s outdoor activities may look slow, but its core team is at work to better its performance in Punjab.
Vijay Sampla, 55
Narendra Modi’s man, he belongs to a dominant and economically empowered community of Dalits in Doaba. He was appointed Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Punjab unit president in April 2016 as the party’s pro-Dalit face. He started his political career as a sarpanch to hold the office of party’s state president. A man of few words and light-hearted, Sampla saw meteoric rise in the saffron party — from a plumber to a place in the Union cabinet as a minister of state. He is a hands-on organiser, self effacing and connects well with grassroots workers. On him depends the BJP’s calculation to swing the 32% Dalit votes in party’s favour.
Avinash Rai Khanna, 54
Waiting to take over as a member of the National Human Rights Commission, Avinash Rai Khanna is active in party affairs despite having resigned from all organisational posts. A shrewd grassroots politician, he enjoy wide acceptance in the faction-rid state unit. Khanna, who catalysed Sampla’s rise in the party, is still his mentor and helps him in trouble-shooting in crisis. Sampla consults him as a tangible support in organisational matters.
Dinesh Kumar, 51
A ‘pracharak’ of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), he is a general secretary in the state BJP unit. He works from behind the scenes. A keen observer, he gives his inputs to the party in tandem with the RSS ideology, which is taken seriously by the decision-makers. Hailing from Uttar Pradesh, Kumar is a law graduate. He will play a key role in the allotment of tickets for the assembly elections due in February 2017.
Harjit Grewal, 62
One of the Sikh faces of the saffron party, he is a vice-president in state unit and part of president Vijay Sampla’s core team. An RSS man, Grewal is mainly consulted by the party on agrarian and Sikh issues. He is party’s key player in Punjab’s Malwa belt and has been active among the Sikh population. With the ouster of Rajya Sabha MP Navjot Singh Sidhu, his statute as the Sikh face has gone up.
Vineet Joshi, 45
He is considered Sampla’s drum-beater and media handler. For execution of every small and big issue, Sampla depends on Joshi. A secretary in the state unit, Vineet depends largely on the media to stick his neck out among the party colleagues. A key player in party’s internal communication system, Joshi, for being a closest ear in the party’s decision-making process, is cause of envy for the peers. He also oversees party’s poll publicity and youth wing functioning.
Amit Taneja, 38
He knows party’s functioning inside out. This man from Doaba is rising fast in the party rank and file, and is quick in bringing out desired results in party affairs at the ground level. He heads the social media wing of the party and has a nose for news. He is the one who takes the call on what should be fed to the media. Under him functions a battery of 23 in-charges of assembly segments from where BJP candidates will contest in the assembly polls.
Manoranjan Kalia, 57
A law graduate, he functioned as party’s mouthpiece in the Vidhan Sabha. A member of core state committee, he knows state’s issues and is always ready with suggestion what party’s stand should be on them. A vocal leader, Kalia plays the role of the course corrector and doesn’t shy away from criticising leaders of his own party, if they deviate from party’s ethos and beliefs.