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Thursday, Sep 19, 2019

Gujarat elections: Amit Shah’s strategy for BJP focuses on poll day mobilisation

As Rahul Gandhi continues with his public rallies, Amit Shah is busy addressing party gatherings with one objective — poll day logistics and mobilisation.

assembly-elections Updated: Nov 14, 2017 13:24 IST
Prashant Jha
Prashant Jha
Hindustan Times, Surat
BJP national president Amit Shah meeting the residents of Naranpura during his door-to-door campaign for Assembly polls, in Ahmedabad, Gujarat on October 7.
BJP national president Amit Shah meeting the residents of Naranpura during his door-to-door campaign for Assembly polls, in Ahmedabad, Gujarat on October 7.(PTI Photo)

“I don’t need to tell you what to do. We have been doing this in Gujarat. Gujarat has, in fact, taught the rest of the country. We have to do it again.”

When BJP chief Amit Shah met party workers from Surat district last week, he listened to their feedback; he asked them to faithfully implement the programmes set out by the party -- particularly jan sampark, mass contact; he reiterated the importance of party sangathan, structure, at all units in mobilising voters on polling day; and he offered only one new instruction:

“I want all of you - Shakti Kendra in charge, booth committee members, page presidents, active members - and your families to vote before 10.30am on polling day. Finish your own duty by then. And then you spend the rest of the day in mobilising others.”

As Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi continues with his public rallies in Gujarat, Shah’s public appearances have been few and far between. Instead, he has been busy addressing internal party gatherings with only objective in mind -- poll day logistics and mobilisation.

On Sunday, he met the chiefs of ‘Shakti Kendras’-- an organisational unit comprising a few booths -- in Gandhinagar, Ahmedabad, Mehsana, Patan and Banaskantha. Late last week, he met workers from Vadodara and Chota Udaipur of central Gujarat. And before that, he managed a quick trip to Jamnagar. On Thursday, he was with workers of Surat and Tapi district in south Gujarat.

But what are these workers on the ground expected to do? HT met the heads of Shakti Kendras, booth committees, and electoral roll (panna) presidents in Surat’s Majaura constituency to understand the mechanics of Shah’s work from the ground up.

Machine on the ground

At Parle Point, Gujarat’s youngest MLA in the last assembly, the 32-year-old Harsh Sanghavi, has set up his campaign office-cum-call centre on the ground floor of a high-rise apartment. The constituency has a substantial Jain and Marwari population and Patidar voters -- the party’s disgruntled core base. But to offset any anti incumbency, a robust organisation is at work.

A group of men sit around in a large room. Majura has 243,000 voters; 243 booths; and 67 Shakti Kendras. The party also has 5,834 page presidents in this single constituency.

Mukhesh Pujara, a ward president, explains their role. “A panna pramukh usually has 47 or 48 people on his roll. We ask a party sympathiser to take over the role, and we tell them that they basically have to get these voters out on polling day. The pramukh is from the same area and knows most people or is meant to establish contact earlier. He is usually not an active worker - since party workers would be doing this anyway.” While they had a system like this in earlier elections too, this time around, the page presidents have been appointed in advance, and they are in regular contact.

These pramukhs would be in touch with their booth committees. Depending on the size of the booth, the party has a 13, 18, or 25 member committee for each of the 243 booths - with a minimum of three, four or five women representatives respectively. The committee is also supposed to have SC/ST/OBC representatives. “These committees are not born just for elections. They are in operation. The booth committee organises festivals, celebrates party’s anniversaries, birthdays of our leaders, and each active member of the booth has enrolled 25 other active members. So this is a vibrant unit.”

And these booth committees then constitute a Shakti Kendra. These units coordinate across a larger area, report to the campaign office, and play a monitoring role. They also have social media in charge of each Shakti Kendra. “We have WhatsApp groups at each level, and for different social groups,” says Himanshu Raulji, a Shakti Kendra in-charge.

Besides this existing structure, party workers called Vistaraks have already visited each booth twice- they are from another area. Pujara says, “I went to another ward in May-June to understand their sentiments, assess the situation and then I went back in October and gave my report accordingly.”

What was the difference? He candidly admits, “Earlier, GST was not an issue. In October, some voters told us that ‘we are for the party but have problems with the process’. We conveyed this feedback and as rules have got simplified, the mood has become more positive.” Another party worker adds that the difference in this campaign is the focus on mass contact. “There is a false narrative to create negative sentiment. The only way to counter is it through consistent contact. That is what Amit bhai has told us.”

A call centre at work

Next to the meeting hall, a group of young men and women have mobiles connected to the charging station, pages with names on their desk, and voices can be heard as each of them speak on the phone.

Paresh, one of the volunteers, says, “I call up a number, ask whether I am speaking to the voter listed out on my page. I then introduce myself as a BJP worker, ask if they have their voter IDs and Aadhaar. I then ask them to support BJP in the elections.” By the end of the campaign, each voter of Majura would have received close to five calls from the centre. Another volunteer adds, “Sometimes, they complain. One voter said he was very harassed because of GST. I convey that to leaders.” And in case of voters who have turned antagonistic or have concerns, more senior leaders or the MLA candidate himself would then speak to them directly.

The party has collected this rich data of numbers -- through the primary membership drive initiated by Amit Shah soon after he became president; through an independent agency commissioned by Sanghavi to get numbers of members of each household; online data crunching; and by carefully collecting the numbers of all those whose work was mediated by the MLA and the party in the preceding five years.

Raulji, the Shakti Kendra in-charge, believes this sangathan gives the BJP an edge during elections. “Before every election, we hear it is neck and neck because Congress wakes up only four months before the contest. The outcome is the same each time because they go back to sleep for four and a half years after that. Our work will continue after December 18 too.”

Amit Shah is oiling this machine, as Gujarat’s BJP waits for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to return to the state to begin his final offensive ahead of the December elections.

First Published: Nov 14, 2017 11:19 IST