Meet Sunil Bansal, the ‘invisible’ man behind BJP’s UP poll battle
He operates out of a room on the first floor of the BJP office in Lucknow.
It is a spacious accommodation, complete with an iPad lying on the bed, a TV screen flashing live images of a rally being held by party president Amit Shah, a map outlining the next phase of the Uttar Pradesh elections, and pamphlets scattered across the place.
Phone calls are made constantly as he instructs senior leaders, including MPs, to focus on the assembly segments of their constituencies. Holding a sheet of paper in his hand, he gives specific instructions. “I don’t want you to be in sabhas. I want you to help the candidate fight the election. We are lagging by 2% in this seat. Focus on that.”
Now, before we identify the man in this room, let’s look at how Amit Shah became Amit Shah. The answer is – by successfully managing the Uttar Pradesh elections in 2014.
Three years later, even as both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Shah strive to ensure a BJP victory in the state, there is another man who is silently doing the invisible organisational work that Shah was entrusted with three years ago. He is Sunil Bansal.
Bansal was an activist of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) – the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s student outfit – in Rajasthan before rising up to become its national joint organising secretary. It was then that Shah picked him up to work on the 2014 elections in Uttar Pradesh.
Bansal shifted to Lucknow and became Shah’s right-hand man. He learnt the importance of data compilation for electoral purposes, and slowly picked up the caste intricacies of each district in the state. He learnt from Shah the importance of organisational activities that would keep the party cadre busy and perennially connected with the people.
After the 2014 win, Shah rose up to become party president. However, keeping an eye on the 2017 elections, he left Bansal back in Lucknow as the state-level general secretary of the organisation. This position is crucial in the BJP sangathan. The fact that Bansal was an outsider, and thus not steeped in the messy caste and faction-ridden landscape of the state unit, was seen as an advantage.
Planning for ‘17
BJP made two major decisions on the party’s broad strategy and organisation in the run-up to the state elections. The strategy was to focus on the upper castes, non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits, who comprise 55-60% of its population.
Bansal had to implement this on the ground, and change the party’s character in the process, by appointing OBC district chiefs and picking up a large share of candidates from this segment of the society. The move came in for widespread criticism and internal resentment.
However, sources close to Bansal shrugged it off – stating that such a backlash was only natural in the circumstances. “We had dozens of aspirants for each state. They wanted to contest because they saw us as the winning party. However, we have multiple stakeholders and balancing that is not always easy. We made a conscious attempt to expand our social base, which may have upset some people,” said a party member.
The second decision was to energise the organisation early. So, at a time when the Samajwadi Party was embroiled in an internal struggle and the BSP remained in a state of virtual invisibility, the BJP had already begun raising the battle cry. “The idea behind this was to increase the visibility of the party. Some programmes are more successful, others are less. But the point is to keep the party organisation mobilised,” said a party source. This, he said, was also a good way to neutralise the disadvantage of not having a chief ministerial face.
The party organised 88 youth-centric, 77 women-centric, 200 OBC-centric, 18 Dalit-centric and 14 trader-centric events, and held numerous state, regional and sector-level meetings with booth workers. It deployed 403 Parivartan Vans to each constituency. The party also launched a Mann ki Baat campaign that received 34 lakh responses, and organised Parivartan rallies at the end of 2016. It created four Facebook pages and 6,608 Whatsapp groups. And, to prepare candidates for the elections, it gave each of them micro village and family level data compiled through phone calls and voter surveys.
Certain of victory
At present, Bansal’s core tasks include monitoring the prospects of the party in each constituency based on independent survey inputs, and planning the rest of the campaign. The party claims it will make it past the majority mark, and offers two broad reasons for this.
Breaking down the demographic data, a source close to Bansal said: “As much as 83% of the upper castes, 17% Yadavs, 73% non-Yadav OBCs, 25% Jatavs and 50% non-Jatavs are voting for us.”
The party is confident of garnering a vote share of around 35%, he added.
The second reason lies in the BJP’s belief of a split in the Muslim vote bank. “They are not voting to elect the government. They are voting to elect MLAs. And so, they are voting differently in each seat – sometimes for the Congress-Samajwadi alliance, sometimes for the BSP. It would have been difficult for us if they were voting unitedly, but this split works to our advantage,” the source added.
Only on March 11 will we know if the BJP’s assessments are correct. However, one thing remains certain – if the BJP wins, it would have found yet another organisational star in Sunil Bansal.