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BJP’s next target: 333 in 2024 Lok Sabha polls with focus on south

In an attempt to increase its footprint in the southern states, the BJP  will recast itself as a pan-Indian party and not a “Hindi-speaking outfit” in time for the next Lok Sabha election, senior functionaries said

india Updated: May 28, 2019 10:30 IST
Sunetra Choudhury and Smriti Kak Ramachandran
Sunetra Choudhury and Smriti Kak Ramachandran
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
BJP,Lok Sabha elections result,PM Modi
PM Narendra Modi (R) and Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) president Amit Shah gesture to supporters as they celebrate the victory in India's general election at the party headquarters in New Delhi on May 23, 2019.(AFP file photo)

333. That’s the target for the Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, according to the party’s national secretary in charge of Andhra Pradesh and Tripura, Sunil Deodhar. The party won 282 seats in 2014 and 303 in 2019. But it wants even more.

“Our core mandala is from West Bengal to Tamil Nadu and to make inroads for 2024, if we have to reach our 333 mark, then we will have to focus on these states along the coast line,’’ said the key strategist who has moved from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to the party.

In an interview to Hindustan Times, Deodhar however points out that Mission 333 can be possible only if BJP overcomes the perception of being a party of and for “Hindi” speakers. He adds that he has started to learn Telugu, and that he mastered Bengali after being asked to help oversee the party’s march in the East and the North East.

“If you want to get to the heart of things, you have to know the language,’’ he said.

In an attempt to increase its footprint in the southern states, the BJP  will recast itself as a pan-Indian party and not a “Hindi-speaking outfit” in time for the next Lok Sabha election, senior functionaries said, adding that the party has begun preparation for strengthening its organisational structure in four of the five states in Southern India, which bucked the national trend by not voting for the party in the recently concluded Lok Sabha polls.

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The BJP won 25 of the 28 seats in Karnataka and four of the 17 in Telenagana, but could not secure even one seat in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh.

The idea, one of these functionaries said, is to deliver results similar to those in West Bengal , where its tally went from 2 to 18.

“We will build the party structure from scratch; panna pramukhs at the booth levels will be appointed, the party together with the RSS will identify issues that need to be highlighted. For now the focus will only be on the party and not building alliances,” this person said.

Other BJP leaders have a more nuanced take. The BJP’s national general secretary Murlidhar Rao, who is in charge of Karnataka , channeled the Pime Minister’s speech to say that it is about “ national ambition and regional aspiration”.

“So linguistic communities’ identity will be balanced in Hindutva nationalism.’’

The next target is the assembly polls in some of these states, he added.

Deodhar said that BJP’s success in Karnataka was because it was more of a mainstream state. Unlike the other states like Tamil Nadu and Telengana, the JD(S) didn’t have a reach all over Karnataka, only certain areas, he added. .

According to the party functionaries cited above, in the five southern states, the BJP will start holding meetings to discuss the way ahead. The first such is scheduled for Tuesday in Kerala.

According to a BJP functionary from Kerala who asked not to be named, a change in guard in the state is unlikely, but the party will take stock on how to reclaim the vote bank that moved away from the CPIM to the Congress, in the aftermath of the Sabaraimala judgment that allowed women of all ages to enter the sanctum sanctorum of the temple.

“We paved the way for the change of guard after raising the Sabarimala issue, but unfortunately it was the Congress that swept the anti-CPIM vote. With 40 MLAs and past experience of being in power in the state they were better equipped to fight the CPIM,” added this person.

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In Kerala, where the BJP’s ideological fount, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), runs the highest number of shakhas across the country, the party walked away with 12.9% of the total vote share but no seats. It expected to win at least three seats, including Thiruvananthapuram, from where the Congress’ Shashi Tharoor retained his seat.

In Andhra Pradesh, the party received only 0.9% of the total votes polled, less than the NOTA percentage of 1.49%; three senior functionaries will be sent to the state to take stock. Deodhar , Rao, and Rajya Sabha MP GVL Narasimha are expected to tour the state to seek feedback from the office bearers and the candidates.

In Telengana and Tamil Nadu, the party wants to focus on consolidating voters across castes. “In Karnataka what worked for the party was consolidation of the voters who were hitherto divided on the basis of caste. Getting the support of the Lingayat (upper caste) and the non-dominant Other Backward Classes (OBC) was critical to the BJP’s win,” said a BJP leader from Tamil Nadu who asked not to be named.

On whether the party will rethink on its alliance with the AIADMK, which won just one seat in the Lok Sabha (from 37 in 2014), this person said that the BJP has “already indicated that no matter how strong a party gets we will work with alliance partners.”

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First Published: May 28, 2019 07:13 IST