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Sunday, Sep 15, 2019

Modi, nationalism, governance record: BJP’s 3-fold strategy to retain power

Voting for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections will start on 11 April, the Election Commission said on Sunday, announcing a 7-phase schedule for the world’s biggest democratic exercise.

lok-sabha-elections Updated: Mar 10, 2019 20:57 IST
Kumar Uttam
Kumar Uttam
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP national president Amit Shah attend the parliamentary board meeting at the BJP HQ office in New Delhi on March 8.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP national president Amit Shah attend the parliamentary board meeting at the BJP HQ office in New Delhi on March 8.(Sonu Mehta/HT PHOTO)

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) walks into the poll battle starting on April 11 with the confidence that it can win a second term for Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The panic was palpable in the party after it lost key elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh to the Congress last December, and when opposition parties joined hands to loosely create a grand alliance over the last 12 months. BJP strategists, however, now say that the government’s response to the February 14 Pulwama terror attack has changed the narrative.

The ruling party’s campaign for 2019 has three broad messages – the leadership of Modi versus “chaos” in the opposition camp; the BJP’s track record in governance, highlighted through the “Modi hai to mumkin hai” (with Modi, it’s possible) campaign, pitted against “policy paralysis during the previous United Progressive Alliance government; and a bold imprint of nationalism versus the Opposition’s softer counter-terrorism response.

“We are well prepared,” said Anil Baluni, Rajya Sabha MP and BJP’s media cell head.

Read more| Lok Sabha elections in 7 phases, voting starts April 11, results on May 23

A BJP general secretary said, over the last five years, the Modi government and the BJP worked on two fronts.

One, it tried to break free of its upper-caste “Brahmin-Baniya party” image and cultivate a new constituency among the socially and economically backward communities. Government schemes extended benefits to these groups, and decisions such as recall of high-value currency notes was projected a fight against the super rich. The Modi government launching world’s largest health care system for the poor, taking cooking gas connections to more households, and expanding the social security network through a pension plan for unorganised sector workers were part of the same drive.

In all, the government says it benefitted about 220 million people through these programmes.

Two,the BJP grew in size and tried to get foothold in areas where it is traditionally weak. It took aggressive positions to make forays into West Bengal and Odisha, but making inroads into the southern states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu has been difficult for the party.

“We are stronger and have much wider presence than what we had in 2014,” said former Union minister Syed Shahnawaz Hussain. “Amit Shah has brought a new energy in the party.”

Over the last two-and-a-half months, the BJP made a concerted effort to reach out to the beneficiaries of the government programmes and mobilise party workers. Each individual front of the party was given a specific assignment between December 15 and March 2. Programmes such as “first vote to Modi” and the campus amabassadors programmes for colleges were launched to target the first time voters.

“A lot of activity happened on the ground in the past two months,” Hussain said.

Read more| Election Commission blows bugle, India takes poll position

A second BJP general secretary said both Modi and Shah will attempt to capitalise on this groundwork through rallies. Modi is expected to address at least 100 rallies after the poll dates are announced. Shah may end up doing more than 200 rallies, the general secretary said.

But the BJP continue to face some challenges.

Its performance peaked in states such as Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Delhi in 2014. The party won 136 out of 175 Lok Sabha seats in these states. The BJP-led NDA also swept Maharashtra, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh, winning 90 out of 113 seats in three states.

Since then, it has lost Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh to the Congress, and its principal rivals have united in Uttar Pradesh.

“The Opposition’s unity is a challenge for the BJP, particularly in states such as Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra,” said Sidharth Mishra, president of the Centre for Reforms, Development and Justice. “The BJP has more number of states under its rule than what it did 2014. If local anti-incumbency works, then BJP could be in trouble.”

Read more| Alliance, air strike effects throw new challenges at Congress

First Published: Mar 10, 2019 20:48 IST