With the Bharatiya Janata Party declaring its core team for the assembly elections across several states due early next year, the organisation underscored its preparations for the political challenges ahead.
Tenures of assemblies of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur end between March and May 2022 and barring Punjab, the party is heading a government in rest of the states.
While the stakes for the BJP remain high in each of these states, by making these appointments it demonstrated its organisational robustness.
Uttar Pradesh is a top drawer state for the BJP and a few months ago the party along with senior leaders from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, reviewed the progress of the Yogi Adityanath government that took office after the Modi-wave swept the state, winning over 300 of the 403 seats in the assembly. The outcome should have a bearing on the future political landscape.
Although several reports began speculating over the fate of the Chief Minister, the party and the RSS stood firmly behind Yogi Adityanath praising work done by the government especially in tackling the second wave of COVID-19 that scalded the country this summer.
The party entrusted Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan as the election in-charge for UP along with a few colleagues and six other drafted for six regions identified as Western UP, Braj, Avadh, Kanpur, Gorakhpur and Kashi, suggesting a focused approach.
UP remains a cauldron where a political party should get the combination of caste calculations right. The state has 44 percent belonging to Other Backward Classes (includes 35 percent Extremely Backward Classes), 21 percent Dalits, 19 percent Muslims and 16 percent Upper Caste. At the last elections the BJP secured some 40 percent vote share for over 300 seats and in the 2019 Lok Sabha it got nearly 50 percent vote share but a reduced number of 62 seats as against 71 in 2014 Lok Sabha and a vote share of 42.3 percent.
Politics in UP has percolated down to sub-caste and several parties hold sway in different parts of the state. It was one factor the BJP weighed while re-inducting a representative of ally Apna Dal into the Union Council of Ministers recently.
The BJP backs up its work through aggressive campaigning and reaching out to large sections of various communities reminding them of the policies and programmes both of the state and the central government that benefited the people. Aiding the organisation is the silence behind the scene work by cadres of the RSS and work in tandem to blunt the opposition charge.
Now that its promise of Ram Temple at Ayodhya is turning into reality, the government is also working to complete the temple corridor project at Varanasi, Lok Sabha constituency of Prime Minister Modi while the Yogi government maintains its profile constantly engaging with the people on his government’s achievements.
On the contrary, there is deep division in the Opposition. The two principal political challengers in UP, Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party, have decided to work independently after the experiment of working together during 2019 Lok Sabha elections had limited impact on the electorate.
Working on the perception that the upper castes, in particular the Brahmins, are upset with the BJP in the state, the BSP is wooing the community with the hope of reviving its magic formula that rode the party to power at Lucknow on its own steam in 2007. Back then the BSP allotted tickets to all castes including the upper castes, it once censured.
The Samajwadi Party under Akhilesh Yadav is struggling to get a firm grip on the party created by his father, amid a feud with uncle Shivpal Yadav. While drawing distance from the Opposition that is working on a plan to come together at the central level, Akhilesh Yadav indicated SP’s willingness to work with ‘smaller parties’. The tie-up with Congress in 2017 proved a disaster. The Congress' effort to infuse life into the moribund party yielded few results despite efforts by Priyanka Gandhi Vadra for the past few years as a general secretary.
In neighbouring Uttarakhand, the BJP effected a change of leadership bringing in Pushkar Singh Dhami this July after an earlier replacement in Tirath Singh Rawat for Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat could not find a constituency to get elected in the 70-member assembly. The Congress, the principal party in the opposition, is facing a challenge as its leader Harish Rawat is on a firefighting mission in Punjab, the only state where Congress is in government among these five states.
Punjab epitomises what is not right with the Congress. The internecine battle between Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, by far one of the most nationally recognised leaders of the party, and recently anointed State Unit Chief Navjot Sindhu adds to the woes, reminding the old adage in the party: 'Congress Hi, Congress Ko Harati Hai' (roughly translating into the opposition within the Congress leading to electoral losses).
In Goa, the Congress with a slender advantage could not form a government in the 2017 polls despite winning 17 seats in the 40-member assembly. Former Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar reoccupied the Chief Minister chair and on his death, Laxmikant Parsekar took office. The Congress is still setting its house in order.
A similar development occurred in Manipur where the Congress with 28 seats in the 60 member assembly in 2017 polls, could not form a government with BJP assuming office through N Biren Singh. The BJP maintains special focus in Manipur through its Northeast Development Alliance under Assam party leader Himanta Biswal Sarma.
While the Opposition is still scurrying to put its election machinery in poll mode, the BJP announced its team which is strapping up for the battle of the ballot.
— KV Prasad is a senior journalist and has earlier worked with The Hindu and The Tribune. The views expressed are personal.