2014 Lok Sabha poll strategy best bet for BJP to win UP

It would be exactly 15 years since the BJP relinquished power in Uttar Pradesh when the EVMs go for counting after the 2017 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections. The party desperately wants to return to power especially after its sterling performance in the state in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. But poll strategists cannot ignore factors which kept the BJP out of power for so long in a state which has always been at the centre of its politics.

The BJP’s strategy in Uttar Pradesh for the coming elections deeply hinges around this realisation. The 2014 formula, however, still remains the best bet for the party, having worked wonders for it in the last parliamentary elections. The carefully crafted development agenda of the BJP is coupled with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s persona of a pro-Hindutva leader and his identity as an OBC.

With just two years since the last Lok Sabha elections, in which the party and its allies bagged 73 out of the 80 seats, it does not need to look at its voters differently. Of course, the strategy will have to be woven around regional and local issues rather than national ones with an eye on the sensibility of the Uttar Pradesh voter.

The party has understood and implemented this in the right earnest. Most prominently, by inducting Keshav Prasad Maurya as its Uttar Pradesh unit president. Maurya, who has been with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Visva Hindu Parishad (VHP) since the days of the Ram Mandir movement, is in many ways a reflection of Modi’s persona.

Coming from the OBC “Koiri” community, Maurya has even sold tea apart from distributing newspapers to earn a living. And therefore, the advantage of having an OBC with a “Hindutva-hardliner” image is instantly gained with his appointment as the person at the helm of affairs in the state.

Apart from Maurya, other key leaders in the state spearheading preparations for the 2017 Assembly polls – from Sunil Bansal to in-charge of party affairs in the state Om Mathur, are all drawn from the RSS. “If there are three issues that people ask you on which the party plans to contest the 2017 elections – tell them development on number one, development on number two and development on number three.” said Maurya while addressing party workers on the day he became the party’s state unit president.

The BJP MP from Phulpur, obviously conscious of the fact that his Hindutva image might still remain too predictable, reiterates: “Ram and Ram Temple is an issue of faith and not a political issue for us. Our issue for the 2017 elections will remain development and not Ram temple.” Exactly the stand which the party took ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and what followed later is history.

This time around, the BJP also does not lack faces to drive home the point. Union ministers like Mahesh Sharma, Ram Shankar Katheria, Santosh Gangwar and VK Singh will have enough firepower to deliver in the run up to Uttar Pradesh elections by pointing out the “regressive” and “casteist” approach of successive governments in the state.

At the same time, a host of other frontline BJP leaders will go from village to village apprising people of the achievements of the Modi government. The government at the Centre just needs to do enough carry on with its slogan of “Sabka Sath Sabka Vikas”.

Mathur says: “For the time being, we are organising eight rallies in all the eight regions of the state. Our national president (Amit Shah) and Rajnath Singh (Union home minister and former Uttar Pradesh chief minister) will attend these rallies and wherever required PM Modi will also pitch in. We will tell people about the achievements of our government at the Centre over the last two years. We are also planning to do 50 to 60 chaupals in the days ahead which will be attended by state level leaders.”

The BJP in Uttar Pradesh actually looks quite comfortable going into the Assembly polls in 2017 with the same strategy as in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, barring a few exceptions. In Uttar Pradesh, no party can risk ignoring caste combinations. And the BJP in known to have repeatedly faltered on this count, often tilting more towards the forward castes.

The backward caste and Dalit votes, as a result, went to the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). But the 2014 experience taught the party to consolidate its underprivileged vote bank. It gave the BJP rich dividends too.

And so this time around, the party is taking no chances. From bringing up issues concerning the Dalits to celebrating Ambedkar Jayanti by participating in “tehri bhoj” at Dalit households, state level BJP leaders are doing everything in their might to keep their 2014 Dalit vote bank intact.

The BJP’s new thinking, as far as participation of Dalits and OBCs is concerned, gets reflected in the selection of office-bearers too. As against earlier times, the new list of district presidents and prospective Assembly candidates includes leaders from a large cross section of the backward castes and Dalits.

“The party, in its selection process, is including leaders from all castes – be it Brahmins, Thakurs, Vaishyas or Dalits. Our special focus is on including all sub-castes of Dalits. Even Jatavas among Dalits in western UP, who largely voted in favour of BSP since Mayawati belongs to the same sub-caste, have been given reasonable representation,” said BJP spokesperson Chandra Mohan.

The Hindutva agenda, however, is here to stay. The BJP leaders although need not harp on it uselessly. All such work is being taken up locally.

Be it the issue of cow slaughter, inter-religion marriages, conversion of Hindus to other faiths or “selective and coercive action” against the majority community by the SP government of the state, there are varying issues with communal overtones which have been picked up, often not by senior party leaders but either by associated right wing Hindu organisations like the RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal or by the lesser known BJP leaders and workers to strike an emotional chord with the voters.

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