At BJP Conclave, Bravado Meets Fear of Economic Fallout
Fearing backlash against ill-conceived economic decisions, BJP tells workers to spread the word about schemes.
If elections are an indicator of a political party’s popularity graph, the BJP is certainly losing the plot. The BJP lost the Bawana by-election in Delhi, besides the party’s student wing, ABVP, losing the students’ union elections in Delhi University, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Rajasthan University, Gauhati University and Tripura University over the past couple of months. The party’s debacle in the Gurgaon municipal elections last week – in a state under its control – was the latest in a series of setbacks.
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The mood at the BJP’s top decision making body, the National Executive, which met in New Delhi on Monday, however, did not betray the concern about these electoral reverses. The party is standing rock solid behind Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Barring a few private murmurs, most leaders this reporter spoke to had full faith in the election-winning and government-forming abilities of the duo.
‘Have to Lose Small Battles to Win a War’
That all leaders spoke on condition of anonymity speaks volumes about the awe the Modi-Shah duo garner among the cadres, as the two have a complete stranglehold over the party. Most of the probable challengers have been sidelined. Dissent has been crushed.
That explains why everyone, despite reservations about the party’s economic policies, is visibly upbeat about winning the upcoming state assembly elections. “Who had thought of the BJP winning with complete majority on its own at the Centre and in Uttar Pradesh where it broke the stranglehold of caste-based regional parties?” asked an MP, adding, “How else can you explain the BJP ruling Bihar, Goa and Manipur where it wasn’t even the single largest party?”
“Sometimes you have to lose small battles to win a war,” commented another senior leader, adding that the party had clear vision and goals:
We have to win the elections to Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Rajasthan and Tripura assemblies before going into the ultimate test of strength – Lok Sabha polls – in 2019. We aren’t bothered so much about student union polls or a bye-election here and there.
Reactions to Demonetisation, GST
They feel that people might not be exactly happy with the BJP right now because of economic slowdown caused during the past one year by government decisions such as demonetisation and GST. A couple of them admitted to facing public ire owing to the fallout of some major economic decisions. People are losing jobs, suffering major losses in businesses and agriculture, bearing the brunt of steep inflation, lower bank rates and penalties on bank transactions.
After admitting all these lapses, party leaders bravely proclaim that the public is still not peeved with the BJP.
People realise that most of decisions of the Modi government are pro-poor and pro-farmer. Demonetisation was not aimed to harm the poor but at flushing out black money and hitting at the finances of terrorists and naxalites. A drastic reduction in terror activities in Kashmir and most separatist leaders being behind bars for money laundering is a major success of our policies.A BJP office-bearer from U.P.
BJP top brass has instructed the party cadre to propagate its pro-poor policies among the masses like the Jan Dhan Yojana, Farm Loan Waiver (by BJP-ruled states), Crop Insurance, LPG connections, free electricity connections, power to every village and free LEDs. “It is because of such schemes that the opposition is stopped its rant of suit-boot ki sarkar”, claims a senior leader.
Three Electoral Planks
Social media mocking Modi’s development plank after Rahul’s jibe – Vikas Pagal Ho Gaya Hai (development has gone crazy) – was trending for some time last week. More importantly, it started from PM and Amit Shah’s home state of Gujarat – which the two have been showcasing as the ‘Gujarat Model of Development’.
But BJP leaders feel that the netizens comprise less than 10 percent of the electorate and social media experts of even smaller parties like Aam Aadmi Party can get any hashtag to trend on social media. This is why BJP would have a three-pronged strategy to go into future elections – Parivar, Bhrashtachar and Tushtikaran (Dynasty, Corruption and Appeasement).
Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari and Shah made their intentions amply clear on the inaugural day of the two-day mega-conclave by coming down heavily on dynasty.
Party leaders feel that the Centre’s proposal to introduce Universal Basic Income (UIC) and Uniform Civil Code next year, would prove to be game changer during the Lok Sabha polls due in a year and a half. “Demonetisation was announced to test waters. The Prime Minister may spring many more surprises in the run-up to general elections which would leave the opposition thunderstruck”, said a Union Minister.
No Political Alternative
The good news for the BJP, the party leaders feel, is lack of a political alternative. The biggest potential challenger to Narendra Modi in 2019 could have been Nitish Kumar. But he is not only running a coalition government with the BJP but also singing Modi’s paeans.
The Janata Dal (United) stands fragmented so much so that BJP chief Amit Shah has asked the state party leadership to be prepared to contest on all the 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar. That is if the alliance partners don’t agree to take the crumbs. BJP is likely to offer nine seats to JD(U), four seats to Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party and two to Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samta Party.
The Congress too is in disarray. Though Rahul Gandhi might take over as party chief in the next couple of months, people don’t consider him to be a serious politician. His recent US visit where he addressed students at some universities – justifying dynastic politics and branding Nehu and Gandhi as NRIs – have generated sarcasm and ridicule in equal measure on social media.
Disunited Opposition Works for the BJP
With 48 allies already in its kitty, the BJP’s tactic is to dominate political space. “Right now our energies are focussed on West Bengal where chief minister Mamata Banerjee has been antagonising people through her blatant and rabid minority appeasement,” said a BJP office bearer who has been in charge of West Bengal.
The opposition is largely in disarray state and disunited. For example, it is going to be a four-cornered fight in Gujarat with Congress, AAP and Shankar Singh Vaghela flexing their muscles separately against the BJP where Modi has just inaugurated the Sardar Sarovar Dam besides laying the foundation of first bullet train in India. "Now with such heavy dose of development, it will be the opposition's turn to go crazy", quipped a Gujarat BJP leader.
That makes the leaders happy. So long as the party continues to win elections, nobody minds whether the people are happy or not. They are least bothered about losing a couple of student union elections here and there or girl students being lathicharged in BHU. For power is the strongest glue holding the party together.
(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist. He can be reached @sharadgupta1. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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