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On December 8 when BJP workers flush in the aftermath of a massive poll mandate assembled at the party headquarters at central Delhi’s Ashok Road, they had even a bigger victory to celebrate than

Saffron Surge

 

Even bigger than the four assembly triumphs is the rise and rise of Narendra Modi. Anil Pandey reports
ANIL PANDEY | Issue Dated: December 22, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : Saffron Surge | Narendra Modi |
 

On December 8 when BJP workers flush in the aftermath of a massive poll mandate assembled at the party headquarters at central Delhi’s Ashok Road, they had even a bigger victory to celebrate than the overwhelming electoral triumphs in MP, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Delhi– the rise and rise of Narendra Modi.

Almost all present were unanimous in their belief that for the saffron party’s long term prospects, the assembly election results reflected the growing political clout of the Gujarat chief minister who has emerged, if anything, stronger than he was two weeks ago.

For them, statistics are on Modi’s side and numbers count in a democracy. In what was being dubbed as a semi-final in the run up to General Elections 2014, Modi had cleared the grade with very good marks. The Gujarat chief minister had toured Delhi, Chhattisgarh, MP and Rajasthan addressing 50 rallies within a fortnight, covering about 300 assembly constituencies. Of the 300, the BJP had held 142 seats. That number had now jumped to 212. Modi was, in their reckoning, responsible for that 73-seat rise. In other words, of the 72 Lok Sabha seats on display in the four states, the BJP would have won 65.

In comparison, Rahul Gandhi’s record seems far less distinguished. In the four states that went to polls, Rahul Gandhi addressed 17 rallies in 11 days covering 110 assembly seats. Of these, 50 seats were held by the Congress: post the results, it now turns out that of them, the Congress has lost a substantial 25. Of the 110 seats that were touched by the Congress vice-president, BJP has won 21. Says analyst Suvrokamal Dutta: “Modi has been instrumental in turning this rising anti-UPA sentiment into a vote bank. He has also stopped Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi otherwise Kejriwal and company were headed for an absolute majority.’’ In Delhi, the party fell short by six seats to form a government.

According to Election Commission figures, the BJP’s vote bank has swelled in the four states. In MP, there are an additional 69.2 lakh voters; 53.6 lakh in Rajasthan, 10 in Chhattisgarh and 3.2 in Delhi. (See graph). BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad believes that with Modi as the prime ministerial candidate, the young voter is enthused; that has helped in the final poll results. “With Modi in charge of the poll campaign, not only did development take centre stage as a poll issue but he also has the first-time voter in a thrall.’’

Naturally, BJP is buoyant after the poll results and all moves are now afoot for marketing Modi afresh and in a new avatar with the youth voter as its centerpiece. By General Elections, there will be an estimated 12 crore new voters and the party is hoping to cash in on their goodwill, the best that they can.

 

Not all clear for Modi

The doubting Thomases in the BJP are quiet for now but the question is for how long?

On result day, both Narendra Modi and party president Rajnath Singh wore broad grins. Not only had they comprehensively flattened the Congress, they had at one stroke got rid of doubting Thomases within their fold. The two together appear to be on a winning streak. Clearly, those opposed to Modi within the party were disappointed at the results - a bad show at the hustings would have given them the opportunity to cut him down to size.

But insiders in the party say that this is no final sign that the BJP has shrugged off its inner-party dilemmas. While Rajnath and BJP’s star in Rajasthan, Vasundhara Raje Scindia, gave Modi the credit for their Jaipur victory, BJP leader of opposition Sushma Swaraj and MP chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan credited the Bhopal mandate to the rank and file of the party. Modi’s detractors within may be maintaining a low profile for the present, their reservations about the Gujarat strongman have by no means faded away.

It was generally believed that after the Goa coronation of Modi, difficult as it was and passed pretty much under duress and protests by other senior leaders, things could be gradually bought under control. But months later, it has not happened that way. LK Advani and leaders close to him, Sushma, Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Ananth Kumar, continue to be a thorn in Modi's flesh. It’s just that they have not got the opportunity to create mischief so far.

After BJP’s solid triumphs, Sushma was very clear that the “Victories were a result of the party worker’s efforts, public enthusiasm and collective decision-making apparatus of the BJP’’, leaving no one in any doubt that her appreciation of the Gujarat chief minister was less than enthusiastic. For good measure, she also added that in state elections, local rather than national factors come into play, an oblique reference to Modi’s campaign speeches where he took on the Congress and the Gandhi family, apart from concentrating on other national issues.

Not surprisingly, Shivraj Singh Chauhan had expressed similar sentiments on his massive win. “The credit goes to the party worker. I am merely the kalash of the temple which everyone can see but our thousands of workers who have worked behind the scenes in remote areas are responsible for this win.’’ For those who think that Modi’s way to the South Block is well paved, wait a little while longer.

 

As part of the Modi rebrand and in an effort to broad base its support among the young voters, the party will organize two projects, ‘Run for Unity’ and ‘Statue for Unity’ in the second week of December. The celebrations, which will be triggered off on December 15 with a door to door campaign and running competitions in many districts of the country, will showcase the persona of the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, his posters and masks in the fore as well as the background. This attempt at mobilization will be pitched against a 180-metre high statue of India’s original iron man Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel, aptly christened ‘Statue for Unity’. On December 15, athletic events will be organized to highlight the statue and the ‘neglected’ role of the Sardar in getting the country together.

The mobilisation is not going to stop here. Collecting iron for the Sardar's statue will be another all India exercise and if it is implementable, cadres and workers will go down to every panchayat to collect literally whatever iron they can lay their hands on; it could be any agricultural implement or tool. The idea is to broad base its efforts by reaching out to as many people at a personal level as is possible weeks before the elections.

 

Narendra and Arvind

For the BJP, the emergence of AAP constitutes a real threat

For Narendra Modi, the threat from the Congress looks far less threatening at the moment than Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and its charismatic leader Arvind Kejriwal. Reason? Both share the same vote bank.

Even during the run up to the Delhi assembly campaign, it was clear that both were looking to grab the imagination of the young. And both have succeeded in doing so with varying degrees of success.

In the multiple surveys that emerged during the course of the poll campaign, it was commonly noted that those voting for the AAP in the assembly would back Narendra Modi in the Lok Sabha elections. If Kejriwal too decides to throw the AAP hat in the Lok Sabha ring, it is certain that the youth vote is going to be divided between the two contestants. It could end up spoiling the BJP’s final game plan.

In Delhi, minus any organization of the type that Congress or the BJP have, minus the resources and funding, AAP was a brilliant in executing its plans right till the end. According to information collated, nearly 20,000 youth volunteers spending their own money had acted as the force multiplier for the anti-corruption movement. Not only did the AAP win 28 out of 70 seats on display, it has emerged, crucially in the second position in 20 other seats which it lost by narrow margins.

BJP leaders are naturally worried about what this practically unknown force is capable of. Delhi BJP chief Harshvardhan was candid in his admission that the AAP mass support had taken them by surprise.
Ask the Congress. Their star chief minister Sheila Dixit along with heavyweights Raj Kumar Chauhan, Kiran Walia and former journalist Ramakant Goswami were routed and their example now poses a real, omnipresent threat to the BJP and other political formations.

Already AAP leaders have pointed out that they are now prepared to fight at an all India level to assert their claims that corruption is a big factor in Indian politics. Says AAP leader and the new party’s legal brain thrust Prashant Bhushan: “We have been forced into the electoral arena. Established political parties always held a gripe against us saying we may talk what we like, but the reality is that public support is for them. Now we are proving that is not the case. We are neither with the BJP or the Congress and we are willing to take on one or both of them.’’

 

Party strategists believe that this will keep the Modi iron hot and his gun well powdered because any slackening of interest at this stage will set back the party campaign.  They already have in their possession a blue print of the Lok Sabha seats based on assembly seat projections throughout the country. This data has been supplied to all party offices and responsibilities of meeting the deadlines fixed.

In the course of his campaign, while Modi has made passing attacks at the SP and other regional parties, he has concentrated his fire on the Congress, trying to compare and contrast the two parties. According to party strategists, by mid to late December, the BJP will formally inaugurate its election campaign with Modi at the helm of proceedings.

As part of this build up, the Gujarat chief minister is going to be present at the swearing-in of all BJP chief ministers who have won in the recent polls. The aims of this move are two-fold, party strategists say. One is to rekindle Modi’s development face in the states and two, to reach out to the state’s electorate before the country goes fully into the election mode.

A day before the assemblies went to polls, a meeting of BJP general secretaries at president Rajnath Singh’s house was putting together its final touches on this larger Lok Sabha game plan. Says one veteran BJP planner: “We are working at two levels, the Modi vs Rahul plank and the Gujarat development model. The ultimate idea is to project Modi as the poll mascot.’’ That is stating the obvious. The BJP also cannot afford to ignore the competing claims of Arvind Kejriwal. 

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017