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The next parliamentary elections are more than two years away, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s election machinery, under Amit Shah, whom he had handpicked for the post of party president, is in an advanced stage of preparation for winning a second successive term for his Bharatiya Janata Party.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s cadres are the BJP’s sinews. Although, like the Bharatiya Jana Sangh before it, the BJP was its creation, the RSS deployed its men for poll work most extensively only after the party fell in with its desire and named Modi as its prime ministerial candidate ahead of the 2014 poll.
For a long time the RSS, which professes to be a cultural organisation, had clearly demarcated those who were assigned party work from its hard-core functionaries. The dividing line between the two has now been blurred. Lately it has been allowing organisation men to become state chief ministers. The choice of Yogi Aditynath as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh is the latest instance of this kind.
The BJP’s victory in the last Lok Sabha elections, in which it secured 282 seats in the 543-member house with a vote share of 31.0 per cent, was made possible by its huge success in eight Hindi-speaking northern states and three western states and adjoining union territories. The two regions, which together command 303 seats, provided as many as 243 of its 282 seats. It got only 39 seats from the other states and territories which have a total of 249.
There is little room for the BJP to improve the takings from its northern and western strongholds. In fact, the chances are that it will lose seats there next time. Realising this, the party decided quite early to devote attention to the south and the east with an eye to 2019.
As early as in August 2015, addressing 600 selected party leaders from the eastern states in Kolkata, Amit Shah said he was looking up to them to make up for the expected loss in the north and the west. “You have to build the organisation in such a manner that the party’s “vijay rath” (victory chariot) starts from Bengal in 2019,” he told them.
The south, too, figures prominently in Shah’s road map for 2019. He has been pressing the party’s units in the region to finalise the list of candidates for all the Lok Sabha seats early. He has also asked them to look outside the party ranks for candidates with wide acceptability.
Karnataka is the southern state which has been most hospitable to the BJP so far. It voted the party to power in the state in 2008 and gave it 17 of its 28 Lok Sabha seats in 2014. The three chief ministers it tried were failures and the Congress made a comeback in 2013.
It is making strenuous efforts to better its prospects in next year’s assembly elections and the following year’s Lok Sabha poll by attracting disgruntled Congress leaders to its fold.
Fighting in alliance with the regional Telugu Desam party, the BJP won three of Andhra Pradesh’s 42 Lok Sabha seats in 2014. Since then the state has been bifurcated, and different regional parties are wielding power in Telangana and residuary AP. The party’s plans for the two states are unclear.
In Tamil Nadu, where two regional parties have been alternating in power since 1967, the BJP managed to win one Lok Sabha seat last time. It reckons that conditions are now favourable for it to advance as All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief minister J Jayalalithaa’s death has created a leadership vacuum in the state.
In Kerala, which had continuously rebuffed it and its predecessor in national and state elections, the BJP won its first assembly seat last year, fighting in alliance with a newly formed backward class party. Enthused by this success, Amit Shah has asked the state party to make a bold bid for 12 of the state’s Lok Sabha seats.
RSS chief Mohan Bhagat’s visited Bengal and Kerala to galvanise the Parivar outfits and prepare them to play their part in Mission 2019. As these lines are written the RSS is holding its annual conference in Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu for the first time in its 92-year history.
While the BJP is thus busy on the ground, the Congress, the only party equipped to mount a national challenge to it, is still to put its act together. So are the smaller national and regional parties which are locally powerful.
The author is a political analyst of reckoning