Govt schemes’ success, Modi factor key for BJP – Hindustan Times

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The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is banking on collective leadership, the reach, effectiveness and success of its large welfare schemes, and an aggressive electoral campaign built around Prime Minister Narendra Modi to prevent the outcome of the upcoming polls in five states from being a repeat of 2018 when it suffered a setback, losing power in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.
It did not have much to show for in Telangana and Mizoram where it won a seat each, although its ally the Mizo National Front won 26 of the 40 seats to form government in the North Eastern state.
Also read: 5-state elections in numbers: Check imp dates, demographics, EC announcements
Elections to pick new assemblies in these states will begin on November 7 and the results will be declared on December 3.
The stakes in 2023 are perhaps higher than in 2018. The BJP-led NDA completes two terms in power in 2024. And with a tally of 303 in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the party, some political analysts argue, may have peaked.
The BJP may also face a united opposition — if the constituents of the INDIA bloc can iron out their internal differences. And finally, the issue of a caste census, a precursor to a political and legal push for proportionate reservation, could fracture the coalition the BJP has built among voters across the upper castes, non-dominant other backward classes (OBCs) and the scheduled castes and tribes on the back of its focus on Hindutva and welfarism.
At stake, specifically to these elections, is also its ability to break new ground — in Telangana, where it has sought to position itself as the natural rival to the ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi, although most analysts believe the contest is largely between the incumbent and the Congress — and retain its gains in the North-east, potentially at risk from the Union government’s and the party-led state government’s handling of the Manipur ethnic conflict.
The BJP is confident of outperforming its opponents based on the success of its welfare programmes, its foreign policy wins, the passage of landmark bills such as the women’s reservation bill and the popularity of PM Modi.
The BJP is counting on its “collective leadership” strategy in these elections tobuck anti-incumbency, enforce a generational shift and weave a coalition of castes by moving away from a personality-oriented election.
Multiple leaders who spoke about the party’s election strategy, said that although its campaign will continue to pivot on social welfare schemes and PM Modi, there will be no chief ministerial face. “There are advantages and disadvantages of going with a face. But the party feels at this stage it is better to go to the polls as a collective unit and then let the legislative party pick the CM’s name,” one leader said on condition of anonymity.
Recent state elections have indicated that voters, even loyal ones, prefer strong local leaders. The party’s feedback after the Karnataka loss indicated that the decision to replace party strongman and Lingayat leader BS Yediyurappa with BS Bommai had an adverse impact on the outcome.
The party, however, has been evasive about naming Madhya Pradesh’s incumbent CM in Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan as its chief ministerial candidate — a departure from the norm for a party that usually names the incumbent CM as its candidate. The decision to field as many as three union ministers and a clutch of members of Parliament in the state is perceived as an indication that the party does not want any one leader to be seen as the face in the state that goes to polls on November 17.
There are two reasons that party leaders cite for this: the “fatigue factor” associated with Chouhan who has been in the seat of power since 2005, except for a 15-month period when Kamal Nath ousted him from power in 2018; and the need to cultivate newer leadership.
Though Chouhan was back in the CM’s seat in 2020, there is a widespread feeling of anti-incumbency associated with his face said a second leader.
The party has adopted the same strategy in Rajasthan — though it has rarely named chief ministerial candidates in states where it is not in power. The party is divided on naming former CM Vasundhara Raje as its face even though she is considered a leader with pan state support.
Collective leadership is also expected to address the challenge of leadership crises. In states such as Telangana and Chhattisgarh the party is scrambling to identify leaders with mass appeal.
“There are some states where the local leadership is not quite strong for various reasons — from caste to governance issues. (In Chhattisgarh) After Raman Singh’s exit in 2018, the state unit has been weak. There is no strong OBC or ST leader in the state who can be named as the CM, so the collective leadership strategy will address this problem,” the leader cited above explained.
These elections come in the wake of a growing demand for caste-based enumeration, which the BJP has been opposed to, the party will have to work harder to retain support from Other Backward Class (OBC) communities who want the existing quotas to be revisited. Leaders said following the Bihar government’s move to announce the findings of the caste survey there is a fear that similar demands will come from other states as well. The Congress government in Rajasthan has already announced that it will conduct a caste survey, and the party has said that if it wins the elections, it will conduct similar enumeration exercises in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
The Prime Minister has already referred to the caste survey as divisive, and the BJP is hoping that its social welfare programmes will keep the larger Hindu votebank together. The party is also relying on its ideological fount the RSS to steer the campaign on the ground to prevent a split in the Hindu vote.
Leaders said the BJP is hopeful of retaining OBC support, critical to winning polls in four of the five states based on the benefits of welfare programmes, some of which have been specifically designed for the OBCs, such as the most recent Vishwakarma Yojna.
“The BJP has ensured political empowerment of the OBCs, giving them space in the organisational structure and the government. Similarly, SC and STs have been empowered by giving them avenues for education through scholarships, interest-free loans and opportunities to earn. The opposition’s narrative will not stand a chance,” the BJP leader said.
In opposition-ruled states the BJP will focus on “exposing” the lapses and irregularities of the incumbent government, party leaders said. Just as the Congress successfully used the allegations of corruption against the BJP government in Karnataka to build a narrative, the BJP has identified issues with a resonance on the ground such as corruption and unfulfilled promises of housing, jobs and loan waivers in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Telangana
Though it is opposed to freebies such as loan waivers, free units of power and reverting to the old pension scheme, the popularity of these promises and the benefits they accrued for the opposition have put pressure on the BJP to out-maneouvre the opposition.
The party is not dependent on allies in four of the five states, but in Mizoram, it is a junior partner of the MNF and ties have come under strain. The parties had contested elections separately in 2018 when the BJP fielded candidates in 39 of the state’s 40 assembly constituencies but won only one, Tuichawng; it also managed to scale its vote share from 0.37% to 8%.
Though the state unit has made promises such as financial aid of up to 5 lakh for those wanting to start their own business and interest-free Kisan Credit Card (KCC), there is no groundswell of support. And MNF’s concern over the continued violence in Manipur has cast a shadow on the ties and raised red flags in the BJP. A second BJP leader said Mizoram chief minister Zoramthanga’s comments against his Manipur counterpart Biren Singh (of the BJP) did not sit well with the party’s leadership. His s decision to not collect biometric data of Chin-Kuki refugees coming from Myanmar, and decision to support the No Confidence motion against the government in the Lok Sabha in August was also seen as a snub to his ally. He declined comment on whether the MNF and BJP will continue being allies.
Smriti covers an intersection of politics and governance. Having spent over a decade in journalism, she combines old fashioned leg work with modern story telling tools.


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