The outcome of the just-concluded assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh still sounds unbelievable and the magnitude of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) victory has left even the most optimistic party cadres in a daze. The victory—325 seats with an 81% strike rate and 41.5% vote share—is not just historic but also signifies absolute trust and faith in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership and his development-oriented politics. In Modi, voters finally see a leader who doesn’t resort to empty rhetoric but who is singularly focused on working and delivering a better India for its 1.3 billion citizens.
These once-in-a-generation election results have firmly established a new normal in Indian politics—BJP under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the organizational master class of Amit Shah is today the pre-eminent political party of India—the party which caters to the aspiration of every section of Indians.
As results indicated a BJP tsunami in UP and Uttarakhand, the grudging acknowledgement of this new political order came from a bitter critic of the party and PM Modi, former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah who tweeted that at this rate, the opposition should forget 2019 Lok Sabha elections and prepare for 2024. It is evident that the ferocity of the UP mandate is likely to leave opposition comatose for several months now.
While each state election is important, the result in Uttar Pradesh is especially significant because the state accounts for 80 seats in the Lok Sabha, 31 seats in the Rajya Sabha and has a crucial stake in determining the outcome of presidential elections.
But just what did the BJP do right in Uttar Pradesh when it devised and executed its electoral strategy that has turned the state completely saffron? After all, even at the peak of the movement for a temple on the site of the disputed Babri mosque in Uttar Pradesh, the state did not hand such a decisive mandate. Is there a BJP Uttar Pradesh model now that can serve as a template for future elections? Let us take a look at it closely.
Essentially, the BJP’s Uttar Pradesh strategy can be split across four broad themes—the ingredients that mixed perfectly to dish out a spectacular victory in India’s most complex state, where the society’s fabric has several caste- and religion-based fault lines.
Leadership of Narendra Modi
The first pillar of this victory edifice is the most obvious—the leadership of Narendra Modi. How else can one describe the phenomenon where just months before a crucial election that has national ramifications, a leader shows the courage to take the apparently unpopular decision of demonetization? Despite the sheer inconvenience to the public that was magnified several times and played across the media for weeks, the people voted for Modi in an unprecedented manner. Uttar Pradesh has also established emphatically what people like most about Modi—his decisiveness when it comes to national interests. Be it driving his team round-the-clock to deliver 5.2 million Ujwala cooking gas connections in Uttar Pradesh alone in less than a year, dealing a body blow to the cancer of black money in India, electrifying more than 1,400 villages in Uttar Pradesh that had been dark for seven decades, or ordering surgical strikes against India’s enemies, Modi has shown time and again that national interest is always paramount. The rapturous response Modi drew in Varanasi, where he campaigned for three straight days, only reinforced this aspect that he believes in leading from the front.
Amit Shah: The Technician
The second key element of the strategy that enabled this landslide is the overall organizational genius of BJP president Amit Shah. The task of reviving BJP’s organizational base that Shah initiated in 2013 was carried forward with more intensity. Shah himself reached out to the lowest rung of the organization and rank and file, energizing the entire party machinery. Within a span of less than three years, more than 18 million primary members were recruited in Uttar Pradesh alone. But Shah’s most lasting contribution to BJP’s election machinery is establishing the importance of booth management. Before Shah was sent to Uttar Pradesh in 2013, booth committees as the driving force behind micro management was relatively unheard of in UP. By the 2014 elections, under him, BJP had booth committees in 37% of the key booths. This number increased to 87% by 2017. In addition, the entire state was divided in 82 district units, 1,463 mandals (local administrative units) and 9,933 sectors. Announcing a chief ministerial candidate face before the elections carried the risk of upsetting the social equilibrium carefully built by Shah. Indeed, by not announcing a CM candidate, Shah did manage to keep away any possible division of its target social constituencies. Shah also crafted a strategy to add new voters from the so-called other backward classes and Dalit communities to the traditional upper caste vote base of the BJP. It was done by giving due representation to them in ticket distribution and promoting leadership from these marginalized castes.
Public contact drive
Following the 2015 defeat in Bihar, a massive mass mobilization was necessary in Uttar Pradesh which was carried out through a string of well-planned Parivartan Yatras (transformation journeys). These yatras, which began from four different corners of the state, scripted a history of sorts in the realm of political mobilization. The yatras crossed all 75 districts and 403 assembly constituencies, covering 8,138km. As many as 233 small and large public meetings and 2,537 welcome meetings took place during the course of these yatras, in which more than 5 million people took part.
Twenty-four rallies by Modi, over 150 by Shah and hundreds of other senior leaders left no corner of the state untouched. The eagerness to reach out to people was so much that the PM and party chief themselves conducted two roads shows each. In addition, several innovative contact programmes such as video vans and Parivartan Sandesh (transformation message) bikers were also organized.
The fourth link was to complement this aggressive spade work with an overarching vision. This vision for the state came as the binding force. For example, the manifesto the BJP released was not only comprehensive, exhaustive and forward looking, it was also designed and presented well. It was no longer a dreary and boring document that has to be released only for a mandatory photo op. Instead, top brains of the party, in Lucknow and in Delhi, went into first drafting, designing and presenting it. And as has been the new norm in the BJP, inputs were also invited from the people of Uttar Pradesh and more than 3 million suggestions were received.
The new BJP under the Modi-Shah duo is a well-oiled machine working at two levels. The first part is governance, where PM Modi along with his ministerial colleagues, is tirelessly and constantly moving ahead with a host of schemes that are not only lifting the ordinary Indian from the morass of poverty but also creating opportunities for him.
As Modi summed up in his post-victory address, this is a new, young and dynamic India where the poor do not want dole-outs or charity but are seeking opportunities to chart their own destiny.
The second part of this machine is the organizational setup under Amit Shah that is forever hungry for electoral success. So, whether it was the mighty Uttar Pradesh or the small state of Manipur, BJP under Shah has ensured it doesn’t squander even an inch. The results are there to see as BJP clocked the highest vote share in both Manipur and Goa.
Further, despite a hung verdict, it quickly moved to stitch up a post-poll alliance and staked its claim to forming the government. For an opposition that is now in disarray and completely demoralized after the UP drubbing, it will require more than a Herculean effort to take on the might of a nimble-footed, modern, and ruthless BJP. Omar Abdullah may well be right. The four wheels are in complete alignment and BJP’s Vijay Rath (victory chariot) seems unstoppable in 2019!
Devendra Kumar is a psephologist and a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party.