New Delhi: Addled by a spate of electoral humiliations, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is going back to the grass roots—literally.
In a deviation from tradition, India’s main opposition party will not hold its annual conclave at a five-star hotel but in a makeshift tent city on the outskirts of Indore.
An entire township, called Kushabhau Thakre Nagar, has come up on the two sides of the Agra-Mumbai highway to host Wednesday’s national executive conclave, followed by a two-day national council meeting.
New venue: An entire township has come up on the Agra-Mumbai highway to host the BJP’s national executive conclave from Wednesday. Shankar Mourya/Mint
Plastic is banned at the venue, as is smoking, and handmade products such as recycled paper, jute bags and other eco-friendly articles would be used as top leaders of the party gather to decide their political strategy.
But step inside one of the 25 huts that will house the top brass, and you can see why some analysts feel the BJP’s “austerity” is only skin-deep. These luxury canvas tents have a bedroom, living room, dining area and bathrooms, apart from extra office space. They boast plasma TVs, laptops and special conference facilities—in case a senior leader wants to summon a regional unit for urgent consultation. Battery-run vehicles wait outside to ferry them around.
Nonetheless, the venue—named after a former party president who hailed from this state—carries on with the changes new presidentNitin Gadkari has effected after his election. “We would like to be called a vigilance party and not an opposition party,” Gadkari had said after taking over charge from Rajnath Singh in the last week of December. During the national council meeting, Gadkari, whose election will also be ratified at the conclave, will convey his “revival road map” to the party cadre.
A social welfare project for each district unit of the party, a monthly performance evaluation of team members and a compulsory 10-day stay every month in states for every central leader are among the changes he plans for his three-year tenure.
BJP vice-president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, in charge of the preparations for the meeting, said there will be six sessions in the national council meeting. “The national executive is likely to have two resolutions, one each dealing with internal security and price rise. There will also be a paper on the approach towards environmental issues,” he said.
The names of new members of the central leadership are expected to be finalized here.
The 30-year-old party is undergoing a churn after losing back-to-back national elections and a series of state assembly polls, and has been suffering an erosion of its support base over the past six years. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance lost power in the 2004 general election, when it was ousted by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance. Its parliamentary presence was reduced further in last year’s elections, which prompted an acerbic debate within the BJP about its future agenda.
The drubbing also caused some ageing party leaders to make way for younger politicians, such as Gadkari, who has declared his aim is to extend the party’s votebase by 10%.
Vivek Kumar, associate professor at the Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, says any measures to revitalize the party should go beyond the cosmetic. “The strength of a cadre-based party like the BJP lies in the enthusiasm of its foot soldiers. The party apparently lost its touch with mass issues and ground realities during its rule,” he said.
Kumar said the party needed to end its tradition of “armchair politics”. Essential components of a revival plan, he said, would be “constructive engagement for its cadre for the next five years” and having “emerging faces to lead them”.