New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), riven by factional differences and dissidence within the ranks, is trying to leverage the popularity of its chief ministers such as Narendra Modi of Gujarat and Shivraj Singh Chauhan of Madhya Pradesh to win votes in the Maharashtra assembly polls and defeat the incumbent Congress-led government.
The chief ministers, the BJP hopes, will gain support from the people of their respective states, such as the Gujaratis and those living in the areas adjoining Madhya Pradesh.
The Maharashtra elections will determine whether the BJP, which is in alliance with the Shiv Sena, has been able to recover political ground after the defeat it suffered in the general election.
The BJP wants to maintain the momentum of by-election victories early this month in Gujarat by preventing a third consecutive win in the Maharashtra state elections by the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) combine.
Litmus test: BJP supporters during the filing of nomination papers by party candidate Sambhaji Pawar in Sangli, Maharashtra, on Wednesday. The Maharashtra polls will determine whether the BJP, which is in alliance with the Shiv Sena, has been able to recover political ground after the defeat in the general election. PTI
In the 2004 assembly elections, the BJP-Shiv Sena grouping got a 32.64% vote share, 7% less than the winners, giving it 118 seats and the ruling coalition 140.
In the April-May general election, the Congress and the NCP won 17 and eight seats, respectively, the BJP won nine, and the Shiv Sena got 11 out of the 48 parliamentary constituencies in the state.
The BJP chief ministers, including Raman Singh of Chhattisgarh and B.S. Yeddyurappa of Karnataka, will lead the party’s campaign for the 13 October assembly elections. The party’s top leader L.K. Advani, who was the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in the general election, will focus on two-three major rallies, leaving the chief ministers to try and draw the bulk of the popular support.
“Yeddyurappa will campaign extensively in the Kolhapur belt while Narendra Modi will hold meetings in Nashik and adjoining areas, including Thane,” said party spokesperson Prakash Javdekar, who is also overseeing the campaign in the state.
“The Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh chief ministers will be involved in the campaign in the Vidharbha and Gondia-Chandrapur belt, respectively,” he said.
The extensive use of chief ministers is an indication that the BJP lacks crowd pullers at the top level.
“It is a comment on its central leadership,” said Kamal M. Chenoy, professor at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. “But at the same time, the Opposition needs to understand that for an effective campaign, the state leaders need to carry with them the promise of an alternative governing policy and a promise for better performance than the Congress-NCP combine. Chief ministers like Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Raman Singh can at least attempt to say that to voters.”
The BJP’s Javdekar denied that the strategy would in any way sideline the national figures of the party. “All are actively involved, including the national leadership. The programmes are yet to be chalked out and would be announced soon.”
While Advani addressed at least 100 rallies across the country during the campaigning for the general election, a good showing will depend on more than just rallies by chief ministers.
“Chief ministers from other states can pull in the crowds and result in a successful rally but the winning of the seat would largely depend on the local organization and the efforts of the local leaders,” says Pune-based writer and columnist Navneet Deshpande. “Narendra Modi’s campaign in the state during the Lok Sabha polls is a lesson to learn for any political party.”
Some BJP insiders agree privately that the idea to use chief ministers extensively may not work, pointing to the lack of effect of Modi’s campaigns for the general election.
“The first meeting of the alliance leaders expressed reservations on the idea of large rallies by central leaders,” said a party leader on condition of anonymity. “Of the 40 constituencies addressed by Narendra Modi across the state in the Lok Sabha polls, only one seat could be won.”
The initiative comes as the BJP plays second fiddle to its alliance partner in the state, the Shiv Sena, which has unilaterally declared its leader Uddhav Thackeray as the chief ministerial candidate.
Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh will also hold elections along with Maharashtra, the first litmus test for both the main national parties after the Lok Sabha polls.