The BJP’s performance in the general elections signifies that the combination of a popular leader, a well-oiled political organization, and the support of its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) can counter anti-incumbency sentiments.
The general elections were crucial for Shah because this is the first Lok Sabha elections that the BJP has fought under his leadership.
This importance of the elections for the BJP president can be gauged from the fact that Shah, according to two party leaders, travelled nearly 160,000km, holding 161 public meetings, 18 road shows and more than 1,500 meetings with BJP leaders and workers in a mammoth campaign exercise during which he visited 312 Lok Sabha constituencies.
Shah has held more public meetings than any other BJP leader, more than Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 142 and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s 135. Besides, Modi travelled 105,000km in the three months of election campaigning, less than two-thirds of the distance travelled by Shah.
Apart from Modi and Shah, the Union ministers together held more than 1,500 public meetings, while chief ministers of different states conducted another 500 of them to reach out to voters.
“The popularity of Modi and the organizational strength of the BJP can be seen in the number of state governments under BJP-NDA. When the BJP came to power in May 2014, there were six governments of the party in the states, but now there are 16 states under the BJP-NDA," said a senior BJP leader who was involved in devising the party’s strategy.
The journey of the BJP towards achieving the target of winning more than 300 seats started immediately after the 2014 general elections when Modi and Shah told party workers that they would have to help sharply increase the party’s vote share.
The two leaders had realized that the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) would possibly be up against the combined strength of the opposition parties in 2019.
The first step was to identify the Lok Sabha seats and the states where the BJP has traditionally failed to do well. There were 160 of them in six states with marginal BJP presence, including West Bengal, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu.
“The significant part of the result of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections is that while the BJP has retained its dominance in most northern states, the party has managed to win seats in newer areas. Amit Shah told BJP workers that the party should target a vote share of 50% if it wants to retain power," said the BJP leader quoted above.
Shah deputed 300 full-time party workers in West Bengal and another 200 in Odisha to boost the organizational network of the BJP. These people have been working since 2016 to not just challenge the might of the state governments but also to build booth-level cadre in all parliamentary constituencies.
“The idea of performing well in these six states was named as the Coromandel project by Amit Shah because most of the states are on the eastern coast of India," the BJP leader said.
Similarly, after the opposition alliance in Uttar Pradesh between the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) was finalized, Shah told BJP workers in the state that the two parties were trying to stop the electoral rise of the BJP and that the elections in the state would be crucial.
The NDA had won 73 out of the 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh in 2014 with more than 42% of the votes. For 2019, Shah gave party workers a new target—a 50% vote share and 74 seats for the NDA.
The second part of the strategy was to reach out to the 220 million beneficiaries of flagship Union government programmes, mainly those providing subsidized cooking gas under the Ujjwala scheme, opening Jan Dhan bank accounts, constructing toilets under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, 24x7 electricity under Saubhagaya, and affordable housing for all.
Even though a total of 320 million people had benefitted through different government programmes, there are at least 220 million who had benefited from at least one scheme.
“There are more than 161 different call centres started by the party where over 15,000 party workers call and reach out to beneficiaries of these government schemes. The exercise not only helps to get a feedback of the programmes but also reminds the beneficiaries that it is because of the BJP-NDA government under Modi that they are getting these benefits," the BJP leader said.
The party got 170 million votes with a 31% vote share in 2014 election, which helped it win 282 Lok Sabha seats, according to the BJP.
“The idea was to retain these 170 million voters and also try to make the 220 million beneficiaries of different flagship programmes voters of NDA. This strategy seems have worked for the BJP-NDA because the alliance has only bettered its performance in the polls. We could reach out to more than 24 crore (240 million) beneficiaries of government schemes through the call centres," the BJP leader said.
Senior leaders of the BJP point out that the party managed to change its voter base and social base by reaching out to marginalized sections.
“The BJP was known as a party that was limited to urban areas. The 2014 elections under Modi changed that, but the work of the government further made people confident about the credibility of the government and leadership of Modi," said the leader.
Another crucial but calculated step taken by the Modi-Shah duo was the growth of BJP as an organization. During the 2014 general elections, BJP’s registered strength was 20 million workers nationally. However, by the end of 2016, the BJP had 110 million registered members through its outreach programmes. The growth of the party not only made the BJP the biggest party in the country but also helped it further tighten its organizational network with booth committee workers in every constituency, both Lok Sabha and assembly.
The last and final support came from the ideological parent of the BJP, the RSS which allowed its workers to campaign for the BJP.
“Two different campaigns were started by the cadre of RSS. The first was named, Vote for Country (Desh Ke Liye Matdaan) and the second was Nation First. RSS workers carried out door-to-door campaigns, went to slums and tried to reach out to most of the villages to ensure that people vote for BJP," said a senior RSS leader based in Nagpur.
Explaining the victory of the BJP as a win for the cadre or the organization, members of the RSS said that this victory would not have been possible without the organization network of both the BJP and the RSS. “Our main aim was to increase the vote share of BJP, we were confident that if the vote share of the BJP rises, the party would automatically perform well in the general elections," the RSS leader said