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Business News/ Opinion / Views/  The BJP’s poll strategy has a centralized twist

The BJP’s poll strategy has a centralized twist

The party is fielding central leaders for state polls and will have PM Narendra Modi lead its campaign. Its rivals will have to summon all they’ve got to counter the BJP’s hefty approach

Today, much revolves around Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who it’s clear will lead BJP campaigns in poll-bound states. (PTI)Premium
Today, much revolves around Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who it’s clear will lead BJP campaigns in poll-bound states. (PTI)

The Election Commission of India has declared its schedule for assembly polls to be held next month in five states: Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Telangana and Mizoram. Separately, India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has announced its candidates for some of the legislative seats up for contest, and some of the names have taken political observers by surprise. That’s because the party has decided to send high-profile central leaders to state-level battlefields. This is unusual, if not rare. In Rajasthan, as many as seven Members of Parliament (MPs) have been named as contenders. In Madhya Pradesh, too, the party has listed seven of its MPs (three Union ministers included) as would-be state legislators. And another four MPs will contest polls in Chhattisgarh. Presumably, these calls follow a seat-wise electoral calculus aimed at helping the party gain ground in zones of past weakness. It also seems in line with a practice that has held it in good stead, even set it apart: A hard focus on meritocracy. Incumbents cannot take their roles for granted with the top looking closely at how they perform. On the whole, however, it can be interpreted as yet another sign of how centralized the BJP now is—not just in the wielding of power, but also in its appeal among voters. Both, of course, are related.

Today, much revolves around Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who it’s clear will lead BJP campaigns in poll-bound states. Notably, his speeches so far have made no mention of Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister (CM) Shivraj Singh Chouhan, a possible hint of the party fighting without a CM face. It may also explain the presence in the fray of top-bracket leaders from New Delhi. Given Modi’s popularity, this may be a way to neutralize anti-incumbency. If the party’s top leader holds greater sway over ballot choices than the state leadership, it may have reckoned, then this approach would deliver better results. To retain power, Chouhan may have to pull off a dramatic win, and that too one he could plausibly claim credit for—space for which may shrink fast. In Rajasthan, it’s even clearer that the BJP will not rely on former CM Vasundhara Raje to defeat the state’s ruling Congress party. Her loyalists reportedly struggled—and some failed—to make BJP contestant lists. If such treatment pushes her to fortify her authority or go into open rebellion mode, it could spell trouble for the party. But then again, the BJP learnt even in Karnataka that it was not very reliant on the ‘Lingayat vote’ brought in by B.S. Yediyurappa, but had its own influence. It lost power in the state this year to a resurgent Congress party, but largely held its vote share.

No doubt, political rivals of the BJP will miss no chance to flag “Modi dependency" as a sign of its weakness. Yet, while concentration risk may apply at times to political outcomes, there is scarce evidence so far of a dip in Modi’s sway over voters. Could a caste ferment among Other Backward Classes (OBCs), who form the bulk of our population, arise to change that? It’s what the Congress alliance appears to be betting on. Much will depend on the extent to which quota politics can cleave OBC support away from the BJP, which has been evasive on a caste census. This dodge is understandable, given its need of upper-caste votes and perhaps the demands of an ideology shaped by its mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Though state polls don’t always offer clues to how national elections will pan out, new strategies are set to be tested for 2024. The stakes are high for both sides.

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Published: 10 Oct 2023, 08:58 PM IST
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