Prime Minister Narendra Modi is slated to continue with the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) poll pitch and address a convention of women who have benefited from government schemes such as Ujjwala and Saubhagya, as well as women’s self-help groups, tribals and Dalits at Pandharkawda in Vidarbha region of Maharashtra on 16 February.
This would be the first visit by any PM to this tribal-dominated town in Yavatmal district, part of a region identified with Maharashtra’s agrarian crisis. Yavatmal also accounts for the largest area—nearly 450,000 hectares—under cotton cultivation in India.
The visit is aimed at reaching out to the “key constituencies of farmers, women beneficiaries of government schemes, Dalits, and tribals" at one go, said a senior BJP leader in Maharashtra who did not want to be named.
The tribals, farmers, and Dalits of the district hope that Modi will announce a substantial relief package, said Kishore Tiwari, a Yavatmal-based farm activist who also heads a state government-appointed task force looking into the agrarian crisis. “It is historic that a serving Prime Minister is visiting the tribal region for the first time. In 2006, then prime minister Manmohan Singh was keen to visit this tribal belt but the local leaders and ministers from the Congress foiled the plan to cover their failures," Tiwari said.
The BJP has launched its campaign for the 2019 general elections, starting with the interim budget earlier this month that announced direct income support for small and marginal farmers and followed by Modi’s politically-loaded speech in the Lok Sabha. Last week, the party launched a month-long campaign titled “Bharat ke mann ki baat, Modi ke saath" seeking suggestions from the people for the election manifesto. The BJP in Maharashtra, too, followed up last week by flagging off a campaign chariot to seek suggestions from the people.
On Tuesday, senior BJP leader and Maharashtra minister Pankaja Munde set off the ‘Mera Bhajapa, Mera Parivar’ (My BJP, My Family) campaign, which aims to unfurl the BJP flag at every voter’s home. Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis addressed a BJP convention of party workers in Mumbai the same day, aimed at shoring up BJP shakti kendras, comprising three Lok Sabha constituencies each.
Modi has addressed 27 public meetings across India in the last two months with a special focus on the northeastern and southern states.
The BJP is not forgetting core states such as Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh though it is keen to expand its footprint in north-east and southern states, said a party MP from Maharashtra, who requested anonymity. “Contrary to the media projection that we are not hopeful of a 2014 repeat in Uttar Pradesh and other core states, we are quite confident of an even bigger Modi wave this time around in these states. In the northeastern and southern states, the Modi wave comes with the added element of novelty. In Maharashtra, the traction for Modi is as strong if not stronger among all sections of the society," the BJP MP said.
After UP, Maharashtra is key to BJP’s electoral fortunes as it sends the second-largest contingent of MPs, 48, to the Lok Sabha. In 2014, the BJP won 23 of 26 seats it contested in alliance with the Shiv Sena, which contested 21 and won 18. This time, the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance has not come through yet.