Buoyed by win, BJP to intensify Modi-card

The drubbing received by the Congress in the recently concluded State elections has forced the party to rethink its strategy in Uttar Pradesh ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

Taking the defeats "seriously," there are indications that Congress president Sonia Gandhi could take over the reins of the campaign in the crucial State from her son and party vice-president Rahul Gandhi, according to a senior party leader.

"The losses have alerted us. These are neighbouring states of UP. Now we will change out tactics to suit what the people want," the leader said. The party has set in motion steps to accelerate work on the ground level.

The positive results in the State elections have, on the other hand, bolstered the Bharatiya Janata Party to intensify the "Modi-card."

In his fifth rally in UP, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi will deliver a speech in Varanasi on December 20. For the BJP's prime ministerial candidate, who has so far clearly avoided the Ram Mandir issue in his speeches in UP, Varanasi will be the first religious place in his list of eight scheduled rallies in the State.

Varanasi, currently held by the BJP's Murli Manohar Joshi, is considered the gateway to the impoverished region of Purvanchal, which holds a crucial 22 Lok Sabha seats. It is also speculated the Mr. Modi could contest from a seat in UP, with Varanasi, Allahabad and Lucknow featuring as possibilities. However, party leaders have been silent on the matter.

While the BJP has taken the Congress heads on on issues such as corruption, avoiding the Ram Mandir issue does not mean it has been compromised, says States spokesperson Vijay Bahadur Pathak.

"Whenever we have been asked about it we have made out stand clear. But it’s not a poll issue so we don't need to reiterate our stand again and again."

While the BJP will continue to target the Central government to acheive its target of "50 plus" seats in UP, the party feels it will also have to intensify attacks on the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party.

"It will be BJP vs the others next year it is clear. The focus will be to associate the other parties with the Congress, which is on a steady decline on the popularity charts. Our focus is to force them to commit friendly fires." a senior leader said. This has been evident from the BJP's rallies in UP so far, where Mr. Modi has repeatedly urged the voters to not only reject the Congress but also teach its friends (SP and BSP) a lesson.

The BJP, which holds a meagre 10 Lok Sabha seats out of 80 and 47 Assembly seats, has divided the State into eight target regions and intensified booth-level work. A week after Mr. Modi's rally in Varanasi, the Congress will on December 26 and 27 stage a dharna with demands of implementation of the Food Security Act in UP.

The issue of sugarcane farmers will also feature in the list. Union ministers, MPs and MLAs from the region will be invited to the dharna, said state Congress spokesperson Dwijendra Tripathi. The party plans to extend such dharnas to other regions as well.

Like the Congress, wounded by the defeats, the victorious BJP too is taking lessons from the success of the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi. The party believes that to win a large number of seats in UP, they would need to avoid candidates who do not have a clean image. However, Mr. Pathak admits that the party is still dogged by a weak base in the State and faces a dearth of winning candidates.

"It will be an uphill task. We currently have only 10 seats. But the Modi factor will surely make up for such shortcomings," he said.

If the lack of strong candidates in UP could force the party to ask senior leaders to leave their seats and contest from tough seats, Mr. Pathak says the party is currently following a policy of "no discussion" on sitting seats.