Neena Vyas

NEW DELHI: The Bharatiya Janata Party has begun preparations in right earnest for the Lok Sabha elections in Uttar Pradesh, where its fortunes have dipped sharply since 1998 when it won 57 seats and enjoyed a 36.5 per cent vote share. In 2004, it bagged just 10 seats and its support base dropped to 22 per cent.

On Thursday, general secretary Arun Jaitley, who is in charge of the party affairs in the State, attended an office-bearers’ meeting in Lucknow, where some ideas were thrown up on how the BJP could get back the wide support it enjoyed 10 years ago.

Key contest

Mr. Jaitley told journalists here on Friday that in a Lok Sabha election the contest would primarily be between the BJP, leading the National Democratic Alliance, and the Congress, at the head of the United Progressive Alliance. To that extent, the importance of Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party and Mulayam Singh of the Samajwadi Party would decline compared to their clout in the last Assembly elections.

“In the last Assembly election, the mood was clearly against the ruling SP. Ms. Mayawati’s BSP was the beneficiary as it was seen as the most credible opponent of the SP,” Mr. Jaitley said.

Consolidation of votes

Another point being made by senior BJP leaders is that the recent cosiness between the Congress and the SP would “naturally lead to a consolidation of the Muslim vote behind this combination if an alliance were to come through.” In the party’s calculation — apparently it was discussed at the Lucknow meeting — this would lead to a “polarisation between Hindus and Muslims, especially in urban areas.” It seems the party is working on such a strategy.

The BJP also hopes to benefit from delimitation, with many constituencies becoming almost totally urban. The traditional wisdom in the party is that the urban middle class is attracted to the BJP and its ideology. Adding to this, in the last Assembly elections 11 of 15 ‘Vaish’ (baniya) candidates of the party won. This, Mr. Jaitley said, showed that the upper castes had not abandoned the BJP altogether to ride on the BSP’s elephant.

Winning candidates

In fact, BJP leaders believe that a significant section of Brahmins remains with the party despite Ms. Mayawati’s successful Brahmin-Dalit-Muslim alliance.

After a detailed study of the last Assembly election results in Uttar Pradesh, Mr. Jaitley has concluded that “Mayawati got good Brahmin vote where her party put up winning Brahmin candidates.”

In Uttar Pradesh, many sections vote for a strong candidate who belongs to their caste and who is seen to be a “winning candidate,” he says. The BSP also had the advantage of transferable Jatav votes.

Party leaders have begun demanding that the BJP declare its candidates early to help them cover lost ground. A view is gaining ground that at least in constituencies where candidates are more or less known and identified, the party should declare their names officially.

Anti-incumbency

Finally, the party feels that while the Congress and the BSP, ruling at the Centre and in the State, will be burdened by the anti-incumbency factor, the BJP will have the freedom to “open our mouths and abuse the two parties,” as one leader put it.