Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, due exactly a year from now, are critical for the Bharatiya Janata Party if it wants to entertain any hopes of a chance to form a government at the Centre in 2014.
The Hindi heartland has been its political strongpoint and unless it revives its fortunes there, it cannot hope to effectively compete against the Congress despite being helped along by inflation and the issue of corruption.
Therefore, it is not with just the Assembly elections in mind, but the urgent need to shape up in U.P. for the mega contest in 2014 that the party leadership has decided to hold a three-day national executive committee meeting in Lucknow next month. After all, when the BJP's tally of the Lok Sabha seats peaked at 182 in 1998, it managed to win as many as 57 seats from U.P. alone. In just over a decade, however, from being the number one party in the State, it fell to the fourth position, getting just 10 Lok Sabha seats in 2009.
The slogan that the BJP has coined for its national executive committee meet — and it will also be its plank for the Assembly elections is —Sankalp sushasan, vikalp bhajpa[Aim is good governance, BJP is the alternative]. But party leaders admit that in the Assembly elections, the BJP's aim would be to grab the third position in the State that the Congress managed to snatch in the 2009 Lok Sabha election. For, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party are sure of bagging the top two positions.
The BJP's strategy — both for the U.P. Assembly polls and the 2014 Lok Sabha election — has several elements: one, keep the ‘Bania' vote; two, attract the Brahmin vote back to its fold in large numbers and prevent it from moving towards the Congress; three, get the ‘Thakur' vote on the strength of leaders like Rajnath Singh since the other tall ‘Thakur' leader from U.P., Amar Singh, is currently at a loose end without a party; try and attract some of the non-Yadav Backward Castes such as “Kurmis” and “Lodh,” explained a senior party leader.
It is with this in view that Kalraj Mishra, the party's ‘Brahmin' leader, has been given the task of heading the campaign committee in the State while Mr. Rajnath Singh is to be extensively deployed in building up the party in the State. The earlier effort to get the former party leader, Uma Bharti, to return to the BJP was to have helped it to once again win the confidence of the ‘Lodh' votes that were once solidly with it, thanks to Kalyan Singh (who left the party well before the 2009 Lok Sabha election).
That is the ‘jaati samikaran,' the caste arithmetic, the BJP is working on. And besides, it is hoping that high food inflation and the numerous corruption scams that have surfaced during the second tenure of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance will help create an anti-Congress atmosphere and drive the upper castes into the BJP's arms.
A section of the party leadership here is of the view that a key element in the party's revival would be its ability to distance itself successfully from the SP and the BSP. Since the party has in the past done business with BSP leader Mayawati, not once or twice, but thrice, there is a perception that it could do this again. That perception must be changed and a clear message needs to be sent out that under no circumstances will the BJP tie up with Ms. Mayawati.
The BJP has also received all manner of help from the SP in the past — the last SP government in U.P. inexplicably retained BJP leader Kesrinath Tripathi in the Speaker's position, clearly indicating some understanding notwithstanding the public posture of the two parties.
A party leader said the BJP could not emerge as the alternative to the SP and the BSP precisely because in some inexplicable ways it was seen as working in tandem with them.