Assembly election results | PM Modi, party organisation, women, Dalits and tribals charge the BJP juggernaut

After experimenting in the electoral lab of the five States, the BJP has found successful strategies to deploy in 2024: focus on the PM as the party’s sole face offering welfare guarantees, woo women, SCs, STs

December 03, 2023 07:29 pm | Updated 09:26 pm IST - NEW DELHI

BJP workers celebrate after winning the Chhattisgarh Assembly Election at BJQ Office in Raipur on December 03, 2023.

BJP workers celebrate after winning the Chhattisgarh Assembly Election at BJQ Office in Raipur on December 03, 2023. | Photo Credit: R.V. Moorthy

For the BJP, last month’s Assembly elections in five States were an opportunity to test drive certain strategic ideas before deploying them in the 2024 general election. The BJP’s victories in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chattisgarh, and its decent performance in Telangana, have ensured that some of these ideas have now won a long shelf life in the party’s arsenal of electoral strategies.

The first big idea that seemed to have worked for the BJP was not to highlight any State-specific face, but rather to depend on Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the biggest vote catcher, regardless of the State. The BJP’s move was not just based on equations within the party with regard to Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Vasundhara Raje of Rajasthan; it also ensured that, with Mr. Modi at the top and more than a dozen MPs in the fray, both State leaders and the cadre associated with them would feel they had skin in the game.

Modi as the party’s sole face

“There was anti-incumbency against Shivraj Singh Chouhan within the BJP, concerns with regard to Vasundhara Raje, and the lack of any face emerging in Chattisgarh. The best thing was to go with our most trusted face, with several MPs to boost the morale of the cadre,” said a senior office bearer of the BJP who worked behind the scenes in the M.P. campaign.

“Modi’s guarantee on welfare in response to the Congress guarantees worked well, as it comes with an unimpeachable record of delivery. The BJP has emerged as the party of governance as our governments are repeated while the Congress is rarely voted back,” he added.

This strategy will be useful in the Lok Sabha election as well, with the organisation being told firmly that, while the Prime Minister is the main face of the party, everyone has to pull their own weight.

Support from SC/ST, women

A big feature of these polls has been the support that the BJP has managed to get from the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (SC/ST), as well as from women voters, whether in Chhattisgarh, M.P., or Rajasthan. In fact, one of the BJP leaders in-charge for M.P., Muralidhar Rao, says that the BJP’s big victory in that State was all due to “Prime Minister Modi, plus Shivraj Chouhan along with the overwhelming support of SC/ST and women.”

In the run-up to State polls, the Congress aggresively promoted the need for a caste census and its formula of proportionate benefits, exemplified through the slogan, “Jiski jitni sankhya bhari, uski utni hissedari (To each according to their number)“. Mr. Modi, however, repeatedly stated in his public meetings that, for him, the biggest caste was poverty, a counter to the demand for a caste survey.

No traction for caste survey

The BJP had been saying that it would need electoral traction in favour of a caste survey to take the idea seriously. Sunday’s results have made it clear that, in the three big Hindi heartland States at least, there was no such traction.

Numbers wise, the BJP won 17 out of 29 seats reserved for STs in Chhattisgarh, 27 out of 47 such reserved seats in M.P., and 13 out of 25 constituences reserved for STs in Rajasthan. Among seats reserved for SC candidates, the BJP won four out of 10 in Chhattisgarh, 27 out of 35 in M.P., and 21 out of 33 in Rajasthan.

In areas dominated by other backward classes (OBCs) in Madhya Pradesh, which account for at least 67 seats, the BJP has won 49 seats.

The large turnout among women voters — 2% more than male voters in M.P., for example — is also said to have helped the BJP.

Green shoots in Telangana

The BJP is en route to winning eight seats in Telangana, seven more than it did in 2018, but there also remains the feeling that it lost the opportunity for a still better performance. Just before the polls, the BJP had changed its State president from Bandi Sanjay Kumar to Union Minister G. Kishen Reddy, which deflated the party’s momentum in mounting a convincing campaign against the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS). After the change in leadership, there were aspersions cast that the BJP had reached some kind of understanding with the BRS to split the Opposition vote and usher the BRS into office yet again, in return for an understanding in the upcoming Lok Sabha poll.

The BJP did, however, show some dexterity in executing a mid course correction in its campaign, with sharp attacks on the BRS led by Mr. Modi, who declared that he had been approached by the BRS for entry into the NDA, which he had rejected. More importantly, the Prime Minister made two important announcements: to set up a Turmeric Board in Nizamabad, a long standing demand in the area, and to set up a committee to look into the sub categorisation of the Madiga community within the larger Scheduled Caste category in the State.

The BJP saw a sharp rise in its vote share, and party sources said that it now saw Telangana as a second gateway to the south, after Karnataka. “National parties are hamstrung while coming up against regional parties, but with the Congress at the helm, many of the upcoming Lok Sabha contests will be effectively between the Congress and the BJP, where we intend to score,” said a senior Telangana BJP leader.

Though termed a semi-final match in sporting parlance, the electoral verdict in this set of polls is hardly ever reflective of what will happen in next year’s Lok Sabha election; however, strategies successfully tested here are certain to be deployed again by the BJP in 2024.

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