Ensuring a BJP sweep, one voter at a time

A systematic, behind-the-scenes outreach secured support across caste for the BJP

Updated - May 24, 2019 07:54 am IST

Published - May 23, 2019 10:25 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Amit Shah at a BJP National Convention in New Delhi on January 11.

Amit Shah at a BJP National Convention in New Delhi on January 11.

At the BJP’s national council held in early January this year, just after the party lost three State Assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh, BJP president Amit Shah narrated a parable that caught the imagination of party leaders and workers alike. He spoke of the Marathas, a great military force in the 18th century, who won battle after battle, but lost the decisive third battle of Panipat against Ahmad Shah Abdali leading to a decline in their power thereafter.

The sub text was clear; Mr. Shah was cautioning party workers that anything short of complete enthusiasm and hard work for the Lok Sabha polls could lead to defeat and a decline of the BJP and Sangh Parivar .

PM, not MP

A large part of the BJP’s strategy was around Prime Minister Modi as its most charismatic leader who commanded votes across categories. It also worked to create a category of voters who would vote above parochial concerns.

The opposition’s disarray with regards to leadership helped drive home this point of a decisive leader.

Beneficiary as voter

Six months before the polls, a list of beneficiaries of the Modi government’s welfare programmes was shared with every Lok Sabha constituency, and party workers were asked to reach out to them.

Party president Amit Shah had also revealed that around 161 call centres had been set up by the party with over 15,000 callers to help with the outreach.

“The benefits, unlike under previous governments, were not specific to one community and helped the party break caste barriers and identity issues,” said a senior leader.

After the seventh phase of polling revealed that women, for the first time in independent India’s history, had come out to vote in as many numbers as men and as the results started pouring in on Thursday, the party was assured of victory.

“Women and young people who saw welfare programmes being delivered created a set of voters who helped break caste arithmetic,” said a senior party leader.

The party’s greatest challenge was the formidable caste arithmetic of Uttar Pradesh’s Mahagathbandhan of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Samajwadi Party (SP). Senior leaders said the aggression among the support bases of both these parties helped along a process of “reverse polarisation.”

“Our voters saw this aggression by SP and BSP voters and consolidated firmly behind us — non-Yadav OBCs, non-Jatav dalits and upper castes. Added to women and the young, this was a formidable combination,” said the source.

Real time feedback and the addressing of it by Prime Minister Modi was reflected in his tour plans that mostly concentrated on seats where the party needed a boost rather than go to strongholds.

The BJP’s planning for the Lok Sabha polls began nearly three years ago with Mr. Shah coming out with focus areas for the party’s expansion.

A list of 120 seats mostly in what he termed as the “Coromandel Coast”, where the BJP hadn’t won ever but had registered some votes in 2014, were concentrated on. In Odisha as in West Bengal, the BJP slowly ate up the Congress and Left’s space as the opposition, giving it nearly 30 extra seats.

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