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BJP Continued Its Poll Dance in 2022 with A Few Slips; in 2023 It Has Plans to Put Rivals Out Of Step Again

Prime Minister Narendra Modi completed eight years leading the government at the Centre in 2022 and continues to be the star campaigner of the Bharatiya Janata Party in every election – from civic body polls to the Lok Sabha elections. As the party gears up for another electoral test in 2024, the PM shoulders the responsibility of a smooth journey for the BJP to retain power.

While the party saw historic victories this year and also lost some states, PM Modi’s popularity continued to soar among the electorate, giving an impetus to the BJP’s plans of winning the 2024 Lok Sabha polls as well.

The year began with a thumping victory of the party in a significant state like Uttar Pradesh. However, with its insatiable appetite, the BJP looked for every possibility of forming a government anywhere, even in states that had coalition governments of rival parties.

It won states like Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh where the tradition was that the incumbent government did not get repeated. It also adopted the strategy of changing chief ministers close to elections to do away with anti-incumbency. Despite being in power for 27 years in Gujarat, it won the state again with a historic mandate and record number of seats. There as well, the party had changed the chief minister, bringing in a first-time MLA. It also won states like Goa and later some Congressmen too joined it.

The biggest boost came to the party from Maharashtra where defections by Shiv Sena MLAs brought the Maha Vikas Aghadi government down. The high-voltage drama unfolded in Maharashtra and Assam simultaneously as the defected MLAs took refuge in the northeastern state to escape the ruling Shiv Sena. In a very strategic decision and to avoid accusation of having orchestrated the fall of the MVA government in Maharashtra, the BJP welcomed Eknath Shinde, a Shiv Sena MLA, as chief minister of the new coalition whereas PM Modi himself convinced Devendra Fadnavis to become deputy chief minister and oversee the governance.

Amid all these developments, the BJP suffered defeat in some states as well. While it could not contain dissidents in Himachal Pradesh, the home state of its national president JP Nadda, it also lost its long-time ally Janata Dal (United) in Bihar, and thus went out of the government as the JD(U) shook hands with RJD.

Mission 2024 Lok Sabha polls

On the one hand, as the BJP worked to secure victories in the state assemblies and create a favourable environment through its model of governance, it also started preparing for Lok Sabha 2024. The party had earmarked 144 Lok Sabha seats, which it has now increased to 160, with no alliance in Bihar and Maharashtra where it did not win. It has put its ministers as incharge of these seats. The idea is if at all the party loses any of the seats it had won in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, there must be compensation for that loss.

The party leaders have pegged the Gujarat assembly polls as the semi-finals for 2024.

The party has drawn an exhaustive strategy for the leaders across its ranks to ensure that its chances to win the seats increase. According to the elaborate plan, the leaders have to conduct night stays in every assembly constituency, prepare a dossier containing caste data, election dates, poaching and trends, identify electorally important places for rallies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and BJP’s national president JP Nadda. Apart from this, they have to physically verify core and booth committee formation and hold virtual meetings with the assembly core group twice a month.

Expanding footprints in southern states

The wall of Vindhyas has been a tough one to break for the BJP. With the party’s limited presence in southern India, the party has been actively campaigning, stitching alliances, and growing bit by bit in states where it used to be non-existent.

The party has set its eyes on Telangana to begin with. With four MPs in 2019 from the state, the saffron party believes that it can defeat the ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi and establish itself as the principal contender for the power. Winning Dubbaka and later the Huzurabad assembly bypolls shook up the political equations in the state.

BJP president Nadda had done various pravas (travels) in the state. He has also led an agitation against chief minister KCR for arresting BJP state president Sanjay Bandi for taking out a yatra against the Telangana government

In Tamil Nadu, the party has thrown its support behind state president K Annamalai. With AIADMK, its natural ally in the state, in the midst of a legacy battle between EPS and OPS, the saffron party is watching how the battle to claim the throne pans out. The party faces challenges on many issues including one over Hindi language. The opposition rakes up the “Hindi imposition” issue in every election.

In Kerala, religion remains the epicentre of politics and this is not going to change anytime soon. And the BJP too wants to play its cards right. With a significant Christian population, the party believes that PM Modi meeting with the Pope during the G20 summit in Rome has changed the sentiments of the Christians that comprise 20% of the state’s population.

The PM had this year asked Northeast Christian leaders and ministers to go to Kerala and have a dialogue with the population and tell them about the central government’s schemes.

In Andhra Pradesh, the party is struggling to build its organisation as it always played second fiddle to the TDP, an ally that left it in 2018.

Experimenting with new social equations

At the BJP’s national council meeting in Hyderabad this year, PM Modi asked his partymen to experiment with new social equations and reach out to the backward members of every community including Muslims. He even cited examples of Pasmanda Muslims and asked the party to start working towards them. The party believes this would definitely benefit it in the Lok Sabha polls.

The new experiments would not mean that the party will abandon its caste arithmetic. The BJP has shifted its focus on Other Backward Classes and Scheduled Castes and held many sammelans for both communities. Union home minister Amit Shah had advised the SC morcha to go among the people of the community and tell them how much respect and power the party has given to Scheduled Caste leaders. For example, in Telangana, which is largely a backward caste state, it asked leaders asked to do pravas in bastis.

Wooing tribal people and exposing opposition’s ‘unity’

The party exposed the cracks in the unity of the opposition when it announced Draupadi Murmu, a tribal person, as its presidential candidate. The BJP is also looking at the electoral gains in tribal belts, Odisha, and Jharkhand.

Ideological commitment on UCC

Another top ideological agenda for the party is implementing the Uniform Civil Code (UCC). While the Centre can bring the law in Parliament, it is treading cautiously. A few BJP-ruled states have announced formation of committees to assess the feasibility of UCC implementation. Senior leaders believe the party would have ample time to test sentiments regarding the proposed law, as it may invite “adverse sentiments from a certain quarter” and the BJP would be able to strategise in time to contain any opposition to the move.

The new generation

The party has witnessed some top leadership being dropped from the top body of the party, the parliamentary board. This also impacts the political equations within the party in the states from where these leaders belong.

While senior leaders like Nitin Gadkari and Shivraj Singh Chouhan have been dropped from the BJP parliamentary board, Maharashtra deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has been made a member of the party’s Central Election Committee (CEC), which selects candidates during Lok Sabha and assembly elections. Former Karnataka chief minister BS Yediyurappa, union minister Sarabananda Sonowal, former minister for social justice and empowerment Satyanarayan Jatiya from Madhya Pradesh, former IPS officer Iqbal Singh Lalpura, BJP national OBC Morcha president K Laxman, national secretary Sudha Yadav, and BJP national general secretary (organisation) BL Santhosh are part of the parliamentary board. All 11 parliamentary board members are also part of the CEC, which comprises 15 leaders.

One big development that still crops up mid some of the partymen was the suspension of BJP national spokesperson Nupur Sharma after her comments on Prophet Muhammad. Pressure came from Islamic nations and it became an international issue, leading to the party suspending her.

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