BJP’s Mission Gujarat: To Better Its Own Record For Seventh Term
Nearly a week left for the first phase of polling in the Gujarat assembly elections, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is not taking any chances. The BJP leadership has made an ambitious plan to better its own record of winning 127 assembly seats in the 2002 polls. It will however be known on Dec. 8, when the votes stored on EVM machines are tallied, whether the plan is a success or not.
The Mission Gujarat plan of the BJP is a three-pronged strategy of the party in which it has been decided that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah will focus on constituencies that were won by the Congress in the 2017 polls, while BJP president JP Nadda along with chief ministers and union cabinet ministers will invigorate party workers in areas that have traditionally supported the BJP.
The BJP hopes that the leadership of PM Modi will help the party break all its previous records. BJP leaders also believe that a three-cornered contest with the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party can act as an amplifier for the party and will help it secure more seats this time.
Apart from the two-decade long connect of PM Modi with the people of Gujarat, the entire Mission Gujarat plan is being spearheaded by Home Minister Amit Shah. Taking the first step in the direction of setting a new victory record in Gujarat, the BJP is hoping that it will not only be able to retain its own seats, it wants to win those seats that were won by the Congress in the 2017 elections. The BJP leadership is hopeful that the possible three-cornered contest will ensure a bigger margin of victory for the party this time.
During the recently concluded three-day tour of PM Modi in Gujarat that ended on Monday, Nov. 21, he held at least 12 public meetings in different constituencies that are going to the polls in the first phase of elections. Almost all of these 12 constituencies touched by the PM through his rallies were won by Congress in the 2017 elections.
The seats up for grabs in the first phase of elections in Saurashtra, Kachchh, and South Gujarat are in the areas where Congress performed well in the previous election. In most of the constituencies visited by the PM, the vote difference between the BJP and the Congress was less than 12,000 votes. JP Nadda, the president of the BJP, has been tasked with visiting constituencies where his party performed well in the 2017 elections.
The recent visit of Nadda to the seats of Rajkot, Navsari, and Ankleshwar is an example of how the BJP has divided its resources to maximise its electoral gain. The BJP has also sent the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, and several union ministers to areas where the party has traditionally performed well.
"Prime Minister Narendra Modi has a strong bond with the people of Gujarat. This relationship with people is also because he has been a chief minister for three terms. The feedback we are receiving from various constituencies is that they want PM Modi to visit their area at least once and meet with him. When we spoke to people in Congress-won constituencies last time, we were told categorically that if the BJP wanted people to vote in its favour, PM Modi should visit the constituency," said a senior BJP official, aware of the development.
The BJP has drawn up a detailed plan to ensure that the election results are not just in favour of the party but they break all previous poll records. The ruling party has divided the state into five different zones, and election campaigning in each zone is being overseen by a cabinet minister in the Gujarat government.
“The Mission Gujarat plan is being led by Home Minister Amit Shah because he is our strategist and understands the state. The division of Gujarat into five different zones is being overseen by General Secretary (organisation) Ratnakar, who is working with cabinet ministers of Gujarat to oversee the polling booth management of every constituency,” said a senior BJP leader from Gujarat.
Similarly, it has been decided that Shah will campaign in regions and constituencies where the BJP lost the last election to the Congress. BJP leaders believe that the presence of Shah will galvanise the cadre, which will benefit the party.
Both PM Modi and Shah are individually campaigning in areas where the Congress had won seats in the previous elections.
“The real three-cornered electoral battle will be visible in the regions of Saurashtra, Kachchh, and South Gujarat because Congress won lot of seats in these parts last time, and even AAP is also focusing on these regions. It is the areas of Rajkot, Kachchh and Surat where AAP believes it can make an impact,” said Amit Dholakia, head of the political science department at the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda.
Rainbow Coalition Of Castes
The electoral contest in Gujarat seems to have taken the form of an all-out war between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the two challengers—the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party. The leadership of the BJP has now decided that it will not take any prisoners and will return to power with a bigger mandate.
The BJP leadership has often described its social engineering formula as "Rainbow Coalition", which basically means a coalition of different castes and sub-castes that will complete a rainbow and help the party in its electoral contests.
Taking a cue from the strategies of both Congress and AAP, which are trying to eat into the voter base of the BJP in the run-up to the polls, BJP has decided to hit back and try to win over the voters of these two parties.
The ruling BJP has now decided to rework its social engineering strategy for the elections, it wants to win over the voters of other backward classes or OBCs instead of focusing its strength on the retention of its traditional voter base.
The move of BJP to widen its social base becomes evident by looking at the BJP’s candidate list for the upcoming polls. Interestingly, out of the 182 seats in the legislative assembly, the BJP has given tickets to at least 60 candidates belonging to the different communities of OBCs. This is the first time in the last decade that the party has given the biggest chunk of tickets to OBCs in Gujarat.
“If we look at the ticket distribution of the BJP, there is a clear strategy that comes across. It has given the biggest share of tickets to OBCs, which is at least 15-20% more than the 2017 polls, when nearly 50 tickets were given to the different communities of OBCs. Normally, in Gujarat, it has been witnessed that a large section of OBCs have voted for Congress.”
“Since both Congress and AAP are trying to win over the voters of the Patel community, which has traditionally supported the BJP, the state leadership of the BJP is now trying to widen its social as well as electoral base by reaching out to different communities,” said Dholakia.
The politically crucial Patel community has been the second largest beneficiary in the BJP’s ticket distribution plan. The ruling party has given at least 45 tickets to Patel community members, which is less than the 2017 list of candidates for the BJP. In the 2017 elections, the BJP gave 50 tickets to people belonging to the community, but this time the number has slightly decreased as 25 tickets have been give to Leuva Patels and 20 tickets were given to Kadva Patels.
The strategy of the BJP is very interesting. Traditionally, Patels have supported the BJP and they are one of the most dominant castes in Gujarat. Although, Patels make up only 15% of the total population, they are extremely influential in Gujarat politics. It is true that there are broadly two types of Patels, but they are more homogeneous in nature.
OBCs are both more in numbers and less homogenous because of the different communities and sub-castes.
Similarly, another community that has immensely benefited from the BJP’s ticket distribution strategy are the Brahmins and Kshatriyas of Gujarat. During the 2017 assembly polls, the BJP gave 12 tickets to Kshatriyas and 8 tickets to Brahmins, but this time the strategy is completely different. In its attempt to garner greater social support for BJP, it has decided to give 13 tickets to Brahmins and over 17 tickets to Kshatriyas.
The decision to give more tickets to OBCs than to Patels is also interesting because the OBCs comprise almost 50% of the Gujarat population. It can be safely said that the BJP is investing in the future by giving more representation to OBC communities.
By reaching out to communities like OBCs, Brahmins, and Kshatriyas, the BJP is trying to increase its voter base substantially.
Gyan Verma was Senior Editor (Politics) at Mint. He has been a journalist for nearly two decades and writes on the politics and intersection of policy and politics.
The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of BQ Prime or its editorial team.