Following the trail of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav's rathyatra, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has come out with its own version of the widely used campaign strategy — dubbed 'parivartanyatra'.
But unlike Akhilesh's yatra, flagged-off by Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav on Thursday, the BJP variant will not be focused around a single leader. Nonetheless, it is expected to raise the poll fever in Uttar Pradesh and further spice up the campaign narrative ahead of the upcoming Assembly elections.
This Saturday, when the BJP yatra will kick-off in Saharanpur, will mark an important point in the poll season calendar. BJP president Amit Shah, along with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, will officially sound the poll bugle for the party.
The choice of venue is rather interesting and politically loaded. Incidentally, a few months ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also chosen Saharanpur to hold a public rally — to celebrate what he called vikas parv — on completion of two years of his government.
This particular western Uttar Pradesh district is known for its near equal ratio of Hindus and Muslims. As per the 2011 census, around 51 percent of the population is Hindu and 46 percent is Muslim.
The city is also known for the old theological seminary Mazahir Uloom, which was established way back in 1866. It is also adjacent to Kairana, the famed site for the Hindu 'exodus', where BJP had claimed that Hindus were being forced to sell off or lease their property and migrate to different parts of the country.
More than that, this place is home to Imran Masood, the present Congress Uttar Pradesh vice-president, who has become an important part of Rahul Gandhi's scheme of things. Masood had hit national headlines in the run up to 2014 Parliamentary elections, when an old video of him surfaced where he allegedly threatened 'to chop Narendra Modi to pieces'.
That particular statement helped polarise the electorate, turning it pro-Modi, and helped turn the contest in BJP's favour. The subsequent Parliamentary polls saw BJP win the election triumphantly, routing its rivals — Samajwadi Party (SP), Congress and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) — thoroughly in the process. According to reports, posters and hoardings featuring Masood have popped up all over the city this time as well.
Though Shah and other BJP leaders may not have kept that particular development in mind, things like these on the ground, connected or unconnected, tend to have their own bearing.
In the last few days, Shah has broadly set the tone for his party's poll campaign. Besides focusing on development and targeting the opposition in SP and BSP, he narrowed down on the Indian Army's surgical strikes against Pakistan.
He referred to the strikes while speaking at the Diwali milan programme at the BJP headquarters on Thursday, and earlier at a public rally in Mulayam's home turf Etawah. The surgical strikes and the Pakistan issue could potentially become an emotive one, provided the BJP does not overplay this card.
While speaking at the rally in Saharanpur in May, Modi had referred to himself as an "Uttar Pradesh wala". Though back then, he had not referred to coming UP polls and had strictly contained himself to enlisting his government's achievements in the last two years, Rajnath had made it clear that it was all a build up for the elections. The home minister was clear in his intent: "It is now time to end this 14-year vanvas for BJP in UP and bring back the BJP government with a clear majority."
Clearly, Modi's reference, of calling himself as one of their own, did manage to strike an emotive cord with the locals.
"Main Uttar Pradesh wala hun. Uttar Pradesh ka sansad hun, aur Uttar Pradesh ke sansad hone ke naate mera swabhavik man karta hai aap sabka aashirwad prapt karne ka [I belong to UP, I am an MP from UP and, therefore, it’s natural that I seek your blessings]," Modi said at the rally in Saharanpur, according to a report in The Indian Express.
Modi himself will hold six rallies as part of BJP's parivartan yatra. While the locations for five of the rallies have not been decided yet, his last and concluding rally would be held in Lucknow on 24 December. This will be the second time in three months that Modi will address a public gathering in the UP capital. He was last in Lucknow on Vijaya Dashami or Dussehra, where his "Jai Jai Sri Ram" chant had become a huge talking point. Rajnath will also join Modi in Lucknow for his final rally.
Following Saturday's launch of the parivartan yatra from Saharanpur, three more rallies will be flagged off in quick succession — from Jhansi on 6 November, Sonbhadra on 8 November and Ballia on 9 November. Rajnath, Uma Bharti, Kalraj Mishra, Keshav Maurya will be leading these yatras at various points.
A national leader, a state leader and an MP (by rotation) would be present for all four yatras. The party has also has formed a team of 15000 parivartan sarathis, who will visit 50,000 village panchayats in the state and hold 'parivartan chaupals', asking people to bring about change. They will cover around 1700o kilometers in 402 Assembly constituencies.