His staunch supporters in the BJP may be confident of a popular wave in his favour throwing the Congress out of power, but Narendra Modi, a quintessential organiser, is well mindful of the challenges that lie ahead and is already pushing party leaders to focus on various issues.
He may be riding high in surveys and may be the most talked about politician, but Modi knows winning the parliamentary elections requires sound strategy and organisational preparedness. Beyond rhetoric, the BJP so far hasn't bothered with a coherent plan to defeat the Congress and the Gujarat Chief Minister has cautioned his colleagues not to be “overconfident”, and instead get down to some hard work.
A senior party leader told Firstpost that in the first strategy meet that Modi held with general secretaries earlier this week, there were two issues he focussed on.
The first issue was that the BJP was losing allies and it was important for the party to look for and engage prospective allies in all regions, no matter how big or small. Prospective allies could be AGP in Assam, INLAD in Haryana, TRS in the Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh and even possibly enticing Yeddyurappa back to the BJP or at least the NDA. The exit of Nitish Kumar and the JD(U) resulted in a psychological blow in the minds of any prospective allies which needs to be amended at the earliest, but isn't easy presently.
The second issue was the party's shrinking voter base in the country’s most populous state: Uttar Pradesh. The state presents a big challenge to the party and requires a focused strategy and hard work to reclaim support of the social groups that it once enjoyed. Bihar had been a bastion for the BJP and NDA for several years, but given the exit of the JD(U), an organizational regrouping was required. States like Orissa and Haryana, where the BJP once had a prominent presence when it had alliances with regional parties, were wiped out when the party went alone in last elections is also matter of concern.
Modi, who just took over as the party's campaign committee, told leaders that while the party may identify some pan-India issues to target the government on, the internal dynamics and aspirations of each state was different. He pointed out that the party needed to have a seat-wise and state-wise strategy and asked the party's leaders to start working on them.
For the BJP the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, Rajasthan and Orissa are key states where it has to make substantive gains if it had to dislodge Congress and emerge victorious. The party's leader in Uttar Pradesh are optimistic and believe the current situation the state could allow the party to make significant gains, possibly doubling or tripling their tally since the last polls, as long as they had the right strategy and maintained a united front.
“Now since Modi has been projected as our leader, UP could well be the game changer for the BJP”, a senior BJP leader said.
According to the leader, there are three groups of voters in the state Modi could appeal to. For upper caste voters, Modi presents a perfect combination of Hindutva and strong administrative skills. Younger voters could also find appeal in his development oriented leadership. And among the lower castes, except the Yadvas, the psychological pride of electing a Prime Minister from among the OBC community could just evoke the right sentiments in favour of the BJP. In Bihar, former deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi had already set the ball rolling by flaunting Modi's OBC credentials.
The overt projection of Modi's backward case is to project him as a combination of “Mandal” (the Mandal commission) and “Kamandal”(a term used to denote Hindutva), the two phenomena that changed political landscape of north India and possibly the nation in last two decades. In this context, his supporters are already toying with the idea of Modi contesting the next Parliamentary elections from UP, preferably from one of the urban seats, Lucknow, Allahabad or Kanpur. The BJP won 58 seats from UP in 1998, but since 1999 parliamentary elections the party's tally has been on a continuous slide. Modi has his protégé Amit Shah posted as party’s in-charge of UP, and the former Gujarat deputy chief minister will soon begin his UP campaign.
His party believes that Modi's new status has rattled his rivals, and they point to Nitish Kumar's statement that no one could become leader of backward classes just because of being born into it. The BJP's response to Nitish Kumar's continuous attack on Modi has been varied. One section expressed its concern on the grounds that Modi would be targeted over the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat under his watch, and the fact that no single party might be able to come to power without varied alliances. However, another group in the party believes that after the elections the Modi-led BJP will have such a high seat tally that new allies would naturally gravitate towards the party.
A party leader, who was present in the strategy session with Modi, said the Gujarat Chief Minister was acutely aware that he had to substantially increase on the party's vote percentage as well as is support base in south and east India. In the last parliamentary elections the BJP’s vote share reduced to around 18.5 percent, as against Congress’s vote share of around 28.5 percent. The BJP got 116 seats and the Congress got 206. Though the Congress’s gain in vote share was only 2.5 per cent, it had strong allies.
The BJP had around 26 percent of the votes when it got a high of 182 seats in 1998. It roughly retained that peak in 1999, but at that time it had solid allies in all parts of the country like the DMK, TDP, TMC, BJD JD(U) and there were a total of 24 allies. In Jharkhand and Karnataka the party was a united force. However, presently in both states the party has since split down the middle.
The BJP now has to count on personal charisma of Modi, perhaps much more than it had to count on Atal Bihari Vajpayee's when the veteran leader was at peak of his popularity. Modi supporters believe that their leader's modern day charisma among the urban middle class and rural areas could match the popularity of Indira Gandhi. He may not have physically reached out to the hinterland or even all urban centres, but his reputation as a strong administrator had already reached every household. They are hopeful that a “non-functional corrupt Manmohan Singh regime” at the helm will give them a decisive edge when the electorate has to choose between Modi and Rahul Gandhi.