Uttar Pradesh Election Result 2017: How Amit Shah's tactical manoeuvering won the state for BJP
The astounding victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Uttar Pradesh makes one thing amply clear: as far as the ruling party is concerned this is the age of tactical politics rather than mere ideology.
The astounding victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Uttar Pradesh makes one thing amply clear: as far as the ruling party is concerned this is the age of tactical politics rather than mere ideology. And that BJP president Amit Shah is its Machiavellian master-tactician who snatched victory from the maw of defeat. It was a six-layered tactical plan he developed that swung the vote in favour of BJP in the recently-concluded assembly election in Uttar Pradesh, the party's most sizeable victory in 30 years.
Let us examine the micro-level designs Shah devised to steer BJP in the direction of the result it achieved, and whole at it, decimated the Samajwadi-Congress alliance as well as Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).
His method comprised these broad aspects: gathering granular intelligence, crafting a manual of tactics, assembling an expansive, well-trained workforce of volunteers to educate (and seek feedback) from constituents, defining and apportioning community-specific power dynamics, and reviving traditional methods of interaction and communication.
Shah undertook the task of restructuring the BJP’s innards after the Bihar debacle in 2015, in which state the party won just 53 of the 159 seats it contested.
Shah brought in young workers, much to the chagrin of the traditionalists and greybeards. Shah’s instructions to the new force was clear: position recruits in each district in such numbers that the demographic composition of the state is adequately represented. Nearly 403 young men and women were tasked with monitoring each of as many assembly segments that went to polls. They were notified to provide real-time, unprejudiced feedback to leaders running the campaign.
To purge confirmation bias to the extent possible, this corps was drawn from a variety of organisations with ties to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a lesson Shah learned from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, when the then chief minister of Gujarat began to devise the general course of his party's political strategy. The various outfits that contributed to the force included Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM), among others.
This detachment received intensive political training for 15 days. Its recruits were also equipped with three tactical manuals, each containing data, intelligence and an action plan for all 403 constituencies, with the particularities of every assembly segment built in. All major party leaders campaigning in the state were told to adhere to talking points that were derived from these guidebooks.
Shah then turned to formulating a scheme to receive feedback from constituents. A parallel network of paid volunteers was equipped with nearly 16,000 motorcycles and told to fan out across the state, the head of BJP’s IT cell in UP, Sanjay Rai, told Firstpost. These squads were instructed to gather suggestion boxes that had been placed in each constituency – they contained a list of voter expectations. The intelligence scraped from these boxes was integrated into the party’s election manifesto – the resultant catalogue included such line items as the formation of "anti-Romeo squads", checking "indiscriminate" animal slaughter in the western quadrant of Uttar Pradesh, where Hindu-Muslim hostility ran high, and the importance of invoking procurement pricing, issues related to electricity and roads, and epidemics in the state’s eastern region. The party recalibrated its strategy for each of the seven phases of polling.
While these schemata had a quantitative measure to them, Shah’s plan to establish a spread of emotional nervures proved critical in precipitating victory. The party president held hundreds of meetings with various caste groups, sharing meals and allowing them room to vent. He then assured them that each would receive a share of power proportional to the magnitude of the community’s strength in UP.
In essence, the BJP party president co-opted BSP founder Kanshi Ram’s political catch-phrase: “Jinki jitni sankhya bhaari uski utni hissedari (each grouping shall receive a share of power equal to its numerical strength)”. Those factions marginalised by the Yadavs in SP and Jatavs in BSP found Shah’s words comforting. Shah distilled his learning from these meetings in determining seat allocation: 140 or so candidates belonging to Other Backward Classes (OBCs) were handed tickets. Similarly, of 85 reserved seats, the BJP allocated 64 tickets to non-Jatav candidates to tempt Scheduled Caste voters into the Hindutva fold.
Closer to the action, the party cadre working polling booths fanned out to outlay the central government’s developmental schemes – households were asked to place “missed calls” to a particular number, following which a BJP worker rang a member of the household to go over the BJP’s various programmes and receive performance rating for each. Such an interactive session lasted 20 minutes, its purpose to establish an emotional cord as well as serve as an instructional session.
But Shah was cautious enough not to rely solely on technology. He organised nearly 43 melas in rural pockets, designed to revive traditional means of communication. These carnivals featured that tact institutionalised by the BJP – “selfie with Modi”; a big hit with women, who lined up to pose next to a cut out of the prime minister. “We reached out to nearly 40 percent of the electorate across the state through these unconventional methods,” one of the strategists, who played a key role in the election, told Firstpost.
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