THE BJP may have cast its net wide in the Coromandel states to expand its base and to compensate for possible losses in the Hindi belt in order to retain its dominance in the Lok Sabha, but the response to its ‘Vistarak (expansion)’ drive shows it has its task cut out. Data on BJP chief Amit Shah-led ‘Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay Karya Vistar Yojana’ presented during the recent party conclave late last month shows that the party has not been able to achieve its targeted number of full-timers to work in the constituencies of these states. For the 1,109 constituencies in West Bengal, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the party could rope in just 470 full-timers, to work dedicatedly for six months to one year.
Shah, who went on an intense 95-day nationwide campaign (April to September this year) on the Vistarak programme to mark the birth centenary year of Deendayal Upadhyay, wanted a full-timer for each Assembly constituency. According to the data, in poll-bound Karnataka — where the BJP is considered to have a strong organisational base — the party got only 51 full-timers for the 224 Assembly constituencies. Among them, only three are women, while it didn’t get a single minority member, either Christian or Muslim, for its campaign.
The data says it needs at least 200 more full-timers in the state, scheduled to go to polls early next year. In Andhra Pradesh, which has 175 constituencies, the party got only 16 full-timers for a year, and two for six months. For Telangana, (119 constituencies), the figure is 91; in Kerala (140 constituencies), which is considered a prestige battleground for Shah and the RSS, the party roped in just 31 full-timers for one year, and 10 for six months.
Interestingly, the RSS claims to have a strong base in Kerala and holds over 5,000 shakhas per day in the Left-ruled state, higher than in many other states, including Gujarat. For the 234-member Tamil Nadu Assembly, the party got 108 full-timers for one year, but data says the party requires 84 more. Shah had focused on these states, with a view that the BJP would find it difficult to repeat its spectacular performance in the northern and western states, including Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan, in 2019.
In West Bengal (294 Assembly constituencies), the party recorded only 93 full-timers. The BJP’s campaign in Odisha has yielded better results: it has got 119 full-timers to work for the party for six months to one year. The state has 147 Assembly constituencies. The Sunday Express on October 22 reported that the BJP had decided to station at least one full-time member in each of the 4,120 Assembly segments across the country for the 2019 parliamentary elections.
Asked about the lukewarm response to the call for dedicated party workers in the south, P Muralidhar Rao, BJP general secretary in charge of Karnataka, said the data did not mean that the response has been discouraging. “In the BJP, party workers are given multiple tasks and there are several programmes taking place simultaneously. The report you are mentioning is just a partial one,” Rao said.
“There could be other reasons also,” he said. “If the state is having a festival or it is caught up with another issue, it could be difficult to draw so many people as full-timers,” he added.
Another concern for the BJP leadership appears to be the poor response from women and minorities. In politically active and volatile Kerala, for example, the BJP has only five women and one Christian community member as full-timers, in Karnataka, there are only three women and no minority representation; in Andhra Pradesh, it has just two Muslims and no women; and in Telangana, neither of these segments is among the BJP’s full-timers. In Tamil Nadu, it has eight women as full-timers.
Rao attributed the “political violence” in Kerala — against which both the RSS and BJP have launched a massive nationwide campaign targeting the state ruling CPM — as a reason for the poor response of women. “Actually, the response to the Vistarak campaign from women and minorities has been more than expected. In many states we have managed to get Muslim volunteers and in states like Tamil Nadu, women have come up in large numbers for the 15-day Vistarak campaign,” Rao said.
Shah is expected to draw full-timers to work until 2019 elections from those who had volunteered to dedicate six-12 months to party work as part of the Deendayal Upadhyay Vistarak project announced at the party’s national executive meeting in September last year.