In campaign speeches and meetings with party workers, the Leader of Opposition and MP from Vidisha does not mention her party’s prime ministerial candidate. Instead, she talks of “Mission 29”, a reference to the number of Lok Sabha constituencies in Madhya Pradesh, where she shifted her political base a few years ago, and to the popularity of its chief minister, Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
“I am not here to give a political speech. You need two things to win an election: an atmosphere favourable for the party, and booth-level structure,” she told party workers in separate conventions in Gyaraspur and Ganj-Basoda in Vidisha on Tuesday, stressing how a favourable atmosphere had helped the BJP win a third straight election in the state recently.
She also talks about increasing her margin of victory from the 3.89 lakh of 2009 to over 4 lakh this time, because of the huge psychological boost it would bring. Vidisha must hold the flag and lead the procession, she says.
Swaraj’s message is similar to the one she gave when she began meeting party workers immediately after the polls were announced. She was hoping to address by Wednesday the last of her booth-level workers’ gatherings in the eight assembly segments that make up the Lok Sabha constituency, reaching the target of getting in touch with 50,000 workers.
If Swaraj does not name Modi, she does not name her Congress rival, former chief minister Digvijaya Singh’s younger brother Laxman Singh, either. In the hoardings that provide the backdrop to her gatherings, Chouhan gets the same prominence as her. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Rajnath Singh, Modi and state BJP chief Narendra Tomar get equal space, which is less than what is occupied by Chouhan and her.
On the hoardings, the only message is “Sansad me sashakat aawaz, Sushma Swaraj”; the only slogan, “Desh ka neta kaisa ho, Sushma Swaraj jaisa ho”.
Swaraj shares a seven-step manual with workers, coining a new expression, “Page prabhari” (worker in charge of one page of the voters’ list). The page prabhari will devote two to three hours on seven separate days over the next month (Vidisha votes on April 24) during which he or she will visit every assigned voter, plant party flags at their homes (“Don’t forget to take written permission,” she cautions) and update the voters’ list. On the day of voting, the page prabhari will take the voter to the polling booth.
Poll fever is yet to catch on strongly in this constituency spread over four districts. A couple of posters in Vidisha town announce “Ab ki bar Modi sarkar”, but elsewhere in the constituency, posters and hoardings from the recent assembly elections are yet to be replaced.
While Swaraj skips Modi, workers say they won’t. “We will use all three names — Modi, Swaraj and Shivraj. No restrictions apply to us,” Mahesh Vishwakarma, a worker from Pachma village, said after the Ganj-Basoda convention.
“Workers talk about Modi, and want him at the helm of affairs. But we will first highlight the failures of the central government, then the achievements of the Shivraj Singh government, and then name individuals,” Mukesh Soni, a block-level functionary in Gyaraspur said.
Swaraj explains to workers why they are important: “Bade neta to milte rahte hain (one keeps meeting big leaders), but I bow before you because you are the cornerstone of the party.”