When BJP’s central leadership asked Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, former Madhya Pradesh cabinet minister Jaibhan Singh Pawaiya and the party’s national vice-president Shyam Jaju to oversee the campaign of seven candidates in the capital, the team observed that the Delhi leadership was too preoccupied with countering the Aam Aadmi Party.
“AAP would level an allegation and our leaders would spend the entire day responding to their leaders on Twitter, press conferences and in the media,” said a leader who was part of the team. According to the leader, the party’s office bearers and current MPs were called and told that they don’t have to respond to AAP’s accusations on sealing or MCDs. Instead, the conversation had to be in line with the party’s focus on nationalism, national security and reaching out to those who benefited from the Centre’s schemes, they were told.
Sitharaman, in her address to party workers, had also told them not to be complacent in thinking that the political atmosphere in the country was “favourable” for the party post the Balakot airstrike. “She asked workers to take the message to people that the country is safe only in the hands of Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” a leader said.
As candidates were declared, the team also gave specific advice to each. Manoj Tiwari was told to focus more on reaching out to people in his constituency; Parvesh Sahib Singh was asked to connect with the village elders; Ramesh Bidhuri was told to try and shed his “anti-Purvanchali” image; and Meenakshi Lekhi was asked to meet as many party workers as possible.
As the campaign progressed, the former MPs found their stride, but since Gautam Gambhir and Hans Raj Hans were newcomers, the BJP realised they were facing challenges.
It was then decided that Pawaiya would personally oversee Hans’s campaign, and Jaju would work closely with Gambhir. A party leader said: “In case of Hans, he was being termed an outsider, so we asked him not to talk about being from Punjab… we also stressed on the fact that his ancestors were from a village in Bawana… We asked him to speak more about work done by Modi ji and his stand on national security, and to stick to tried and tested slogans instead of speaking on issues he is not familiar with.”
Gambhir was relatively more prepared since he had “avoided being dragged into controversies by his rivals”, the leader said. “Since he is a celebrity, we tried to focus on road shows so that a bigger area is covered in a short time,” he said.
When a malicious pamphlet emerged against his AAP opponent Atishi, some advised him not to hold a press conference. “But he was clear that he will not attack Atishi but will rather take on AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal, so we decided to leave it to him,” the leader said.