Heavy duty armour
There is a new trend in politics in Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Haryana. Netas contesting elections are hiring strapping bodybuilders as security guards. Most are dressed in black so that they resemble the SPG personnel who protect the Prime Minister. The bouncers and hunks, who earn a reported Rs 5,000 daily, do not just add to the candidates’ status, they are also known to intimidate and even threaten voters. After the Election Commission expressed concern, the Delhi Police Commissioner issued a circular to all gyms and bodybuilder associations in the capital that no member should resort to strong-armed tactics during public rallies or during door-to-door campaigns. The Commissioner also held a meeting with some 580 gym owners cautioning them that their staff should not disturb public peace in the campaign season.
There has been a silent power shift in Odisha’s BJP, which few in Delhi seem to have noticed. Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan is not standing for the Lok Sabha elections. Till recently BJP posters in Odisha displayed only two photographs, Narendra Modi and Pradhan, projected as a prospective chief minister. Now the BJP posters in Bhubaneswar have Modi on one side and Aparajita Sarangi on the other, while Pradhan’s mug shot has been relegated to the bottom. So who is Sarangi? She is a former middle-level IAS officer who was a popular municipal commissioner of Bhubaneswar. Sarangi who was last posted in Delhi as a joint secretary took voluntary retirement four months back and joined the BJP. She is contesting the Lok Sabha elections from Bhubaneswar. One explanation for underplaying Pradhan is that the BJP’s internal surveys suggest that he is not the right choice to be projected against Naveen Patnaik, since his harsh criticism of the CM has not gone down well with potential voters. The other reason could be that the BJP is looking towards Patnaik as a prospective ally, if the NDA does not secure a majority. In which case underplaying Pradhan makes sense since projecting him as the party face would not endear the BJP to Patnaik.
Out of backroom
When Amit Shah filed his nomination from Gandhinagar, it was described by some as his official coming out from the shadows of being a backroom operator. In fact, ever since Shah took over as party president in July 2014, he has exerted his authority and made clear that he is number two in the BJP’s pecking order. Soon after taking over, Shah started making speeches. In fact, during the Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh polls last year, he attracted impressive turn-outs. Rather than address a single rally in a large city, Shah travelled in the interiors in an open van. His pre-recorded speeches were played as his motorcade drove along. Shah’s team takes great pains to study the region he visits so that he can introduce localised references to temples, customs and legends. He has his personal electronic digital team, apart from the team for the entire party, which relays all his road shows on social media, including on Facebook Live and Twitter. Some wonder whether Rajnath Singh committed a faux pas when he referred to Shah as Advani’s successor in Gandhinagar. After all, Advani was always the bridesmaid, never the bride. But Shah’s men seemed pleased enough by the comparison.
One of Amit Shah’s bigger assets in Uttar Pradesh is not an official ally. Shivpal Yadav, Mulayam Singh’s brother who formed a separate party, the Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party [Lohiya; PSP(L)] after splitting with the Samajwadi Party, is helping the BJP in more ways than one. Shivpal may not win seats but the damage potential in vote-cutting could be crucial in the Yadav citadels in central UP. Shivpal is fielding candidates against all family members who are contesting, except in Mainpuri from where his elder brother Mulayam Singh Yadav is standing. Shivpal visited Mulayam at home on the day he filed his nomination to propagate the impression that Mulayam is neutral in the fight between his son and brother. Last month, Sanjay Nishad of the NISHAD Party quit the SP-BSP alliance ostensibly on the grounds that he was denied a ticket from Maharajganj constituency, since the BSP-SP demurred at granting two seats to Nishad candidates. (Sanjay’s son Praveen was the winning candidate in the upset Gorakhpur bypoll last year and was expected to be fielded from there again). SP insiders suspect Shivpal’s hand in persuading Sanjay Nishad to shift to the BJP. A day later, Praveen crossed over to the BJP and is the party’s Gorakhpur candidate. Meanwhile, the Peace Party, consisting largely of backward Muslims from the Pasmanda community in eastern UP, has also joined forces with the PSP(L).