The BJP under its new leadership is known for its attempts to use the distance between communities and the space between them to make political inroads for electoral gains.
Since 2014, the word that the party loves the most seems to be disruption — be it for demolishing established practices, existing caste or community alignments, or practices. The party and its spin masters have projected several initiatives such as demonetisation and the implementation of Goods and Service Tax (GST) as “creative disruption”, borrowing the term used by Austrian-American economist Joseph Schumpeter. BJP intellectual cell head and former editor of the Organiser weekly R Balashankar even wrote a book on Prime Minister Narendra Modi titled Narendra Modi: Creative Disruptor — The Maker of New India.
On the road to the crucial elections in 2024, the BJP, which utilised new technologies and the country’s progress in the digital sector to emerge as the world’s largest political party with more than 18 crore members, has launched various programs to expand its base to compensate for possible erosions. Right after it came into power, it announced a series of initiatives to make the Scheduled Castes (SCs) — splintered by their loyalty to different parties — its loyal support base. Prime Minister Modi personally steered a drive to signal the BJP’s commitment to Dalit icons, appointed Dalit leaders to key posts, including the President of India, while the party started organising Dalit home visits and conducted several outreach programs.
Then came the OBC (Other Backward Classes) push. From Prime Minister Modi’s backward status and the induction of OBC leaders in the Cabinet to granting constitutional status to the National Commission for Backward Communities, the party took measures to catapult the support into votes. According to a Lokniti-CSDS survey, the party’s OBC vote share went up from 33 per cent in the 1996 Lok Sabha elections to 44 per cent in 2019.
With the 2022 election indicating a minor erosion in its OBC support base in Uttar Pradesh and the new political realignment in Bihar indicating a possible chipping of the support of backward communities, the party has now initiated a new exercise to stitch a new coalition comprising backward Muslims and extremely backward Hindu communities in both these states.
Prime Minister Modi, who along with Home Minister Amit Shah has been into building a robust organisation across the country, is very particular that the BJP should not confine its outreach attempts to only Hindus. In an extensive meeting with party general secretaries last year, Modi told them categorically that the party should shed its aversion in reaching out to all communities. He gave Kerala, a state where the BJP still has not been able to make deep inroads or make major electoral gains, as an example. He asked those working in the Kerala unit to make efforts to include Christians, an influential minority in the state, in its electioneering programmes.
At the BJP national executive meeting in Hyderabad this year, Modi mentioned the backwards among Muslims as the party’s new target. This led to a series of programmes in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The initiatives and the new social engineering efforts are not just for winning elections but also to set up a comprehensive and strong organisation for the BJP to rely on for election work in future, said a senior party leader. At present, the party depends on a wide network and connectivity of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in several states.
Such efforts of the BJP are in contrast to the leadership of the Congress, the main Opposition party, that does not seem to be bothered about the electoral impact before issuing statements or initiating a campaign. At least three RSS leaders have pointed out how Rahul Gandhi “unnecessarily” provoked the organisation to attack him with his remarks against it while the outfit extended tacit support by publicly agreeing that the issues such as unemployment and inflation that he had raised were matters of concern. Gandhi’s remarks on Veer Savarkar also antagonised the Congress’s ally Shiv Sena and the photograph with activist Medha Patkar — in Gujarat, she is projected as someone who objected to key development programmes — seem to have damaged the party’s prospects more than it helped it.
Along with the social engineering experiments, the BJP has initiated several other initiatives too. As a party that loves to label itself as one always in election mode, the BJP began its preparations for the 2019 Lok Sabha election in 2016. In a meeting with BJP office-bearers in September 2016, then party chief Amit Shah identified 115 seats — from states such as Odisha, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Telangana where the party could not make any major electoral gain in the 2014 elections — as new catchment areas. The party then formed elaborate strategies for the selected constituencies, worked on them and won a number of them, especially in West Bengal and Odisha. For the 2024 parliamentary election too, Shah and party president JP Nadda have identified 144 constituencies where the party could not win but has the potential to bag. They have assigned Union ministers and senior general secretaries to work on them. The leadership constantly monitors the work and assesses the performance in frequent meetings.
The BJP leadership keeps its leaders and cadre engaged in organisation activities to ensure that the party retains power at the Centre and its dominance in the current Indian political scene to the extent that some leaders say fatigue is looming over them. But the senior leaders say that as long as the BJP has a significant number of workers who have the discipline of ideology-driven individuals, it does not have a reason to worry about it. But they admit that the danger of the party getting overshadowed by power-driven workers is a serious threat, something the party has to deal with in the near future. Across many places in Gujarat, people say that no one from the party has approached them about government programmes and welfare initiatives.