The Assembly elections in Gujarat may be months away, but the ruling BJP has already started gearing up for the polls. Kickstarting the poll preparations, Gujarat BJP president CR Paatil on 20 January addressed over 40,000 state party workers from 579 mandals virtually, detailing strategies on strengthening the organisation with micro-planning in the run-up to the elections.
The Gujarat Assembly polls are due in November this year, and the Congress remains the principal Opposition in the state that the BJP has been ruling for over 25 years. This time, however, parties like the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) would also enter the fray as significant players, especially after having made some inroads in the state’s local body elections held in February last year.
In a dramatic move on 11 September last year, the BJP had jettisoned its entire Vijay Rupani ministry, replacing it with a new cabinet with fresh faces while appointing low-profile MLA Bhupendra Patel as the new Chief Minister. This mirrored the episode of August 2016, when then CM Anandiben Patel had to step down 15 months ahead of the 2017 polls. That was ostensibly because the influential Patidar community was then perceived to be upset with the BJP in the wake of the Patidar quota agitation led by Hardik Patel, who is now Gujarat Congress working president, with the party suffering setbacks in subsequent local body polls.
Ahead of the upcoming polls, the BJP looks well-entrenched and in-control under Paatil’s leadership, with clear signs that it might have recovered its ground lost in the last local body elections when the AAP and the AIMIM had made some dents in its bastions.
Drawing battle lines for the Assembly elections, Paatil, who has set a target for the party of winning the state’s all 182 seats, has openly said that no Congress MLA would be henceforth inducted into the party fold, hinting at the number of Congress legislators who had been inducted into the saffron party and made ministers earlier. He had himself got some AAP leaders like Vijay Suvada and Nilam Vyas and a few Congress leaders like Sagar Rayka into the party in recent months.
Looking at the pace of poll preparations, some BJP leaders say it could be a pointer to early Gujarat polls, even as Paatil has ruled out that possibility.
A top party leader said that “after Bhupendra Patel took over as the CM, the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) has opened its doors to common people”, saying Patel, seen as “unambitious”, will have to only ensure that “nothing wrong happens in his tenure till the elections”.
On 20 January, the BJP dispensation asked at least 10 chairpersons of the Gujarat government-run boards, commissions and corporations to resign, of which four have submitted their resignations. A number of these positions meant for political appointees are already lying vacant. The party is likely to appoint senior members to these posts to “accommodate them” so that their claims for party tickets for Assembly polls could be curtailed.
Following Makar Sankranti, when Gujaratis believe the “inauspicious period” (kamurta) ends, Paatil announced new posts in the organisation and filled them up. This move was also seen by many senior party leaders as attempts to limit claims for party tickets by these appointees.
A BJP leader said, “Such unusual appointments are made in two or three scenarios — either to keep a person happy and stop him/her from seeking party ticket in elections or that person’s services are very important for the party on that particular post. In some cases, people get appointments because the party does not want them to cause damage in the elections. So, looking at the persons and their appointments, one can guess the reasons behind their appointments.”
A senior party leader said, “It is a standard practice in the party that those who get appointed in boards/corporations/commissions will not be given party ticket in the assembly elections. So, before the elections, all these vacant posts there will be filled. All this is a practice of human resources management so that party cadre feels happy, rewarded and satisfied.”
Over the last couple of days, the Gujarat BJP reconstituted the Parliamentary Board, Discipline Committee, Core Committee and Economic Management Committee. The Discipline Committee has been formed after a long time apparently to handle “any act of party indiscipline”, especially during the distribution of poll tickets.
The Gujarat BJP will again fight the Assembly polls in the name of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In one of 20 January mandal-level meetings held in Ahmedabad, a senior party leader told the workers, “Start working for the elections. You should not be concerned about who is the candidate. We all should remember that our only candidate is Narendrabhai Modi.”
And PM Modi is likely to sound the poll bugle for the Gujarat BJP on January 25, when he will virtually address the members of its “panna” (page) committees and booth committees through the NaMo App. Paatil has projected the lane-level page committees as key to winning polls, saying the party would register 75 lakh page committee members in the state, of which 60 lakh members have already been made.
A senior party leader said, “These unusual and sudden appointments in party unit, resignations of leaders from boards/corporations/commissions and recent induction of many AAP workers into BJP shows the party is planning for early elections. Induction of workers from a rival party can help BJP only if the elections are round the corner and its memory is fresh in voters’ mind. Looking at the preparations of our party and its pace, I see early elections in Gujarat, probably around May.”