The BJP’s record-breaking victory in Gujarat illustrates the success of its booth micromanagement, complimenting the popularity and trust PM Narendra Modi enjoys among the electorate. Over in Himachal Pradesh, the absence of a similar strategy and organisational failure to effect timely changes could have cost it the state.
In Gujarat, Modi campaigned extensively, building on the organisational strategy devised by Union Home Minister Amit Shah and the ground prepared by state unit president C R Paatil. A senior party leader said: “Micromanagement is the BJP’s style, but in Gujarat, the entry of the Aam Aam Party, splitting the anti-BJP votes, helped. Rahul Gandhi’s disengagement with the anti-BJP movement in the state and the local Congress leadership’s disinterest just added to it.”
While Modi campaigned in Himachal too, the party missed Shah’s micromanagement there, apart from a united cadre working behind one leader – one fallout was the number of rebels, who contested as Independents.
Sources said the BJP was alerted early to a possible decline in the state, due to a desire for change and the nimbleness of AAP, and started preparations early. First there was the organisational overhaul, bringing in a new state president and office-bearers, followed by change of the entire Cabinet, including the CM, in a bold move.
The calculation of countering anti-incumbency thus paid off. C R Paatil was brought in as state BJP president in July 2020 ahead of crucial local body elections, replacing Jitu Vaghani. If Vaghani, a Patidar, was dropped, fellow community leader Bhupendra Patel was brought in as CM in place of Vijay Rupani. Besides, Ratnakar replaced Bhikhubhai Dalsaniya as general secretary (organisation).
In the candidate selection, too, the BJP was ruthless, dropping 41 “uninspiring” MLAs.
In the last stretch before polling, Shah was stationed in Gujarat. Sources said he chaired meetings with booth-level workers almost every day, gave them instructions, and closely monitored the campaign. “He even wanted to know why a particular spot was chosen for rallies. He reviewed publicity material, everything in detail,” a party leader from Gujarat said.
While Modi’s popularity was undented in Himachal too, the BJP failed to build on it due to the lack of a disciplined cadre base, or of a strong leadership and sturdy organisation. This disconnect grew even more stark when Congress made it a campaign about local issues and the BJP seemed stuck on ‘Modi versus others’.
Sources in the Himachal BJP said signs that all was not well were evident for more than a year. But even the November 2021 bypoll losses did not ring alarm bells at the national level, said a senior party leader.
It was only in the last days that, sensing the weakness of the state leadership and the government, Modi stepped in. He tried to strike an emotional chord, emphasising his personal touch with the state he spent long years in.
Some leaders also saw in the Himachal results a reflection of the tussle in the BJP at the top. The Himachal campaign was largely managed by BJP president and Himachal native J P Nadda, and Jai Ram Thakur who is seen as close to him.
While Thakur campaigned extensively, leaders say he is still to find his feet in a state unit divided between loyalty to Nadda and, ironically, Thakur’s own father and former CM Prem Kumar Dhumal. Apart from the rebels, the “invisible Dhumal factor”, a term for the anger his supporters felt over the party sidelining him, is believed to have hit BJP.