While the BJP’s alleged “muscle and money power” occupied the Opposition from Gujarat to Maharashtra and Assam last week, the party typically is working at multiple levels as it prepares the ground for 2024. One of its target areas, already identified and being worked towards, is capturing those areas still out of the reach of the party – and Droupadi Murmu’s nomination as the NDA’s presidential nominee fits in neatly with that plan.
The BJP’s assessment is that there are more than 73,000 booths that it needs to work on, along with constituencies that have never voted for the party. If earlier the party wooed OBCs and Dalits with outreach programmes, invoking their icons or rewarding them, and winning over leaders belonging to the communities from other parties, the BJP now sees tribals and women as the catchment area that can pay rich dividends.
Women voters are already gravitating towards the BJP due to its much-publicised welfare schemes, and the party wants its leaders to focus on them during its campaign.
With Murmu’s nomination, the BJP kills many birds with one stone. The woman leader belonging to the Santhal tribe community of Odisha is also a serious politician, having risen from the ground and performed creditably as Governor of Jharkhand in the last public office she held.
While the BJP won tribal votes in Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand in the recent elections, it has squandered some of those gains. Party leaders point out that in the states bound for elections soon, such as Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, the BJP holds only 35 of the 138 seats reserved for Scheduled Tribes.
In Jharkhand, for example, in the last Assembly elections, the BJP won two of 28 ST reserved seats; in Gujarat, 19 of 37; 16 of 47 in Madhya Pradesh; and nine of 18 in Rajasthan.
BJP president J P Nadda has been touring the tribal-dominated areas of these states. In April, he visited Sawai Madhopur district in eastern Rajasthan, which has a considerable tribal population, to attend a party programme on prominent members of the tribal community, organised by the BJP’s ST Morcha. In May, he addressed a meeting of ST leaders from across the country in the national capital.
In April, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated projects worth over Rs 20,000 crore, including a locomotive manufacturing unit, in Gujarat’s tribal belt of Dahod and Panchmahals. Senior party leader and Union Home Minister Amit Shah has visited tribal areas in Madhya Pradesh frequently in the last few months.
In Madhya Pradesh, where former BJP president Kushabhau Thakre built the organisation, the party has deputed senior leader P Muralidhar Rao to help mobilise the SCs and STs.
The RSS too has been pitching in. Sangh outfits have been long at work in tribal-dominated regions of the country, and with their narrative of alleged conversion of community members by Christian missionaries and outreach to residents in these poorly developed areas, it has been successful in forging a “Hindu identity” among them.
In a fresh move, an RSS affiliate, Janjati Suraksha Manch, has announced extensive programmes in the tribal areas of central India states — which are incidentally going to polls either later this year or next. The crux of the campaign would be the demand to remove tribals who have converted to Christianity or Islam from the ST list that entitles them to reservation.
Arguing that most of the reservation benefits meant for STs are going to them, the Manch has planned multiple rallies in Gujarat, Chhattisgarh as well as Jharkhand next month. It is also reaching out to the more than 3,000 elected representatives — MPs, MLAs and MLCs — across the states on the issue.
As the RSS lays the ground, the BJP is hoping its extra push will help convert this existing base into political gains. Droupadi Murmu’s elevation as head of state — which is almost certain — would be the coup de maitre!
P.S.: The developments in Maharashtra, where the party is watching and gently stoking the disillusionment among Shiv Sena leaders into a full-blown rebellion against the state government, have also triggered whispers that Jharkhand could be the next stop for the BJP in attempts to install a party government there.
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