It’s a cliche to say that the ruling BJP is in election mode, because it is always so, according to its leaders. But with less than 20 months left for the next general election, the BJP is certainly in harvest mode – to reap the benefits of what the party and its government have done so far on the ground.
So, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be at the vanguard of the BJP’s development push in states other than the expected poll-bound ones of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, Union Home Minister Amit Shah is set to step up visits to border states to underline the BJP’s “nationalist“ credentials (the ban on the Popular Front of India, that his predecessors could not take a decision on, is expected to help boost the same), while party chief J P Nadda will be seen more and more across the country to strengthen the BJP’s outreach programmes.
Union ministers, who have completed one round of “pravas (tour)” of the 144 constituencies chosen by the BJP for extra focus as it did not do well in them last time, will now be joined by general secretaries who hold charge of states.
Party sources said that there is a realisation that unemployment and economic distress coupled with inflation is a challenge. On Sunday, RSS general secretary Dattatreya Hosabale referred to the two issues, apart from rising inequality, as matters of concern.
These issues have the potential to affect both youth and women, two critical constituencies that the BJP has nurtured under Modi and have proved decisive in its impressive electoral performances.
The Opposition has also zeroed in on these issues, while Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has been underlining them in his Bharat Jodo Yatra.
Besides, the BJP finds itself ally-less in many quarters of the country, with even some remaining partners joining complaints by regional parties that a domineering Modi-led Centre has undermined the country’s federal structure.
Some BJP leaders are watching the crowds drawn by Rahul in Kerala, even if the state is more friendly towards the Congress than the BJP. While the Congress grapples with its internal politics over presidential polls, the yatra is being seen by some BJP leaders as an image-building exercise by Rahul that they cannot dismiss as they usually do.
“Not that Rahul Gandhi could be a threat to PM Modi, but he is trying to reach out to many fence-sitters. Besides, the BJP could face a tougher time in Karnataka (a state ruled by the BJP but where the Congress has a strong base and strong faces),” a leader said.
Their one trump card, the BJP believes, remains Modi, with the PM’s popularity showing few dents, and still miles ahead of any Opposition leaders. His foreign policy, already a winner, has hit fresh strides post the Ukraine crisis, and the BJP should be able to reinforce the message of Modi taking India to “new heights”.
Apart from that, the party is confident about its organisation, which has expanded phenomenally in the last eight years, and is fully tuned to take the message of Modi’s popularity and credibility to the people. In this, the BJP has changed the game, as earlier, parties would focus on organisation only when out of power.
Sources said that the Pravas Yojana under which ministers headed to the 144 shortlisted constituencies had helped the BJP identify another string of next generation leaders to groom. They are already at work, party leaders say, even as rivals, particularly the Congress, are still to wake up to the 2024 election preparation.
Echoing what Shah said at a meeting last month of Union ministers on the Pravas Yojana, a senior BJP leader said: “The Prime Minister is popular, but if the organisation machinery is not oiled properly and kept in good condition, repeating our electoral performance would be almost impossible. Without a strong organisation, the BJP cannot repeat its success.”
Last week, when Nadda met office-bearers, including those general secretaries who have been given new states to take care of, the thrust of his message was to ensure that voters knew about the government programmes and to utilise the party’s network for this.
The push also matters as there may not be many more big-ticket reforms or legislative initiatives, other than a few targeted at the women vote bank, ahead of the 2024 elections now. One of those, sources said, could be the passing of a law to raise the legal age of marriage for women to 21 from 18.