When Kailash Vijayvargiya emerged from his office at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s central headquarters on Thursday afternoon, a crowd of party workers surged forward to congratulate their national general secretary for the organization’s best ever performance in West Bengal. The BJP had won 14 seats and was leading in 4 others till Thursday on a late evening when counting was in progress.
From two seats in the 16th Lok Sabha, Vijayvargiya, who replaced Siddharth Nath Singh in July 2015 as state in-charge, is among those who played a key role in the rise. Along with Shiv Prakash, the joint general secretary (organization) who helped the party improve its vote share from six percent in 2009 to 17.02 percent in 2014, Vijayvargiya worked on sealing social combinations, resolving internal issues and identifying the right people on the ground. The result: 1,250 mandal committees, up from 452 in 2015; 12,407 shakti kendras; 10,266 shakti kendra pramukhs and 58,084 committees. Also, the party divided the state into five segments for managing the various constituencies this time.
Another key move by Vijayvargiya was to rope in Mukul Roy, who was known as the “right-hand man” of TMC leader and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Roy was a leader who, according to Vijayvargiya, knew “everything” about TMC and West Bengal “like the palm of his hand”. Vijayvargiya and Roy together worked on leaders who were disillusioned with Banerjee, which led to those like MPs Anupam Hazra and Saumitra Khan, and MLAs Arjun Singh, Khagen Murmu and Dulal Bar, moving to the BJP before the elections. In essence, this election in Bengal was about the BJP banking on Prime Minister Narendra Modi as its face, with Roy as backroom operator and Vijayvargiya as the go-to person in Delhi.
In Odisha, the BJP was leading in eight Lok Sabha seats till 10.30 pm Thursday. The party had hoped to develop a support base with the Ujjwala LPG connection scheme, especially with its most prominent Odisha leader, Dharmendra Pradhan, being the face of the initiative as Petroleum Minister. Hoping to make fresh inroads, the BJP chose western Odisha for three reasons: It borders Chhattisgarh, where the BJP was in power for 15 years till last December; it is an area seen to have been neglected by the state government; it covers influential royal families who are with the party.
Starting from the ground, the party built committees in every booth, mandal, village, block, and district, and held a number of public programs. The BJP general secretary in-charge, Arun Singh, who has been based in Odisha for six years, led a drive to enroll 35 lakh, new members. The state unit’s attempts were also supported by central leaders, with Union ministers and BJP chief Amit Shah frequently visiting the state. In the 2017 panchayat elections, the BJP’s tally in 853 zilla parishads went up to 297 from 36 in 2012. The gains were not just from the Congress, whose tally was halved from 128 to 60, but also the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), which came down to 460 from 651. In the final stretch, the party banked on its call for “paribartan (change)” and its biggest draw — Modi.