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6-min read

BJP Workers Came Looking for Election Buzzwords, But are Leaving Ramlila Maidan With More Riddles

From ticket distribution to a catchy election pitch, BJP foot-soldiers find none of their questions answered in the 2-day convention at Ramlila Maidan.

Suhas Munshi | News18.com

Updated:January 13, 2019, 8:27 PM IST
BJP Workers Came Looking for Election Buzzwords, But are Leaving Ramlila Maidan With More Riddles
BJP leaders at the first day of the two-day BJP National Executive Meet, at Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi. (Twitter)

New Delhi: At the end of Day 1 of the two-day BJP National Council, a group of zila pramukhs, or heads of the party’s district councils, were gathered around a senior BJP leader.

It was about 9 pm when BJP foot-soldiers who had come to the capital from all over the country were huddled in small groups across the Ramlila Maidan, interacting with national leaders.

The interaction began with the zila pramukhs being asked to give honest feedback from the ground. “Hold nothing back,” a leader said. “This is the time to listen to truth.”

One person from the group of about 15 stood up and suggested that the national leadership send them more volunteers. “The sort of battle we are engaged in, to be honest, we need one volunteer for each family. But that’s not possible, so give us as many men as possible, and soon,” the Bihar-based party worker said.

Another got up and said, “Officials are creating hurdles. A stern message should be sent from New Delhi that they better oblige or else...” He was pacified and made to sit back in his chair.

Then rose up the third zila adhikaari. “Shreemaan, sach kahein? Aap Modiji se kehke kuch mahino ke liye Emergency declare karwa dijiye. Kuch kade kadam to uthaane padenge (Sir, honestly, we need Modi to declare Emergency for a few months. Time has come to take some harsh decisions).” With this statement, the feedback session ended.

The group was told to prepare for motorcycle rallies, booth-level interactions, a program of lighting diyas, holding cricket matches for ‘Kamal Cup’ and pasting BJP logos outside houses.

‘Kuch kade kadam to uthaane padenge’ Several BJP volunteers from Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh paraphrased this emotion while speaking to News18.

Over 11,000 workers, who were assembled here, will instead return to their constituencies with lessons on three subjects imparted over the two-day convention

History, figures and slogans

Till 60 years, banks had given loans of Rs 18 lakh crore to companies. In 10 years of Congress rule between 2004 and 2014, banks gave Rs 34 lakh crore to companies — Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Do not forget the scams of over Rs 12 lakh crore that happened in UPA’s time and remind others also — BJP chief Amit Shah

Within 1.5 years, UP government gave houses to 18 lakh poor people under Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana. In five years of Samajwadi Party rule, only 63,000 houses were built — UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath

These were the election pitches handed by the BJP’s top three campaigners to foot-soldiers, who will now take the message to voters. These numbers were being drilled into the attendees by a senior minister at a camp of BJP’s media cell volunteers, which looked more like an elementary tuition class.

“Repeat after me, BJP procured 14 times as much farm produce from farmers as Congress did. How much?”

If BJP volunteers were looking to return from Delhi with a buzzword, a new slogan or catchphrase encapsulating their party’s poll campaign, they didn’t get it. A sense of repetition percolated down from speeches even in the slogans — ‘Narendra Modi Fir Se’, ‘Abki Baar, Fir Modi Sarkar’, ‘Mera Booth Sabse Mazboot’, ‘Booth Jeeta, Chunaav Jeeta’. Thousands of pamphlets, hundreds of hoardings bore these slogans that were coined last year; none as evocative or catchy as the original ‘Abki Baar Modi Sarkar’.

Modi vs Who

“The opposition wants a majboor sarkar (helpless government), they don’t want a majboot sarkaar (healthy government),” Modi said in his speech on Saturday. He wondered where India would have reached had Atal Bihari Vajpayee continued to be India’s prime minister.

“I have been moulded by organisation, I could also have strayed to some other path, but for my organisation. Collective leadership and efforts of leaders like Atal ji, Advani ji, Kushabhau, Bhandari ji have brought our party this far."

Contrast this with Modi’s speech and radio addresses in the 2014 election season.

Aaj khud apne liye vote maang raha hoon... meri appeal… hai har gali aur kuche se, aap ka vote seedhe, seedhe mujhe milega. (Today I am seeking a vote for myself. I want tell all voters that your vote will reach me directly).”

While it was always clear that the party will make all attempts to turn the 2019 Lok Sabha polls into a presidential-style battle, this time there were relatively few references to himself in the third person. The support of allies was underscored.

“Let’s not forget the power of our allies,” Arun Jaitley said in his speech, telling workers that the BJP and its allies have stood by each other, that his party has been expanding only with support of constantly increasing allies.

“We started with 24 allies. Today we have 35 and counting,” he said.

A sense of equality was reflected in speeches by regional party leaders. “Amit Shah has several times repeated his gratitude for our partners in the Northeast. He has told us that the BJP may be a big party, but is an equal partner in Northeast. It is only together that can we win,” party leader and convenor of the North East Democratic Alliance, Himanta Biswa Sarma, said in his speech.

But the party workers are still banking on, apart from the strength of their organisation, the cult of Modi.

At the end of the council, a party general secretary was tutoring BJP’s ground workers. “This is the most important issue… When you go to meet the voters, ask them if they want a coalition with four prime ministers? A Deve Gowda calling Mayawati calling Mamata Banerjee calling someone else to decide on a simple policy matter? Or a PM that can take decisions on his own?”

Mandir and Quota

In perhaps his last direct address to ground workers, the PM spent maximum time on the 10% reservation to economically weak upper caste.

It was a carefully drafted speech in order to avoid the reservation issue, which has spiralled into quota vs anti-quota narrative. Modi took time to explain that reservation for economically weaker sections would not impinge on caste-based reservations.

“The reservation policies of Baba Ambedkar are here to stay. Reservations were here then, they are here now and will always remain,” Modi said. “Beware of the rumours that are being spread on the subject.”

A 30-page handbook published for the benefit of party workers also, perhaps of the first time, has on its last page the qualifications of those who will be eligible for the 10% economic quota.

Modi went on to talk about Ram Mandir and the alleged ‘hurdles’ being created by the Congress in the Supreme Court. Ram Mandir was by far the biggest crowd puller in the entire two-day program, and except Modi and Shah, every other leader skirted their speeches safely around the subject.

“Some have alleged that we have strayed away from our core ideology, but let me tell them that we stand by the principles that we swore by in 1950. The BJP wants a Ram Mandir at the same spot. We are trying to expedite the case, but Congress is introducing hurdles in the way,” Amit Shah said in his Friday speech.

The series of meetings that started with the two-day council will go on over the next few days. The Prime Minister is expected to meet Vistarak Committee members, party general secretary Ramlal is going to hold a series of meetings with state presidents in the next couple of days, and Amit Shah is holding a meeting with other senior party leaders.

But a lot of ground workers are leaving with more riddles than answers. On Friday evening, when a zila pramukh got up to ask when the ticket distribution will happen, a BJP general secretary told him, “Don’t worry about all that. Focus on the party. Till March no candidates will be announced. Everyone is an equal member in this fight. So march along.”

A worker from Gujarat muttered under his breath, “Kuch kade kadam to uthaane padenge...

| Edited by: Nitya Thirumalai
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