Assembly elections: BJP takes stock of state of affairs after setbacks

Nadda and office-bearers of the party also met Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi, described as a courtesy call but spanning over four hours.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is undertaking a massive stock-taking exercise in preparation for a clutch of Assembly elections due in 2022, especially in Uttar Pradesh (UP). 

Party President J P Nadda held a discussion with senior party leaders and office-bearers over the weekend and parallel consultations were held last week by B L Santhosh, party general secretary (organisation), in Lucknow. 

Nadda and office-bearers of the party also met Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi, described as a courtesy call but spanning over four hours.

Alarm bells began ringing soon after the result of the panchayat elections last month. 

“You have 324 Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs), 60 Members of Parliament (MP), a clutch of Cabinet ministers. The PM is from the state. But whether it is Mathura, Faizabad-Ayodhya, Banaras or even Gorakhpur, the results were shocking,” said a former functionary of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP).

Samajwadi Party (SP) has around 760 and BJP 740 (panchayat members). There are lots of Independents. The panchayat elections are conducted by the state election commission. It usually goes with the (state) government. Despite full cooperation with the state government, you still got fewer seats than last time. I’m not even adding the seats won by the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Congress. This should worry everyone,” said the ABVP functionary.

Three-time Lok Sabha (LS) MP and former Union minister Manoj Sinha, who belongs to eastern UP, said the concern was exaggerated. “The BJP has never performed particularly well in panchayat elections,” he said. However, an office-bearer from Gorakhpur said the fault lay with the structure of the party and the sooner it was corrected the better.

“This time, we put everything we had to prepare for the panchayat elections. But the candidates were selected on the recommendation of the MLAs. Those who did not have a ‘setting’ with the MLA did not get the backing of the BJP. So they contested as unofficial (rebel) candidates,” said the office-bearer.

They are, after all, political people. Some fielded their wi­ves. The minute they did that, the party expelled them. It is a reflection of poor judgement that most Independents or even those whom the SP is now claiming as theirs, are actually from the BJP originally. “In Maharajgunj (eastern UP), we conducted this exercise of determining exactly whom the SP was claiming as its candidates. We found half were from the BJP who had gone over to the other side,” he added.

The outcome of the panchayat elections is not just a factor of local politics. For the state BJP unit, it also reflects the management of Covid-19 by the state government. 

In Banaras, the PM’s LS constituency, for instance, former Indian Administrative Service officer-turned-politician A K Sharma had to be dispatched as a ‘special envoy’ to oversee arrangements. 

“Till April, things were very, very bad in Banaras,” said Sinha’s manager, adding, “After Sharmaji came here, it became a bit better.”

He cited the death of iconic classical music singer Chha­nnulal Mishra’s daughter from Covid. Mishra, who signed Narendra Modi’s election papers as a proposer, claimed his daughter died of neglect in a private hospital and that he was asked for bribes. He demanded an enquiry. 

“Soon after that, Sharmaji was dispatched and hospitals began returning money charged from the families of those who had lost members to Covid. That changed things,” he said.

While the overall impression is that Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is unlikely to be replaced, a reshuffle in the Council of Ministers will, BJP leaders feel, at least change the optics. 

For several years, Dattatreya Hosabale, the new Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) general secretary, has worked out of Lucknow. After his new appointment, before going to the RSS headquarters in Nagpur, he paid a ceremonial visit to his office in Lucknow and met many workers and supporters of both the Sangh and the BJP. This is also expected to be an important input in the decisions that are taken regarding the government in UP in the future.

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