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For 50 plus seats in UP, Amit Shah wooed Dalits, pacified Brahmins and planned Modi rallies

Shah’s criteria for ticket distribution were simple but also brutally realistic: deny tickets to past losing contestants, give tickets to those who belonged to the constituency.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Apr 21, 2014, 03.36 AM IST
Shah’s criteria for ticket distribution were simple but also brutally realistic: deny tickets to past losing contestants, give tickets to those who belonged to the constituency.
Shah’s criteria for ticket distribution were simple but also brutally realistic: deny tickets to past losing contestants, give tickets to those who belonged to the constituency.
Amit Shah’s criteria for ticket distribution, according to a person involved in the process, were simple but also brutally realistic: deny tickets to past losing contestants, give tickets mostly to those who belonged to the constituency and get your social engineering right.

The second criterion was designed to send the message to voters that most BJP candidates, being locals, would be one of them – approachable for myriad problems voters face.

Social engineering was crucial, a BJP leader said. And he explained it by pointing out caste-wise ticket distribution: 28 tickets were given to OBC candidates. “In UP, BJP has always fought for 58% of total votes since the remaining 42% have traditionally never voted for us. This includes Muslims, Yadavs and Dalits. And of this 58%, the largest share are OBCs,” this leader said.

He gave the example of the sharp fall between BJP’s 1998 and 1999 Lok Sabha performance.

In 1999, he said, the party paid for OBC leader Kalyan Singh’s departure.

“OBC votes got divided between SP and BSP”, the leader said, “and it never returned to us”. To get this vote back, Shah chose to give nearly a third of the tickets to OBCs, the highest in last few elections.

Tickets were also given to representatives of backward communities such as Nishad, Bind, Khushwaha who don’t dominate a particular constituency but are present in large numbers along the Ganga.

This was designed to help consolidate votes across constituencies. BJP also used mythology to add that extra punch to social engineering.

Ramayana’s narrative of Nishad Raj helping Ram cross the Ganga was the story that framed BJP’s outreach to backward communities. “Programmes such as the Ganga yatra organized last year helped the party identify with these castes settled around the Ganga with special emphasis on Lodhs and Nishads, who are present in sizeable numbers across a few districts,” Professor Sudhir Panwar of Lucknow University said.

Giving prominence to OBC leaders like Kalyan Singh and Uma Bharti and Modi’s own OBC identity has helped the party in breaking into BSP vote bank, a state BJP leader said. “Mayawati ka base khisak raha hai. (Mayawati’s base is shifting) This is happening for the first time since Kanshi Ram,” says the strategist quoted earlier.

Dalits account for 21% of the population in UP and the core Dalit votes will remain with BSP. But this time there has been a shift of some Dalit sub castes of Bhangi, Valmiki, Pasi, Dhobi, Kashyap, and Mallah, BJP leaders say.

They reckon while Chamars and Jatavs who form 12% of the total electorate will stick with BSP, Bhangis, Valmikis, Pasis, Khatiks, Dhobis, Koris and other sub castes, which add up to 9% of total voters, will move away from BSP, mostly to BJP.

Even Extremely Backward Castes (EBCs) like Nishad, Bind, Kewat, Mallah, Saini, Lodh, Prajapati, Kashyap etc whose social situation in similar to Dalits’ and who too voted BSP may move away this time,” said Dalit politics expert Professor Badri Narain of GB Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad.

Be Ruthless

Shah displayed ruthlessness in ticket distribution, all BJP leaders ET spoke to said. “Nirbhaya hokar faisla liya,” says an aide of Shah, who cut out the “deadwood”.

Leaders such as Lalji Tandon, Kesrinath Tripathi, Vinay Katiyar, Swami Chinmayanand, Ram Vilas Vedanti, Surya Pratap Sahi and Om Prakash Singh were advised not to contest elections this time.

Kalyan Singh’s son was given a ticket from his erstwhile constituency, Etah, and Singh was drafted into campaigning across the state for backward votes.

“Singh can impact backward votes in 103 assembly constituencies and a chopper has been pressed into his service,” said Shah’s aide.

Shah’s decision to field former Congressman Jagdambika Pal from Domariyaganj was also part of a well thought-out strategy. “Jagdambika Pal and Pramod Tiwari were two big Congress names from UP. Taking Pal was a psychological win over Congress,” says a state leader.

BJP’s headquarters in Lucknow hosts Amit Shah’s war room – a hi-tech control room and call centre. Shah told ET in Lucknow this was a “new approach” to way elections are handled. More than 400 GPS-enabled ‘Modi’ vans manufactured by Tatas have been used to cover 80,000 villages in the state.

“Many of these villages are in remote areas. These vans have 16 minutes video on our PM candidate Modi-ji, BJP’s manifesto and the party’s governance agenda. This is part of our rural connectivity drive. Because of GPS we get to know where exactly they went and also how much time they spend in each village” says Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) secretary Sunil Bansal. Bansal was drafted by RSS to assist Shah. The call centre is manned by 450 volunteers, BJP leaders say. Brahmin “discontent”?

All this planning notwithstanding, local leaders said ticket distribution had upset Brahmins, who felt underrepresented. But BJP’s core team has a different view. “Protests were from candidates, not voters,” a leader working closely with Shah said. “BJP is a natural home for Brahmins. They can’t leave the party,” he added.

There were also a local grouse that Thakurs, the other important upper caste, were favoured. This is not borne out by facts, this leader argued – 19 Brahmins have been given tickets, two more than the 17 tickets for Thakurs.

Atmospherics to mute the Brahmin discontent have also been at play. Last Friday Modi touched Murli Manohar Joshi’s feet at a rally in Akbarpur near Kanpur and also seated him on the special chair meant for the PM candidate, clearly attempting to show his regard to the BJP veteran and also to Brahmins who identify with Joshi.

Modi wave

The other source of confidence BJP has is that a wave gets stronger over time. “Political wave main reverse gear kabhi nahin hota (There is never a reverse gear in a political wave),” says an insider in the Modi team. So, the long drawn out election, with most of UP seats still left for polling, works in BJP’s favour – it builds up the ‘Modi wave’, the leader quoted earlier said.

Part of this wave in UP was created through rallies, BJP leaders said. And this was another of Amit Shah’s key tasks. To build crowds for Modi rallies, it was decided nobody should need to drive more than 175 km to attend the rally.

And every booth was assigned a Bolero, which can take 10 passengers. There are a little over one lakh booths in UP. Rallies were planned carefully, the Modi team insider said, and the large attendance helped consolidate the perception of a ‘Modi wave’.

One example of the level of planning that went in behind the rallies is this: At a meeting of district presidents, Shah asked them to bring three people on a motorcycle to ensure maximum presence in rallies.

“SP workers pedal for 50 kilometers. They also carry a pillion rider. Why can’t our workers with motorcycles bring three people on one bike,” Shah is believed to have asked.

Why Varanasi for Modi

Varanasi was selected for Modi to positively impact Poorvanchal and some constituencies in Bihar, the Shah aide quoted earlier said. Shah was keen on the idea and got it done by working on Joshi to move to Kanpur.

“There was anti incumbency against Joshi-ji. His position had worsened since 2009 when he won. His victory was narrow and had he contested again he may have had a tough time. In hindsight it was a wise decision to move Joshi to Kanpur where there is a large Brahmin population and a strong BJP presence and he can win easily” said Professor Kaushal Kishore Mishra, head, political science department, Banaras Hindu University (BHU).

Mishra said that Modi’s presence in Varanasi will impact about 50 odd seats in Poorvnachal and Bihar districts that share a border with UP. “This entire belt is called Bhojpur. Starting from Allahabad, Gorakhpur, Mirzapur in UP to Buxar, Ara, Mokama and up to borders of Patna in Bihar. Culture and traditions here are the same and Varanasi is the hub for this area. Modi’s candidature from Varanasi will impact this entire region” Mishra said.

UP beyond 2014

So, if BJP is confident of UP this time, what’s next for the party? People closely working with Shah says plans for sustained revival beyond polls are already in place. An aide said Shah has conducted some “22 experiments in the state to revive the party’s fortunes”. One of these is contesting panchayat and cooperative elections- something BJP has not done in 17 years.

“Panchayat se Parliament – that’s our slogan...we will have one lakh pradhan candidates,” says a person on Shah’s team. The idea, according to Shah, is to reform a strong cadre base. Every village must have at least a handful of BJP members – that’s the aim. “Otherwise what’s in it for a karyakarta to make a BJP MP hopeful win? This way he gets to participate in the electoral process,” the person quoted earlier said.

The next prize BJP is looking at – UP state government. “If we win 40 plus Lok Sabha seats, we will win the next assembly polls, a senior BJP leader said.

His confidence mirrored those of others ET spoke to. May 16 is less than a month away, but in India’s most crucial state BJP is already confident it’s on the right track.

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