In the months ahead, the BJP will focus heavily on Uttar Pradesh. The party is keenly aware that with a bitter contest between the two claimants, Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party, there is hardly any chance to rebuild a base of its own. The BJP influence has been gradually dwindling in India’s most populous state. In the assembly polls last year, the party came third by a long distance.
And in that politically significant meeting between BJP president, Rajnath Singh and Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi, Uttar Pradesh on Sunday, the two leaders did refer to Uttar Pradesh. It is obvious that though he is projecting himself as a coalition-builder, Rajnath Singh’s heart is in Uttar Pradesh, a state of which he has been a chief minister in the past. Though along with a few other BJP leaders, Singh too has been criticised for letting the BJP suffer heavy losses in the state, it remains his home turf, his starting point.
Modi did not campaign for his party during the last assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh. That does not mean he is uncertain about the dominant political role the state plays in any general election. The state contributes 81 seats to the Lok Sabha and its significance can never be downplayed. The Gujarat chief minister, who has already begun doing his homework now that it is almost certain he will have an important role in leading the campaign, knows that the BJP has reached a saturation points in states considered the party’s strongholds.
There is every possibility that BJP’s undisputed leader from Ahmedabad has been somewhat enthused by the positive vibes he is getting from the largest state. Already, leaders in the state capital have begun competing with each other to insist that Modi should contest from former Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee’s constituency Lucknow. It would be a symbolic gesture more than anything else. Besides, it would help infuse fresh energy into the largely inactive and faction-ridden party organisation. Modi will be a unifying agent, bringing together everybody who matters in UP.
That Uttar Pradesh figured in the discussion between the two leaders because the party insiders say that it is Rajnath who might have second thoughts about handing over UP’s poll management to Modi on a platter. After all, this is the state which he understands very well and is even familiar with the political machinations that go on. Rajnath may indeed be quite predictably uneasy about letting go of a state that is so politically sensitive. If the BJP does marginally well even by accident, Rajnath would be left with nothing and Modi would claim all the success.
The obvious question that begs an answer is how the BJP is going to address the issue. The likes of Kalyan Singh are leaders with not much left to give to the party. Others lack stature. Even Rajnath Singh’s influence is restricted largely to among Thakurs and a few other upper castes. Leaders like Lalji Tandon, Kalraj Mishra have long fallen by the wayside. Even handing over the state to the firebrand leader Uma Bharti did not help BJP’s prospects.
Under such circumstances Modi’s brand of development politics mixed with a degree of understated Hindutva can revive the old political equations which had worked for the party in the past. Even in Modi is a complete outsider at this point of time, the Modi wave might sway a substantial section of the voters disenchanted with the BJP. Now, there is every indication that frontal organisations like Visva Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal are willing to work for the Gujarat chief minister provided he is the Prime Ministerial candidate. The BJP is banking on this as-yet-unknown Modi factor to work a miracle in India’s most populous province.