By Soroor Ahmed
The Election Commission of India (ECI) has its own way of conducting election. When thousands of people were dying of COVID-19 everyday in India in March, April and May last year, it did not impose any ban on election rallies or gathering of political parties in the five poll-bound states. And when not even one-tenth people are falling victim to Omicron daily now, it is not allowing any public meeting forcing the leaders of all hues and colours to literally take to streets.
It is difficult to predict as to which party will be benefited by these restrictions; but it is a fact that the country’s home minister Amit Shah and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath have to sweat out in the cold and chilly winter in the roads and lanes of the most populated state of India. And the deputy chief minister of UP Keshav Prasad Maurya and several other ministers and legislators are having rough time as people are asking several uncomfortable questions. The irony is that Keshav Prasad Maurya had a hard time in Mathura, the holy city, where the BJP is trying to exploit the religious sentiment.
Till the ECI lift its corona-related restrictions, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said to be the biggest star campaigner of the Bharatiya Janata Party, will not be able to address any rally. And for the security reason he cannot go from home-to-home, seeking votes for his party’s candidates.
This is the significant departure from the past and the BJP is trying to adjust in the new situation.
While oppositions – Samajwadi Party in UP and Congress and Aam Aadmi Party in other states – are charging the ECI with supporting the saffron outfit by imposing restrictions, the ground reality suggests that BJP is finding itself in a more difficult situation than any other party.
As it is in power in four of the five states, barring Punjab, naturally the voters are posing more questions before its leaders and candidates.
It is not that the candidates do not use to go from door-to-door in the early elections canvassing, but they were not accompanied by the big leaders. The problem with the leaders of the ruling BJP is that they have to concentrate too much energy in this time-taking exercise in Uttar Pradesh alone.
Before the announcement of election schedule by the ECI, the Prime Minister and Union home minister addressed several government functions. The PM, in particular, launched or inaugurated projects and schemes worth thousands of crores in about six months period – incidentally almost all of them in Uttar Pradesh.
But those official functions failed to attract the expected crowd even in UP where the saffron party got overwhelming support in 2017 election.
If the ECI removes the ban on rallies and public meetings in the days to come, it may be somewhat late for the BJP as the first phase of poll is going to take place in politically significant West UP, which it literally swept in 2017 Assembly elections as well as in the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
But the saffron party has an advantage too. Unlike its rivals, the party has an organisational network and a band of committed workers.
However, ever since 2014 Lok Sabha poll, the party’s election campaign has become personality-centric. This shift in the electioneering has a negative impact on the organisational structure. The defeat of the BJP in several states’ elections, where the so-called Modi magic did not work, had exposed this fact.
Now, if in such a situation its star campaigner is missing from the scene, it may have a negative impact on the prospect of the saffron party.
The 2021 and 2020 Assembly elections in West Bengal and Bihar respectively exposed the fragility of the BJP’s organisational structure.
The over-reliance on Narendra Modi and to some extent Amit Shah and Yogi Adityanath did not work in West Bengal where many dedicated and old workers of the RSS too found themselves a bit isolated. Apart from this, the party heavily depended on the turncoats from the Trinamool Congress.
Similarly, in Bihar at least 22 senior leaders and former RSS pracharaks deserted the BJP. Most of them contested as rebels or as the candidates of Lok Janshakti Party of Chirag Paswan. If in West Bengal the party suffered humiliating defeat, in Bihar the National Democratic Alliance just managed to form the government. After the Bihar Assembly election result the BJP, in a surprise move, dropped the then deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi, and two senior ministers Nand Kishore Yadav and Prem Kumar – all of them very seasoned leaders having strong RSS background.
In Uttar Pradesh too after the advent of Yogi, the reliance on RSS organisational set-up has not been given due importance.
A feeling started gripping the mind of the rank and file that Modi or Yogi would ensure victory. Now that the election campaign is held in a different way, the importance of the RSS and BJP workers has certainly increased. But the irony is that after the failure of the state government in handling the second wave of corona wave, a large number of committed workers have either become dejected or are showing indifference. The tackling of farmers’ movement and the Lakhimpur Kheri mowing down of four people allegedly by the son of a Union Minister also shattered the morale of the lower rung of the Sangh Parivar.
During elections in the normal time the BJP mobilises its workers in a big way. For example, in the West Bengal Assembly election last year thousands of party workers from many states of the country converged to the state to ensure the victory of the BJP. Almost all the party ministers and legislators from Bihar camped there for many days though the pandemic was taking a heavy toll of life. A large number of workers and even common people would be ferried to the rallies of Modi from Jharkhand. All this is not possible in UP and other states this time.
And this is the first time that Yogi has not yet gone out to campaign in other poll-bound states. Not only has he been tied down in his home turf, but till now there is little scope for any big public gathering.