The real big story from the just concluded elections has emerged from Haryana, the state adjacent to Delhi, where the BJP crafted a winning electoral strategy on its own steam despite lacking a solid organisational base or a long-standing network. However, this story got overshadowed in the media due to the intense speculation over the developments in Maharashtra as a result of the peculiarly fractured mandate there. And yet the BJP’S triumph in Haryana is highly instructive as it reveals the various facets of the meticulous poll planning and management by the party’s new President, Amit Shah.
Shah had realised that the BJP had earlier made an unduly generous pact with Kuldeep Bishnoi of the HJP in the parliamentary elections by giving them more than their real strength. So, after taking over the reins of the party, Shah held fresh talks with Bishnoi and offered him 20 seats, instead of the 45 he had asked for, and the deputy chief ministership. Bishnoi rejected the offer and the BJP decided to go it alone.
But, the BJP neither had enough candidates, nor adequate organisational structure and workers to contest all the 90 seats. So, the party imported disgruntled leaders from other parties like the Congress and the INLD overnight and handed them tickets. How substantial is the clout of these outsiders can be gauged from the fact that of the 47 winning candidates of the BJP 17 have come from other parties.
In a way, it was the same with the army of workers who, though belonging to the party, were brought in from other states. The election in-charge for the state was Kailash Vijayavargiya, a minister in the Madhya Pradesh government, and he had been accompanied by a large number of workers and leaders from there. Apart from Madhya Pradesh, MPs and MLAs from Punjab, Uttarakhand, Himachal Prasesh and Uttar Pradesh were also posted in the state. In-charge personnel as well as workers for each of the 90 seats were appointed in all the 22 district of the state and daily reports were obtained from them. The local in-charge from Haryana, Dr. Anil Jain was getting daily campaign reports from every seat in the evening and keeping the party high command informed of the day to day situation on the ground. A month and a half before the election, a fulltime in-charge had been appointed for every seat. The RSS had activated its swayamsewaks and given them the responsibility of mobilising workers for every booth. On the polling day, separate arrangements were made to bring voters to the booths.
The responsibility for overseeing the campaign efforts in the Dalit majority areas was entrusted to Dushyant Gautam of the Anusuchit Jati Morcha and other leaders. Every section of the Dalits was given special attention. For example, separate parleys were held with the two factions of the Jatavs to muster support for the party. Similarly, initiatives were undertaken to win over voters from other Dalit sections like the Valmikis, Khattiks, Dhaniks etc. and the progress made was reviewed daily. Being mindful of the traditional animosity between the Jats and the Dalits every possible effort was made to ensure that the wooing of Dalits should not alienate Jats from the party. For instance a controversial Dalit leader who wanted to have his rally in a Jat-dominated areas was persuaded to hold it in the urban area adjoining Delhi.
Another challenge was to prevent the polarisation of Jat votes in favour of Om Prakash Chautala. It was to that end that the BJP gave 25 tickets to Jat candidates. The party strategists were well aware that the BJP’s image being that of catering to non-Jat castes in the state could drive the Jats away from it. To balance that impression, it gave a ticket to the wife of Chaudhary Virendra Singh, a powerful Jat leader imported from the Congress. Also, prominent roles were assigned to Chaudhary Virendra Singh, Captain Abhimanyu and Om Prakash Dhankad for campaigning in the Jat areas. The BJP’s intention was that its Jat candidates should win their seats on the basis of their own clout among the Jats so as to cut into the influence of Om Prakash Chautala who should not be the sole beneficiary of the caste loyalties. And the party did manage to breach the Jat vote bank to some extent. Six of its Jat candidates won the election. The party paid particular attention to the Jat youths because it realised that the Prime Minister Narendra Modi was very popular among them and this sympathy could be exploited in its favour.
All the same, the BJP was extremely cautious that this attempt to win favour with the Jats should not upset and alienate its core vote bank of the non-Jats in the state. In the last leg of the campaign when there were some reports in the media about Captain Abhimanyu becoming the likely chief minister, the party was quick to contradict this impression in order to prevent any unfavourable reaction from the non-Jat voters. The party threw all its weight behind its 48 non-Jat candidates to ensure their success.
In order to get the support of the Dalits and non-Jats, the BJP sought the help of various sects, Deras and Babas that are quite popular among these sections in Haryana. The party identified the religious leaders having considerable influence in several areas. The Dera Sachcha Sauda’s last minute appeal in favour of the BJP drew considerable media attention, but the party also had many other religious gurus issue such appeals. The Dera Sachcha Sauda does have considerable following among the Dalits and the backward classes. However, it is a matter of analysis as to how much impact its appeal had in the BJP’s favour.
According to the BJP leaders it won only one seat of Tohana in the Sirsa region of the Dera’s influence. But the party could not win the seats of Dabwali, Kalawali and Rathia. Similarly, the Dera also has influence in Hisar but the BJP did not win there. Of the 17 reserved seats in the state, the BJP won only 9 and most of them are in the areas along the GT-Karnal road.
The attention given to the non-Jat votes paid off handsomely. Of the 47 newly elected party MLAs, 8 are Punjabis, 7 Vaishyas, 6 Yadavs, 4 Brahmins, 2 Sainis, 1 Sikh and 1 Roth. That is why the party wanted to make a non-Jat the chief minister. According to the BJP sources, it is evident that the non-Jat votes have been completely polarised in favour of the party, hence they cannot be ignored.
The party extensively used Video Raths for campaigning. It employed 90 such raths in the field, i.e. one for each seat. These raths equipped with GPS showed the PM Narendra Modi’s speeches and appeals to the voters. CDs of Modi’s address at the Madison Square Garden were distributed for use in the campaign. Prime time slots were purchased on local news channels to propagate the party’s message. According to strategists, the powerful impact the Prime Minister made in America and presented India as a rising power won a lot of support among the youth for the BJP.
The final weapon in the BJP’s armoury was to identify those weak seats where the margin of victory or defeat was going to be less than five thousand votes according to its assessment. The party made special preparations for these seats. The workers were given specific instructions to ensure that at least five thousand additional votes were cast in favour of its candidates. For this the responsibility was given to the workers in-charge of the pages of the voter list. One specific worker was assigned for every page and he was responsible to contact all the voters on that page, get them to the polling booths and have them cast their vote in BJP’s favour. These page in-charge people had the mobile number of the head of each family whom he could contact.
Apart from keeping a close eye on the activities of the rival parties, their campaign and rallies, the BJP also paid heed to the Satta markets. Every evening information was gathered on the betting rates for different parties, the number of seats they were likely to win or the fortunes of individual candidates in the Satta markets operating in different cities. These reports were also being forwarded to the top leadership.
Many of these strategies have been employed by the adversaries of the BJP. But it can’t be denied that the BJP reaped rich dividends from the anti-incumbency atmosphere prevailing in the state. The voters were keenly looking for an alternative to the ten years’ rule of the Congress. By exploiting Narendra Modi’s popularity to the maximum the BJP tried to win the voters over and was successful to a huge extent in its attempt. It is this style of election management used by Amit Shah that gives considerable scope to decentralisation. It includes astute distribution of work among the leaders and the workers and keep track of its implementation, like the functional style of the CEO of a big company. Whether it is Narendra Modi or Amit Shah, both are used to functioning this way in Gujarat, and it is now being followed in other states as well.