Be Local, Stay Local for New Locus
In BJP 2.0, there is nothing called a free lunch. Saffron sachems hungry for praise have to earn it the Modi way. The party’s National Executive has 80 regular members, 50 special invitees and 179 permanent invitees. Last week-end, they were all summoned to Hyderabad for a two-day pow wow. And to paint the city saffron. Usual resolutions eulogising Prime Minister Modi’s stellar performance were adopted. But before that, a select group of members was chosen for a special assignment. When they landed, it was obvious that the pristine habiliments of 120 saffron senapatis were marked with the godhul of semi-urban and rural India. They had previously received a communication from party general secretary Tarun Chugh, directing each member to reach Hyderabad ten days in advance and proceed to 119 individually allotted Assembly constituencies, where they would spend 48 hours getting familiar with local issues and interests. For the first time in BJP history, National Executive members are being asked to engage in rural mass contact programmes in Telangana and hobnob with the cadres. Each muckety-muck had to mingle with local office bearers and heads of frontal organizations. They were told to fraternise with the local RSS-in-charge to suss out the ground situation. Many of the saffron sultans, being used to aircon luxury, felt the heat in more than one way. While the purpose of the exercise was to connect national policy makers and cadres, the effort was only semi-successful thanks to the language barrier. Many of the visiting leaders were from the North, the West and the Northeast, and the Telugu karyakartas hardly spoke Hindi. Moreover, all Telangana cities don’t have five-star hotels. The weary mid-level panjandrums were forced to spend the night either at the home of a wealthy party man, a small-town hotel or guest house; though some big guns were assigned constituencies close to Hyderabad for them to travel back and forth daily. The party’s top brass wishes to boost its organization in the state where it expects electoral dividends. With the Congress on Prozac, the BJP is targeting Telangana as its second stable after Karnataka in Modi's Southern Ashvamedha. Big enchiladas such as the PM, J.P. Nadda and Amit Shah are frequent flyers to the City of Nizams of late. By holding its national executive meet in Hyderabad after 18 years, the BJP is signaling to local luminaries that the saffron eagle has landed and it is open season for confabs and crossovers. The first catch of the day: former Congress MP and the richest Telugu politician Konda Vishweshwar Reddy. The BJP had scored only one Assembly seat out of the 119 it contested last time. This time, it's betting on anti-incumbency to hobble KCR and his outfit TRS. The entire show was curetted like a South Indian filmy potboiler with Modi as the triumphant hero. In the absence of any local leader, the BJP turned the coming battle into Modi vs KCR.
Modi’s Mantris Become Rural Problem Solvers
The Prime Minister has not spared his Cabinet ministers from doing party work in addition to their expected duties. The BJP calculates over 100 sitting MPs will lose in 2024; to compensate and aggregate, the leadership has decided to target 180 Parliamentary constituencies where it either never won, or had lost after winning once in the past six general elections. For the last two months, over 60 Union Ministers and Ministers of State have been deployed to stump in these constituencies on a regular basis. Each mantri has been given the responsibility for three seats with an order to establish contact with local party leaders, and identify and solve issues that can turn the tide in the BJP’s favour. Since the visitors are ministers, local officials attend their meetings as part of protocol. A high-profile ministerial visit in a rural constituency does create a buzz. But most importantly, by virtue of being Central ministers, they can solve pending issues such as bad roads and faulty implementation of national schemes like MNREGA, PM Awas Yojna, etc., to create a favorable environment for the government. Their instructions are to send their reports to the national party office and the PMO. Instead of Dimapur coming to Delhi for problem resolutions, Delhi is landing in Dimapur with solutions. Ministers have been told in no uncertain terms. In the new BJP, Modi Mantra comes first, and Family and friends later.
Will Merit or Need Decide Veep?
For Modi, optics play an important role in the selection of individuals for key appointments such as the President of India, Chief Ministers and Union Ministers. Once he is convinced about the loyalty of a candidate, his team assesses the public empathy and connectivity of the would-be finalist. His choice of Droupadi Murmu for Rashtrapati Bhavan sends multiple messages. By amplifying Murmu's poor, tribal background, merit has become demerit by default. The implication is that she was chosen not because she deserved to be the head of the state of the world’s largest democracy, but only thanks to her caste. Hence, saffron high priests are struggling to find someone to play both a complementary role to the President and perform the mandatory balancing act in the Rajya Sabha. Caste, community and regional compulsions have once again gripped the ruling establishment as the criteria to find a suitable Vice-President; Venkaiah Naidu packs his bags this month. The BJP is comfortably placed to get its Veep elected. But will Modi pick his candidate based on his capability to run the Rajya Sabha as its Chairman, or will he pander to caste, religion and other considerations? The outgoing VP was a veteran both in the party and the government. The Opposition has many talented and experienced members in the Rajya Sabha who can pose a serious challenge. In the current political climate, could the PM choose a Muslim? The possibilities are Ghulam Nabi Azad, Arif Mohammed Khan and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. Azad is the front runner, followed by Khan who is fluent in Sanskrit and has solid Middle East connections. Ansari is the only Muslim who has stuck with the party for three decades and is acceptable to all. Or if Modi's preference is a hardcore RSS heavy hitter, any of the governors or an iconic corporate, literary, legal or public service luminary is on the roster of readies.
PS: Once the new President and Vice-President are sworn-in, a final reshuffle of the Union cabinet is likely, keeping the 2024 Lok Sabha elections in mind. A review of ministerial performances has started. On the watch list are the mantris who worked more on social media than in their ornate offices.
Follow him on Twitter @PrabhuChawla