In a rally held in Assam’s capital Dispur on 27 November, BJP president Amit Shah brought the issue of Bangaldeshi migrants to the fore. He said that the present Tarun Gogoi-led government “that hobnobs with the AIUDF cannot get Assam freedom from infiltration. Only BJP can make Northeast free of Bangladeshi infiltrators”.
Within a week, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said in neighbouring West Bengal that “the [Ram] temple will be built within my lifetime… May be, we will see it with our own eyes. None can say when and how the temple will be constructed, but we need to be prepared and ready.”
Most people won’t consider these two statements as unusual since the two leaders have only reiterated the party’s position on the issues. However, both these states are set to go to the polls next year, and it is indicative of BJP’s strategy.
However, will polarisation work for the BJP after the Bihar rout and the setback in Gujarat civic polls? Also, how involved will Prime Minister Narendra Modi be in the coming elections in Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry?
For the BJP, 2015 was the year of defeats. After the drubbing in Delhi, the party had its entire machinery whirring in Bihar, determined not to repeat the debacle. The result was also crucial for the party’s hope of getting a majority in Rajya Sabha.
Amit Shah himself led the fight with Modi as the chief campaigner. Initially, the BJP’s strategy to attract the voters was on development agenda and Modi’s popularity. However, after two phases of polling the strategy changed.
The BJP was on the backfoot because of the Dadri lynching, Bhagwat’s statements on reservation and other factors. Although it was obvious that Bhagwat’s remarks will affect the party’s fortunes in Bihar, no one within could raise their voice. From the second phase onwards, the BJP , in its desperation, toed the RSS line. Several top leaders, including the Prime Minister, openly made communal statements.
Even though Modi had attended an unprecedented number of election rallies in Bihar, the voters deserted the party. Just before Bihar, the party lost in UP civic polls where the BSP emerged as the winner. In Gujarat civic polls in November, the Congress staged a comeback in the rural areas, unseating the BJP after 13 years. In the bypoll for Ratlam-Jhabua Lok Sabha seat in Madhya Pradesh, the Congress again defeated the saffron party
Will this string of defeats force a course correction from the leadership? Even after veterans, including LK Advani, criticised Modi-Shah duo, party sources say there is unlikely to be a change in leadership pattern. Shah has reportedly convinced the RSS leadership that he deserves more time to work out a strategy for ‘Mission 350’ seats in 2019 Lok Sabha election. The party is planning to hold its national executive meeting in Kolkata soon, where Shah is likely to get another term as party president.
Will the party be able to regain the momentum it had in 2014? Many point out that Modi’s popularity may not work anymore in the Assembly elections. Therefore, the party will need more comprehensive strategies to handle these polls.