Madhya Pradesh election 2023: Multi-pronged strategy powers BJP
BJP's success in MP election attributed to strategic planning and cohesive teamwork
At a closed-door meeting with party leaders in Indore on July 30, Union home minister Amit Shah asked a question: “Açhchi sarkar kaunsi hoti hai?” (Which is a good government?). When the leaders did not come up with the answer he was looking for, Shah, a former party president and arguably the party’s most powerful election strategist said, “Meri sarkar achchi sarkar hoti hai” (my party’s government is the best government).
“That is how he set the tone for the election campaign in the state where even our own leaders assumed that years of anti-incumbency, infighting and indifference among the workers would make it difficult for the party to retain power,” said a senior BJP functionary aware of the discussions at that meeting.
Having reminded the leaders of the 15 months that they were out of power for in the state after the 2018 polls, Shah proceeded to hand out a list of 15 things for the leadership and the cadre to do.
These included strengthening the party’s presence at the booth level, identifying workers at every booth to carry out party activities, using social media to connect with voters, reinvigorating Panna Pramukhs, reaching out to women through self-help groups and religious and cultural bodies, and launching specific outreach programmes targeted at communities, professionals and influencers. He also set targets for adding new workers and supporters and said the party had to win at least 51% of the total votes in every booth. As it turns out, the BJP won almost 49% of the votes cast.
Party leaders, who were involved in the election strategy, said there were four major challenges the BJP faced.
“There was anti-incumbency and fatigue factor associated with the chief minister (Shivraj Singh Chouhan); rebels who could spoil the show; a disconnect between the leaders and the workers and in turn between the workers and the voters; and anger among social groups such as the government employees and caste groups,” said a second party functionary who asked not to be named.
Although the work to strengthen the party’s presence at the booth level started two years ago, it really got off the ground only four months ago when Shah deputed his trusted lieutenant and Union minister Bhupender Yadav as election in-charge in the state. Another Union minister, Ashwini Vaishnaw, who has acquired a name as an efficient backroom strategist, was made co-incharge.
“Motivating the worker was a big task. Leaders at the district level and in the ritual sector complained of indifference from state leaders and a breakdown in communication. The second big challenge was to identify leaders who would pose a problem as rebels,” said the second functionary.
The party set out to address the grievances of disgruntled leaders and dissuade them from contesting and campaigning against the party. To contain the damage by those who could not be persuaded, the party sought to directly reach out to their supporters.
“Shah has a terse message for the state leaders. He told them to stop bickering and handed them a task – jeeto aur jitao (win and help win),” said the first functionary. The functionary added that this instruction helped keep the flock together.
The BJP believed that losing the vote of government employees and caste groups, particularly the Scheduled Tribes (ST) that make up for 21% of the electorate, was the reason for its electoral loss in 2018. “There are 3% government employees, and the demand for the restoration of the old pension scheme was a significant issue. We assured them that a committee has been formed to look into the new pension scheme to improve it,” the second functionary said.
Simultaneously, it crunched the 2018 numbers to identify what it needed to do at the constituency level in terms of votes. “We also needed to strengthen the base in 100 assembly constituencies and add at least 15,000 votes each in 89 constituencies where the margin of loss was about 5,000 votes.”
From January 20 to February 5, 2022, the party ran a “booth vistarak abhiyan” (booth-level expansion mission) to coincide with the birth centenary of Kushabhau Thakre, an RSS leader and a former BJP president.
“The party enrolled 4.1 million new workers and the booth vistarak abhiyan was launched in two phases. Training camps were held for the Panna Pramukhs where they were given insights into ideological issues and inputs about current social political issues…in the run up to the elections, 1.7 million new members were added,” said Rajneesh Agrawal, state secretary.
The party engaged with the targeted groups through the wide network of organisations that are moored to the BJP’s ideological fount, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. “These organisations were very effective in blunting the anger against the state leaders. They helped in the saturation of social welfare schemes, identifying lacunae in implementation of policies and iterating the ideological issues that have a pan state resonance, such as the need to protect Sanatan Dharma and Hindutva,” said a third party functionary, who asked not to be named. He credited the RSS for helping stitch an election narrative among STs through the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram and the Janajati Suraksha Manch.
Given the importance of women voters, women workers were deputed to reach out to self-help groups of women beneficiaries. This is estimated to have added 40,000 to 45,000 votes to the party’s tally in as many as 90 seats where it had previously not performed well. The vistaraks made the beneficiaries take a vow to vote for the party. “There are about 1.25 lakh women who are beneficiaries of the Ladli Behna Yojana; of those a significant chunk of votes came to the BJP,” said the second functionary.
To be sure, the party also credits women-centric schemes piloted by chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan over the years such as the Ladli Lakshmi Yojana and the Mukhya Mantri Kanya Vivah and Nikah Yojna for eliciting a favourable response from women voters.
The presence and involvement of senior ministers helped. The party organised the booth Vijay Sankalp Abhiyan between May 4 and 14. “The biggest measure that helped workers find confidence and the motivation to drive ahead with full steam was the five yatras that were planned in the state, each led by a senior minister,” said the second functionary.
And senior leaders who have strong pockets of support on the ground were put in charge of specific regions. For instance, national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya was given the mandate to win the Malwa- Nimar region, Union ministerJyotiraditya Scindia oversaw the election in Gwalior-Chambal region, considered a challenge for the party while another Union minister, Prahlad Patel oversaw the Mahakaushal region.
Cooperation and cohesion
Central leaders who assumed control of the election campaign in the state acknowledge that the team on the ground in the state set aside differences to collaborate on winning strategy. “Once it was evident that the election will be led by a collective leadership, the chief minister did not put up a resistance. He collaborated and so did the leaders on the ground. The process of framing the narrative and picking candidates then became smoother,” said the second functionary.
Since Madhya Pradesh is known as a sangathan or organisational stronghold, and has a history of shaping stalwarts such as Thakre, former chief minister Uma Bharti, Chouhan, and Narendra Singh Tomar, the central high command ensured that older leaders were not ignored. “There was a concerted effort to involve the older and experienced leaders in the campaign. They were given areas to monitor and projects to oversee. This prevented bad blood and reduced the gap between the old and the new guard,” said the second functionary.
Commenting on the party’s unexpected win, president of the state unit, VD Sharma, credited the PM’s Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana and schemes such as the Ladli Behna Yojana.
“The PM and the CM empowered farmers, women, youth and the marginalised through Garib Kalyan Yojana. MP was transformed from a Bimaru state to a developed state overnight and the people have blessed us” he said.
Sharma also credited Shah’s efficient political planning for empowering the cadre. “He had said we should fight to win every booth. Every committee worked in the election with a team spirit, with collective leadership, and the workers met the target of winning 51% of the vote share that was set by Shah.”
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