Pursuit of power having become the sole objective of political parties, the BJP deserves credit for setting the goal of victory in all nine states that are scheduled to go to the polls this year. Addressing the inaugural session of the two-day National Executive meeting in New Delhi on Monday, BJP President JP Nadda went on to energise the party cadre, saying that after scoring 9-0 this year they have to win the Lok Sabha poll in 2024.
The description of the saffron party as an election-winning machine isn’t off the mark. If elections have become a recurring phenomenon, held every year in one or the other part of the country, the BJP trumping other parties, too, has become common occurrence. Whether it will be able to retain Karnataka is not so clear, given the fissures in the state unit and reports of mismanagement and corruption charges against a number of ministers. However the Congress, too, is beset by bitter factionalism, with former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and state party head DK Shivakumar at loggerheads over the top post. This may yet help the BJP retain power, especially if the JD(S) plays spoiler for the Congress.
Though these are state elections, such is the pull of Mr Modi’s charisma that voters tend to gloss over the acts of omission and commission of state leaders and vote for the BJP. So, when Mr Nadda gave a call to cadres to win all nine states, he must have banked heavily on the pulling power of Brand Modi to do the trick. Meeting soon after the recent round of Assembly polls, when the party retained Gujarat with an overwhelming seat count and lost Himachal Pradesh by the skin of its teeth, the mood at the meeting was gung-ho with speaker after speaker singing paeans to the Prime Minister.
Never before, not even when the popularity of the party’s tallest leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee was at its peak, did the cadre-based BJP indulge in such hero worship. Of course, Mr Vajpayee had a near-equal in LK Advani, who was close to the RSS. Mr Modi has no peers in the wider Sangh Parivar, no designated number two, though public perception may consider Amit Shah second-in-command. Ironically, it was the BJP and the Sangh Parivar that railed against the personality cult, asserting that for the BJP ideology and programme came ahead of individual leaders. Of course, under Mr Modi, the BJP has won big, eclipsing the record of both Mr Vajpayee and Mr Advani. But it is a moot point whether that alone justifies the Congress-like personality cult in the party today.
On his part, Mr Modi did well to tick off state leaders for speaking out of turn on all and sundry matters, including which films should be screened, a clear reference to the controversy over the release of Shah Rukh Khan’s Pathaan (2023). He also commended the leadership in Telangana and West Bengal for untiringly strengthening the organisation in spite of roadblocks created by the ruling parties in the two states. That the BJP eyes these two states to expand its electoral footprint is a public secret. The BJP has emerged as the main challenger to the Bharat Rashtra Samithi and the Trinamool Congress while K Chandrasekhar Rao and Mamata Banerjee, Chief Ministers of Telangana and West Bengal, respectively, fancy their chances as leaders of a united Opposition front to challenge Mr Modi in 2024. With neither willing to cede leadership of such a front to the Congress, it is hard to see how the Opposition can come together to take on Mr Modi’s formidable challenge in the Lok Sabha election. A slew of welfare scheme under which help in cash and kind is rendered directly to the people fleshes out Mr Modi’s persona as someone who cares for the poor and the marginalised. In short, underpinning the Modi magic is a number of direct-delivery welfare schemes. This remains an election winner for the BJP.