The Story of 71/80 How BJP Cracked Uttar Pradesh
ttar Pradesh formed the fulcrum of the BJP’s astonishing win with the party winning an eyepopping 71 seats, more than the UPA’s overall tally and much higher than the previous peak of 57 seats in the 1998 elections.
In a possible indication of the growing stature of the man widely seen as the architect of that victory, Amit Shah, 49, was front and centre of the celebrations and was seated next to party President Rajnath Singh at the post-results press conference.
“The people of UP have rejected regional parties and have chosen a strong national party. This is a clear message from Uttar Pradesh,” Shah told ET on Friday evening.
Emphasising the sweeping nature of the victory, Shah pointed out that only key leaders of the Congress and SP had won.
“The BSP wasn’t able to open an account. The Congress and the SP have only managed to win seats where their leaders and their family members have contested. The BJP vote share has increased from 15% in 2012 to 42% in these elections. I thank the people of UP for this overwhelming mandate. The Modi wave has swept UP,” said Shah.
Despitethesweepingvictory,the resultswerenotinevitable,saidShah andotherswhoworkedwithhim.
“There was a huge Modi wave in the country but there were some factors that could have limited the impact of the wave in UP–the state is influenced by caste, there are dark zones meaning areas where neither television nor newspapers are read or seen, it was difficult convincing locals to vote for the BJP even if they sympathised with us since most problems of water and electricity are handled by the state government,” Shah told ET.
UP, with its 80 seats, along with neighbouring Bihar, was critical. But Shah inherited an almost comatose organisation. “We were not in power in UP for 17 years,” said Shah.
Anotherpartyleaderpointedout thattherewasneitherastrongstate leadership nor a credible local face. Further,almost42%of thevoterscomprisingDalits,YadavsandMuslims
UtendnottobenaturalBJPvoters. “Our catchment area was only 58% and our vote share had been declining over the years,” said Shah. In 1998, the BJP had got 36% of votes which fell by nearly 9% the following year. In 2004, it got 22% of votes, 17% in 2009 and only 15% in the 2012 assembly elections. Also, the party had not contested panchayat or cooperative elections in the state in nearly two decades and had little to no contact with influential people at the gram pradhan level. After taking charge, Shah decided BJP would have to contest local elections.
“At the district and state level, SP and BSP leaders were more popular and powerful than us,” said a close aide of Shah.
Tocountertheseunpromising conditions, a detailed, corporate-style plantomaximisethenumberof seats fortheBJPwasdraftedbyShah.
“In UP, you can’t have one homogeneous campaign. It is almost as if seven different states make up Uttar Pradesh. So, our strategy had essentially four layers—one at the level of the seat, at the level of clusters, at the level of zones and then at the state level,” said an aide of Shah. Shah divided the seats into 21 clusters comprising of three to five seats each and devised distinctive strategies for these clusters. Above the clusters, there were eight zones. To reach out to the maximum people in a short time, the party conducted programmes in 13,000 college campuses to register volunteers. “We had 800 full-time volunteers below the age of 30… largely fresh recruits,” said the aide quoted earlier. More than 450 GPS-installed ‘Modi’ vans with campaign material and a 16-minute video were dispatched to the socalled dark zone in the state—areas that do not have access to any form of media. Shah met initial resistance from statelevel leaders. “People wouldmeethimand say you are an outsider andwhatdoyouknow about the state. He would say, nothing but youcanteachme.Being an outsider helped him take decisions objectively and in the best interest of the party,” said a leader who has workedwithShah. Minorbutsymbolic changesintroducedby Shahincludeencouragingveteranleadersto accesstheInternetand changingahierarchical classroomstyleseating toamoredemocraticroundtablestyle. Shahhimself toldETthathehaddecidedtokeephisegoasidewhileworkingontheUPgameplan.“Egomatters whenbothhaveit,”Shahsaid.Shortly aftertakingcharge,Shahconducted day-longmeetingsingroupswith theparty’sMLAandMPcandidates whohadlostelectionspreviouslyto knowthereasonsfortheirdefeat.“It’s moreimportanttoknowwhywelost elections,” said a close aide of Shah. Thathelpedhimstrengthensystems, whetheritwasdistributionof resourcesorplanningrallies. To build crowd strength for Modi’s rallies, it was decided these should draw people from a radius of 175 km. Also, one Bolero that could ferry 10 people per booth was the target set by Shah. There are a little over 1 lakh booths in UP. This helped in gathering large crowds that helped consolidate media perceptions of a Modi wave. “Every rally, be it of Modijior other leaders was planned systematically. For every Modi rally, we ensured that three assembly segments were covered. Similarly, other leaders were sent to areas where we weren’t very strong. ,” said the leader quoted earlier. After every public meeting or a Modi rally, feedback was solicited and the number of attendees was cross-checked given the tendency of party workers to exaggerate. The cross-checking was done through a call centre that was set up at the party’s headquarters in Lucknow. “Verifying details was necessary to get an accurate assessment of ground reality so that we could fine-tune our campaign,” said Shah who spent almost every day, except for a week or so, in the state after elections were announced. Shah carried out extensive due diligence on every candidate before finalizing names and was ruthless during ticket distribution. The criteria was simple: deny tickets to those who had contested but never won elections since lack of success was evidence of their unpopularity and give tickets to those who belonged to the constituency as they would be approachable.
Social engineering or social equations was also taken into account. The party, therefore, gave the largest chunk, 28 out of 80 tickets to OBCs, 19 to Brahmins and 17 to Thakurs. Tickets were also given to representatives of backward communities such as Nishad, Bind and Khushwaha who don’t dominate a particular constituency but are present in large numbers along the Ganges to help consolidate votes across constituencies. Shah is now planning a document that will act as a template as the party expands its base in states where it is yet to make a mark, particularly in east and south India.
VOTE SHARE (%)
BJP BJP INC SEATS
2009* 10 21 23 0
INC SP Rest
BJP INC SP AD BSP
A detailed, corporatestyle plan to maximise the number of seats for the BJP was drafted by Shah