From 8 Feb, Modi will travel from far Northeast to eastern, southern, central and northern India, looking to carpet bomb with public meetings.
New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi will travel to 10 states in five days starting 8 February, carpet-bombing the country from the far Northeast to the eastern, southern, central and northern parts with public meetings as part of a high-decibel Lok Sabha election campaign.
Highly placed sources in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said the prime minister is scheduled to criss-cross the country from Friday to Tuesday, beginning with the central part of the country, before moving to the east and then the Northeast. He will then visit the south, followed by the northern belt.
With Lok Sabha elections staring it in the face, the BJP knows it has an uphill task given the potential losses it expects in some key states where it did exceedingly well in the 2014 polls.
Sources in the party said it is strategising in a way where it can use what it believes to be its “trump card” — Modi — to the very hilt.
However, the sources also pointed out that “while this is the planned schedule, it is subject to changes given this pertains to the PM.”
On Friday, PM Modi will leave for Chhattisgarh where he will address a public meeting in Raigarh, from where he will head to West Bengal to hold a rally in Mainaguri in Jalpaiguri district.
Modi will then travel to Guwahati in Assam, where he is slated to spend the night. Saturday will see Modi visit Itanagar in Arunachal Pradesh, Amingaon in Assam and Agartala in Tripura to attend various programmes and hold rallies.
The next day, the prime minister will be in the three southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, addressing public meetings in Guntur, Tirupur and Hubbali, respectively.
To mark the “third billionth meal” of the Akshaya Patra mid-day meal programme Monday, Modi will attend public functions at the Akshaya Patra Foundation campus in Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh.
On Tuesday, he will visit the northern state of Haryana to address a public meeting in Kurukshetra.
“The whole point of this exercise is also to re-assert the PM’s image of being a pan-national leader, and of BJP having a presence across the country,” said a source in the party who did not wish to be identified.
With its current term coming to an end, the BJP is battling five-years of anti-incumbency as well as challenges on several counts, including the economic impact of demonetisation, lack of jobs, farmers’ ire, a determined and resurgent opposition and the need to do a careful balancing act on the caste front.
Besides the need to aggressively campaign and woo voters, the party also understands the need to do so in a calibrated fashion.
The choice of states in the five-day hectic schedule for the prime minister, sources said, has also been made with care.
Chhattisgarh, for instance, is not just one of the states the BJP lost to the Congress in the December assembly elections, but one where it faced an embarrassing rout. The party feels if the PM tours the state frequently, it can help minimise losses to an extent.
West Bengal, meanwhile, has become a political hot potato with chief minister Mamata Banerjee and the BJP locked in a high-stakes war. Whether it is Banerjee disallowing rallies by top BJP leaders in the state or the ugly Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) war with the state government, the Trinamool Congress and BJP have been at constant loggerheads.
This is also a state which sends out 42 members to the Lok Sabha and where the BJP hopes to make significant gains, leaving behind the other parties — the Left and Congress — to emerge as the main challenger to Banerjee. The BJP feels the PM’s aggressive rallies in the state can help make its campaign more audacious and effective.
Cover losses, make inroads
The Northeast, and particularly Assam, have been on the edge over the issue of the centre’s push for the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, making it a sensitive region for the BJP.
However, this is also a region where the party has managed to make sizeable inroads since 2014, being in power in all the seven Northeastern sisters. BJP even hopes to recover some of its potential losses in other states through gains here.
The states in the Northeast — Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Nagaland and Tripura — account for 25 Lok Sabha seats, of which the BJP currently has only 8.
The south remains a vulnerable region for the BJP, with not a particularly vast presence except in Karnataka, and no alliances worked out yet. To add to this, the party knows Modi isn’t really popular in states like Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and therefore, that much extra effort needs to be put in.
Uttar Pradesh, meanwhile, is the prized state, one where the BJP’s stunning performance in 2014 helped catapult it past the halfway mark in Lok Sabha. With opposition parties coming together here, BJP knows it has a tough road ahead and PM Modi — whose popularity was instrumental in winning the 2017 Uttar Pradesh assembly polls — will travel the state extensively in the next few months.
In Haryana, where the BJP is in power, the party senses an opportunity to regain ground it may have lost in the initial few years of the Manohar Lal Khattar-led government, seen most recently in its win in the Jind bypoll where it won this seat for the first time ever.
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