New Delhi: While an economic and political crisis raged in nearby Sri Lanka, external affairs minister S. Jaishankar was in Kerala for the past three days “to understand how central government schemes and projects work across the country”.
The other purpose of his visit, according to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) sources, was to drum up support for the party in the state’s Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha constituency, where he was tasked with spending time with BJP booth workers and interacting with people at the grassroots level, keeping in mind the 2024 General Election.
The seat is one among 144 chosen by the BJP as part of its ‘Mission 144’. These are “weak constituencies” where the party lost in the 2019 Lok Sabha election and where it needs to “gain an early foothold for victory”.
The Congress’s Shashi Tharoor is the incumbent MP for Thiruvananthapuram, and had defeated the BJP’s Kummanam Rajasekharan by more than 99,000 votes in the previous general election. Tharoor has won from the seat twice before.
Like Jaishankar, Union minister Jitendra Singh spent three days earlier this week in Uttar Pradesh’s Moradabad Lok Sabha constituency, which is currently held by the Samajwadi Party, and Union minister Arjun Ram Meghwal spent three days in Punjab’s Amritsar meeting members of different party units.
In Amritsar, the Congress’ Gurjeet Singh Aujla won over Union minister Hardeep Puri in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, although Navjot Singh Sidhu has previously represented the seat for the BJP.
A BJP source said,“The BJP has launched an ambitious programme to ensure a win in 144 seats where the party is weak but can win if an effort is made. For this, a committee of three layers has started working on the ground, and the 144 seats have been divided into 40 clusters. Each cluster will be looked after by a senior leader. Every month, the leader has to spend three to four days in the constituency till 2024.”
A senior BJP leader said, “Our party mantra is ‘keep trying, keep trying, keep trying’.”
“We have already maximised our performance in northern India. If we can manage to win in at least 30 per cent of the weak seats, it will compensate for our losses in other states. If we don’t aspire big, how can we energise our cadre to work hard,” the leader asked.
For the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP had launched ‘Mission 272+’ (winning 282 of 543 seats finally) while it had launched ‘Mission 350+‘ for the 2019 polls (winning 303 finally).
‘Three-four days in each constituency, every month’
Winning seats in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal is priority for the BJP.
For Bengal, seven Union ministers — Smriti Irani, Dharmendra Pradhan, Ajay Bhatt, Jyotiraditya Scindia, R.K. Singh, Jitendra Singh and Rameswar Teli — have been deployed.
In UP, the party has marked out 14 Lok Sabha seats held by opposition parties where it has to ensure a victory.
In Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s stronghold of Rae Bareli, agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar is in charge, while Union minister Jitendra Singh is handling SP patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Mainpuri.
BJP general secretary Vinod Tawde is looking after seats in south India, while national secretary Harish Dwivedi has been assigned 39 seats in Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Odisha. BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra has been assigned seats in Bihar, Bengal, Jharkhand and the northeastern states.
The BJP is also focussing on 74,000 party booths, and has tasked MLAs and MPs with strengthening 25 booths and 100 booths each, respectively.
Rajya Sabha MP Naresh Bansal is coordinating the programme — titled Pravas — for Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab.
Bansal told ThePrint: “In the first stage, more than 40 ministers are involved and have been directed to spend three days in their assigned constituency. They have been told to eat meals in workers’ homes, participate in community programmes, visit religious places in the area, organise beneficiary meets and review and expedite pending infrastructure schemes. They have been told to listen to people’s concerns and address them on the ground.”
“During (home minister) Amit Shah’s tenure as BJP president in 2017, the party had identified 113 seats for which a vistarak (part-time overseer) was deployed. Of the 113 seats, the BJP won 80,” he added.
According to Dwivedi, the party “can win more seats by deploying the right strategy and caste arithmetic”. “If a minister spends 75 days in a constituency (till 2024), the impact will be different. We defeated Rahul Gandhi in his stronghold (Amethi) in 2019, and we snatched (SP chief) Akhilesh Yadav’s seat (Azamgarh) and (SP leader) Azam Khan’s seat (Rampur) in the bypolls this year,” he pointed out.
BJP’s previous missions
In Odisha, it was ‘Mission 120’ for the BJP ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and state assembly polls the same year. But the BJP won only 23 seats compared to the Biju Janata Dal’s (BJD) 112 in the state polls. Among the Lok Sabha seats, the BJP won eight compared to the BJD’s 12. State party president Samir Mohanty this year told the media that ‘Mission 120’ was still intact for 2024, and only the strategy “needs to be changed”.
In Haryana, the BJP has started preparations for the 2024 assembly elections, and has set itself a target of winning 70 of 90 seats and forming a government on its own. In the 2019 state election, the party had launched ‘Mission 75’ but failed to win the 46 seats needed for a majority. With 40 seats, it had to join hands with the JJP to form the government.
In Bengal, Amit Shah had set the target of ‘Mission 200’ in the 294-member assembly prior to the state polls of 2021, but won 77 seats — a huge rise from the three seats it had held previously, but much short of the targeted 200. The party also saw its vote share surge to 38 per cent from 10 per cent in 2016. On the state’s Lok Sabha seats, the BJP had aimed to win 22 in the 2019 polls and finally bagged 18 — losing four seats by a narrow margin.
In 2017, the Gujarat BJP drew up the ambitious Mission 150 plan for the 182-member Assembly, but finally came to power with a reduced tally. It won 99 seats (down from 115 earlier) and saw its lowest performance in the state since assuming power in 1995. The Patidar agitation was believed to have cost the party dearly. In 2020, BJP Gujarat chief C.R. Patil said the party was aiming to win all 182 seats in the next state poll, and break the record of the Congress’s Madhavsinh Solanki who had won 149 seats in 1985.
In Uttarakhand, where the state polls were held earlier this year, the BJP had targeted 60 of 70 seats but won only 47. In the 2017 polls, it had bagged 57 seats while aiming for 60. Party leaders noted that the BJP had for the first time broken through anti-incumbency in the state.
(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)