New Delhi: The assembly elections in Haryana may be more than two years away, but the BJP has not forgotten that it had to forge an alliance with the Dushyant Chautala-led Jannayak Janta Party (JJP) last time to muster a majority in the state.
Now, with municipal elections scheduled in May this year, and with the rising challenge of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the BJP is already gearing up for 2024 with some serious housekeeping.
Over the past weekend, party national general secretary (organising) B.L. Santhosh caught up with the state’s BJP brass for a brainstorming session in Panchkula, where MLAs and MPs spilled their pet peeves, including “babudom” (bureaucracy) looming over governance, corruption spoiling the image of the party, and the threat of AAP making advances into Haryana after its victories in adjoining Delhi and Punjab.
In response, BJP sources told ThePrint, Santhosh instructed party functionaries to prepare a list of corrupt officers so that action may be initiated. He also told party MPs and MLAs to pay heed to district BJP chiefs — and participate with them in district tolis (get-togethers) — to ensure better coordination among party ranks. In addition, Haryana leaders were encouraged to keep up with voter outreach even if assembly polls were a long distance away.
Addressing corruption, bureaucracy
In back-to-back meetings with ministers, MPs, MLAs, and party office-bearers, Santhosh sought to galvanise Haryana BJP leaders for the 2024 elections, sources in the party said.
An MLA who was present at these gatherings told ThePrint that many leaders voiced their concern that bureaucrats tended to overlook the suggestions and complaints of MLAs and paid heed only to the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO).
Corruption was another pain point. “There are many MLAs who individually complained about cases of corruption by officers and contractors, but no action has been taken despite raising issue with the CMO,” the MLA alleged. “We have apprised Santhosh ji of the situation.”
Notably, following Santhosh’s meetings with party members, Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar also raised the issue of corruption this Sunday while addressing a public meeting. Reinforcing that his government followed a zero tolerance to corruption policy, he proclaimed “Bhrashtachar ka kaal (the end of corruption), Manohar Lal, Manohar Lal”. He also said if the government was informed about any official engaging in corrupt practices, it would “get hold of them even in the middle of the night”.
Last month, too, Khattar had convened a meeting of top officials in Chandigarh and had announced the setting up of a high-powered panel to deal with corruption in the wake of attacks from the Opposition around the issue.
Santhosh, on his part, has now asked MLAs to prepare a list of corrupt officers. He drove home the point that action would be taken to keep up the morale of karyakartas, who were an “asset” to the party and would ensure another term for the BJP government in Haryana.
A call to draw in non-BJP voters
According to Ranbir Gangwa, BJP MLA from Nalwa in Haryana, Santhosh asked every MLA to share their experiences about how they connected with voters. “He wanted first-hand information and a sharing of experiences for better coordination and to plug shortcomings in the organisation,” Gangwa said.
Among those who shared their voter outreach efforts was Seema Trikha, BJP MLA from Badhkal in Faridabad. She elaborated on how she ensured that fresh coconuts were given during inaugurations to not just party workers but also their parents. She also apparently kept a policy of distributing some coconuts to a few elders, as well as to those who had not voted for the BJP.
Santhosh approved, noting “the BJP philosophy is to work for the welfare of the people and touch everyone (sarvasparshi)… We have to assimilate those who don’t vote for the party. We also have to search for reasons why they are not voting for the BJP”.
‘There should be no bypassing of party structure’
Santhosh also stressed on the need for MPs and MLAs to work in coordination with district chiefs.
Citing a few instances of MPs and MLAs not listening to district chiefs, he said “whether it’s an MP or minister, he has to work in tandem with the district, mandal chief — there should be no bypassing of party structure”.
Santhosh advised MPs and MLAs to invite their district chief home or hold get-togethers to ensure better bonding and to learn from them.
He mentioned the example of BJP state president Om Prakash Dhankar, who has launched a “district toli” — a monthly get-together involving party leaders and their district chief wherein they discuss governance issues and review their work.
Santhosh asked members whether they had heard of this experiment and how their experiences had been if they had attended these tolis. He urged leaders to visit booths where the party had not performed well and to review whether anything had been done to improve perceptions of the BJP there.
A few MLAs raised the point that AAP was a growing challenge, and that after Delhi and Punjab, the party would try to make serious inroads in Haryana.
“The first challenge is the municipal poll, where AAP will counter us on the back of their victory in Punjab, the farmers’ protests, unemployment. These issues can impact the local body elections,” one MLA said, clearly concerned about the municipal elections in May.
The BJP leadership, however, does not see AAP as an immediate threat. AAP has had a presence in Haryana for eight years, but it does not have much of a following so far.
But the concerned MLAs say things may well change in the wake of the Punjab victory last month. AAP is planning to contest in 41 municipal bodies in Haryana under its own symbol. Former Haryana Congress president Ashok Tanwar joined the party this Monday, too, giving it a fillip.
(Edited by Asavari Singh)