BJP president Amit Shah couldn’t have found a better occasion to land in Bhubaneshwar to take his self-avowed “look east” policy a step forward. It’s one of the rare occasions when a party holds the meeting of its highest policy making body in such a buoyant and confident atmosphere.
When Shah will make his inaugural presidential speech on Saturday morning and Prime Minister Narendra Modi makes his concluding remarks on Sunday afternoon in the two-day national executive meet in the Odisha capital, they will have too many things to boast as achievements of the party and of the government and give some very strong talking points to the assembled party leaders.
The BJP is now ruling 14 states on its own and its alliance partners are ruling three other states. The party thus claims to be ruling in 17 states. The list has become more satisfying for the BJP since last month when it gained Uttar Pradesh, politically critical and most populous state in India with a three-fourth majority.
Headline hogging victories apart, what has really set the tone for an insatiable appetite is the result of the by-elections held in eight states for 10 assembly seats. The gain of Delhi’s Rajouri Garden seat in particularly gratifying for the party. In this seat, the BJP’s poll percentage climbed to 51 percent but what has made BJP happier is Arvind Kejriwal’s downslide from the peak to a poor number three position. The results made AAP candidate lose his security deposit and Kejriwal lose his face. Kejriwal was positioning himself as an alternative to Modi in 2019 but the bad show by his party in Punjab and Goa, and then a humiliating defeat in Delhi by-election has nipped his national ambitions for the time being.
The bypoll result in West Bengal is also satisfying for the BJP. Although Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress comfortably won the seat but alarm bells might still be ringing in the Trinamool camp as the BJP, which was considered a political non-entity in the state, finished second. The BJP vote share, which was a paltry 8.76 percent with 15,223 votes in the last election, jumped to 30.97 percent with 52,843 votes. These numbers would even be sweeter for the state BJP as the party gained at the expense of the Left. The CPI was in the second position in the election held only a year ago. This time around it was pushed to the third place with over three-fold decrease in its vote share. The Congress couldn’t make its presence felt.
The reason why BJP chose to hold its central office bearers meeting to be followed by a two-day national executive meet in Bhuneshwar was to create the right political atmosphere in the state for the next assembly election.
As it is BJP is on a high buoyancy mode and it has valid reasons to believe that Modi’s charisma continues to hold strong sway over people in most parts of the country and it was time for the party to get onto the launch pad in Odisha where the Assembly election is two years away. The BJP, which currently has only 10 MLAs in 147 member state assembly and could manage to win only one seat in parliamentary elections, has set the most ambitious aims for itself in the 2019 assembly and parliamentary elections.
The party’s confidence stems from the stunning performance it made in recent Panchayat elections in the state. The party’s strength grew to a whopping 850 percent as compared with the 2012 local bodies elections. It pushed Congress from number two to number three position and made deep inroads in areas held by ruling Biju Janata Dal. In 2012 BJP had only 36 seats in 851 Panchayat bodies but in 2017 BJP won 306 seats. The ruling BJD’s strength decreased from 651 to 460 and the Congress went down from 126 to 66.
Odisha is high on Modi and Shah’s agenda. Sources said it has been decided that Shah would be spending at least three days every month in different parts of the state. Joint general secretary (an RSS nominee in the BJP) Arun Singh would be spending most of their time in the state to ensure that party creates right organisational structures down to the booth level. Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan who is party’s undeclared face in Odisha too is spending a great deal of time there. Party’s only Lok MP Sabha from the state and Minister Jual Oram is a strong tribal face.
The meet would also set the tone for Modi government’s three years in office celebration.