Will the Bharatiya Janata Party bounce back from the chastening loss in Karnataka in May and a 3-4 defeat to the Opposition I.N.D.I.A bloc in bypolls earlier this month? The answer to this question doesn't look easy but as the Election Commission announces the poll dates, with four states going to polls in a single phase and Chhattisgarh polling in two phases, the strategy of various parties will have to be steamrolled now. While the Opposition, significantly the Congress, is very hopeful of coming back to power in all five states, all eyes are on what would be the BJP's grand design for what is dubbed the semi-finals before the big 2024 Lok Sabha elections. The BJP will rely on "collective leadership" and the "Modi factor" in five state polls due this year. The party will try not to project a chief ministerial candidate, particularly not in the majority Hindi-speaking states of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, in an attempt to keep regional leaders' ambitions and rivalries in check, and reinforce the "party above individual" maxim.
In simple terms, the BJP is hoping that big-name candidates will secure seats in which it is weaker, that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's appeal will see the party win another round of elections, and that an open chief minister's post will act as an incentive to encourage regional leaders to work harder. BJP is also being accused of sidelining its heavyweight leadership in this process.
Reports emerging from sources within the BJP are that the plan is to also curb nepotism and avoid "dynasty politics" jibes, particularly since the allegation is one the PM lays at the door of the Congress. The party will now give one ticket per family.
Take a glimpse of what's visible in Madhya Pradesh, where four MPs, three union ministers, and national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya will contest — and there is no place yet for Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Obviously things do not augur well for the Mama of Madhya Pradesh. In the context of the Madhya Pradesh polls preparations, BJP is fielding MPs and union ministers to convey the "collective leadership" message, and also to indicate that the best team will be able to edge out the Congress. The BJP will use the same approach to dislodge the Congress from Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, and in Telangana, where Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao's Bharat Rashtra Samithi awaits.
In Rajasthan, possible chief minister faces include union ministers Gajendra Singh Shekhawat and Arjun Ram Meghwal, and possible candidates include Rajya Sabha MP Dr Kirodi Lal Meena and Lok Sabha MPs Diya Kumar, Rajyavardhan Rathore, and Sukhveer Singh Jaunpuria. Vasundhra Raje 70, a two-term chief minister and a member of the Scindia royal family, is unlikely to return, even if she is widely seen as the BJP's tallest and most influential leader in the state. How the party handles Ms Raje, who has maybe the most appeal to non-BJP voters, will be critical, since she will almost certainly not sit in the Assembly as a MLA under another chief minister.
The BJP has gone a different route in Chhattisgarh, where it has named Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel's nephew, Vijay, as its candidate for the top post. And, in a predictable twist, the party will want family divides to play out in its favour, for it has planned a “Baghel vs Baghel” contest.
The BJP’s tilt at Telangana is part of its ongoing “Mission South” plan — to establish a government in South India, a part of the country that has frequently rejected its hardcore nationalist agenda. The party did have Karnataka but its stuttering government was ousted by a dominant Congress earlier this year. Kerala remains completely immune to its charms, and Tamil Nadu has also rejected Prime Minister Modi's party. So an optimistic Opposition against a faceless BJP with paradropped bigwigs underlines the Battle Royale before the 2024 general elections. Is BJP complicating things for itself? The first look of its strategy does say so because there will be a lot of resentment on the ground among its local leaders. The BJP’s efforts to nationalise every election may not come to fruition always, but will the master plan for state elections this time click?
Neelu Vyas is a senior television anchor and consulting editor with Satya Hindi. Twitter: @neeluopines