By Arun Srivastava
The image makeover programme for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, launched at the initiative of party president Amit Shah, is producing the opposite result: it has helped draw people’s attention to his failures and misgovernance, rather than boost his image. While spreading the word about the government’s achievements has been one of the key components of the strategy, the party leadership is not sure how this can counter the damage caused by his soft approach towards Hindu vigilantes, which encouraged violence in the name of cow protection.
With the 2019 general election knocking on the door, the party leadership has decided to energise the party machinery, especially the district and block level units. There is a lurking apprehension that the grassroots level workers and leaders are finding it tough to defend the party, especially Modi.
The main focus of the party has been the women voters. Through some women-centric programmes, the party intends to win over this section. Already an impression is being created that women like Modi’s personality. But how to transform this into vote is a major challenge before the leadership. While most urban middle class and women from the rich sections are soft towards Modi, the poor rural women and agricultural labourers only have reasons to complain.
The leadership is pinning all hopes on the grassroots organisational machinery for delivery of the results. There is a general feeling among the party leaders that the traditional ways of information dissemination would not be effective. But the RSS leadership is strongly in its favour. The leaders point out that the RSS has used this traditional mode of information dissemination in the past very effectively. They cite the use of this technique during Emergency.
Fed up with Modi’s style of functioning, a large number of party veterans and activists have preferred to keep quiet. Though the RSS leaders claim that the number of their Sakhas have substantially increased and more and more cadres are joining them, the old hands describe such people are fair weather friends, driven by a craze for being close to powers that be, and would desert the organisation at the first sight of trouble. There is a feeling that the old cadres must be brought back and reactivated. Senior RSS members have been directed to contact them.
The leadership has asked Shakti Kendras and booth-level units to identify at least five persons each with smartphones. A data base of such persons will be compiled and kept at the state level. These will be used as the extended hand of the organisation to contact them and pass on crucial information to the ground level. They will act like a channel between the party and the people. In Bihar, there are around 10,000 Shakti Kendras, which function at the level of panchayats and urban local bodies.
The leadership also seeks to reach out to religious leaders having a good reputation at the lower level. The party intends to make a significant departure from the past practice by trying to rope in the support of the Muslim religious leaders. The BJP at the national level has some committees meant for the Muslims. Members of these committees have been highly critical of some of the Muslim leaders and intellectuals and even accuse them of obstructing the process of Hindus and Muslims coming closer. They would be meeting the leaders of all communities on a regular basis and sharing basic information about the welfare work done by the government for the poor and ground level people.
The central leadership has selected a group of senior cadres and leaders for accomplishing the task. Party sources claim that these are plans prepared by Amit Shah. The party intends to use all available means to create awareness about Modi’s achievements.