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Saturday, May 17, 2014

How BJP Cracked Uttar Pradesh How did BJP go from 10 to 71? What did Amit Shah do? What were his crucial strategies? How did caste barriers break down in front of a Modi wave? ET exclusive Shah himself told ET that he had decided to keep his ego aside while working on the UP gameplan.

May 17 2014 : The Economic Times (Kolkata)
Story of 71 Out of 80

How BJP Cracked Uttar Pradesh How did BJP go from 10 to 71? What did Amit Shah do? What were his crucial strategies?
How did caste barriers break down in front of a Modi wave? ET exclusive Shah himself told ET that he had decided to keep his ego aside while working on the UP gameplan.

Uttar Pradesh formed the fulcrum of the BJP's astonishing win with the party winning an eye popping 71 seats, more than the UPA's overall tally and much higher than the previous peak of 57 seats in the 1998 elections.

In a possible indication of the growing stature of the man widely seen as the architect of that victory , Amit Shah, 49, was front and centre of the celebrations at party headquarters and was seated next to party President Rajnath Singh at the post-results press conference.

Despite the sweeping victory, the results were not inevitable, said Shah and others who worked with him. "There was a huge Modi wave in the country but there were some factors that could have limited the impact of the wave in UP­the state is influenced by caste, there are dark zones meaning areas where neither television nor newspapers are read or seen, it was difficult convincing locals to vote for the BJP even if they sympathised with us since most problems of water and electricity are handled by the state government," Shah told ET.

UP, with its 80 seats, along with neighbouring Bihar, was critical.
But Shah inherited an almost comatose organisation. "We were not in power in UP for 17 years unlike Bihar," said Shah.

Another party leader pointed out that there was neither a strong state leadership or a credible local face, unlike Bihar which had Sushil Modi and other strong state-level leaders. Further, almost 42% of the voters comprising Dalits, Yadavs and Muslims tend not to be natural BJP voters. "Our catchment area was only 58% and our vote share had been declining over the years," said Shah.

In 1998, the BJP had got almost 36% of votes which fell by nearly 9% the following year. In 2004, it got 22% of votes, 17% in 2009 and only 15% in the 2012 assembly elections. Also the party had not contested panchayat or coopera tive elections in the state in nearly two decades and had little to no contact with influential people at the gram pradhan level. After taking charge, Shah decided BJP would have to contest elections at the local level.

"Even at the district and state

level, Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samajwadi Party leaders were more popular and powerful than us," said a close aide of Shah.

To counter these unpromising initial conditions, a detailed, corporate style plan to maximise the number of seats for the BJP was

drafted by Shah.

"In UP, you can't have one homogeneous campaign. It is almost as if seven different states make up Uttar Pradesh. So our strategy had essentially four layers–one at the level of the seat, at the level of clusters, at the level of zones and then at the state

level," said an aide of Shah.

Shah divided the seats into 21 clusters comprising of three to five seats each and devised distinctive strategies for these clusters.

Above the clusters, there were eight zones.

To reach out to the maximum people in a short time, the party conducted programmes in 13,000 college campuses to register volunteers. "We had 800 full-time volunteers below the age of 30… largely fresh recruits," said the aide quoted earlier.

More than 450 GPS-installed 'Modi' vans with campaign material and a 16-minute video were dispatched to the so-called dark zone in the state--areas that do not have access to any form of media.

Shah met initial resistance from state-level leaders. "People would meet him and say you are an outsider and what do you know about the state. He would say, nothing but you can teach me. Being an outsider helped him take decisions objectively and in the best interest of the party," said a leader who has worked with Shah.

Minor but symbolic changes introduced by Shah include encouraging veteran leaders to access the Internet and changing a hierarchical classroom style seating to a more democratic roundtable style.

Shah himself told ET that he had decided to keep his ego aside while working on the UP gameplan. "Ego matters when both have it," Shah said. Shortly after taking charge, Shah conducted daylong meetings in groups with the party's MLA and MP candidates who had lost elections previously to know the reasons for their defeat. "It's more important to know why we lost elections," said a close aide of Shah.

That helped him strengthen systems, whether it was distribution of resources or planning rallies.

To build crowd strength for Modi's rallies, it was decided these should draw people from a radius of 175 km. Also, one Bolero that could ferry 10 people per booth was the target set by Shah. There are a little over 1 lakh booths in UP. This helped in gathering large crowds that helped consolidate media perceptions of a Modi wave.

"Every rally, be it of Modiji or other leaders was planned systematically. For every Modi rally, we ensured that three assembly segments were covered. Similarly, other leaders were sent to areas where we weren't very strong," said the leader quoted earlier.

After every public meeting or a Modi rally, feedback was solicited and the number of attendees was cross checked given the tendency of party workers to exaggerate.
The cross checking was done through a call centre that was set up at the party's headquarters in Lucknow. "Verifying details was necessary to get an accurate assessment of ground reality so that we could fine tune our campaign along the way," said Shah who spent almost every day, except for a week or so, in the state after elections were announced.

Shah carried out extensive due diligence on every candidate before finalizing names and was ruthless during ticket distribution. The crite ria was simple -deny tickets to those who had contested but never won elections since lack of success was evidence of their unpopu larity and give tickets to those who belonged to the constitu ency as they would be approachable.

Social engineering or equations were also taken into account. The party, therefore, gave the largest chunk, 28 out of 80 tickets to OBC candidates, 19 to Brahmins and 17 to Thakurs. Tickets were also given to representatives of backward communities such as Nishad, Bind and Khushwaha who don't dominate a particular constituency but are present in large numbers along the Ganges to help consolidate votes across constituencies.

Shah is now planning a document that will act as a template as the party expands its base in states where it is yet to make mark, particularly in east and south India.

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