Amit Shah's ‘Mission 350’ for 2019: A BJP dream or real possibility?
"We have not come to power for 5-10 years, but at least 50 years. We should move forward with a conviction that in 40-50 years we have to bring major changes in the country through the medium of power," was what Amit Shah told his party men recently.
While it would be understandable for such a claim to be taken as hyperbole and ridiculed, as was done by veteran politician Sharad Pawar who wondered if Shah had started a "new service of checking horoscope," it should extinguish any doubts that the all powerful chief of the BJP is in any mood to see his party slip.
He has already set what has been termed as 'Mission 350' for 2019, which intends to increase the saffron party's seat share in the next Lok Sabha from 282 that it had won in 2014. Shah has also begun handing out responsibilities, with reports suggesting that ministers and senior leaders have been asked to deliver 4 seats each, and is also concentrating on the 113 seats that the party came second or performed impressively in the last elections.
Irrespective of all this, though not many who doubt a win for the BJP in less than a couple of years time, whether Shah is able to see his party sail through, and achieve his target of 350 seats or more, depends on the importance it holds for not only the party but its chief too, along with his ability to maneuver around factors that are bound to become a hurdle.
It's more important for Shah than BJP
There is no doubt that a win of such proportion will be regarded the perfect ribbon on what has been very successful years for the party since the Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government took charge at the centre. The period has seen BJP now in power in 18 states, 14 of them on its own, and has also become the claimant of the title of the largest party in the world with over a 100 million members.
And such a standing today is also what downplays the importance of the feat that Shah has set out to achieve, as it would only help prove the already accepted fact that the BJP has well and truly replaced the Congress as the main party of the country. On the other hand, such a performance would help Shah in taking the next step in his rise.
With his second term, the maximum allowed by the party's constitution, coming to an end in 2019, the general election will most probably be his final major event in charge of the party and the first step toward what is most likely to be his entrance into the government, given that BJP comes back to power, and the next logical step for him to take over the reigns of not only the party but also the government from Modi when the time comes.
A performance such as winning 350 seats, which no party but the Congress has ever done that too only in its heyday, would leave him without a competitor and make him the obvious choice to lead the Party in 2024, assuming that Modi decides to call it the day after a decade in power.
The odds of Shah, 52, with age also on his side taking on the challenges that next seven years are likely to throw up, and making an attempt to be the Prime Minister and succeeding at it, would clearly be on his side.
But touching the 350 mark is not going to be an easy feat, given that the performance in the last election came as a surprise to many, including those in the BJP. And Shah and the party might end up being victims of their own success of achieving its 'Mission 272' in 2014, set by Shah who was in-charge of Modi's election strategy then, as in many areas the BJP seems to have reached saturation point.
Which could be seen in states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar among others, where the party and its alliance partners won an unexpectedly high number of seats. So to achieve the latest target, Shah will have to ensure that the performance in these areas is duplicated even at the cost of stepping on the toes of some its alliance partners, and add fresh seats in states where it does not have much of a standing, like those in the southern part of the country or West Bengal and Orissa. A task easier said than done.
While anti-incumbency at the centre, after 5 years in power, should not be a major factor for the BJP given its positive results in state elections so far. Yet there is a real possibility of it coming into play in states where the party has either been in power for too long or is thought to not have delivered on its promises. This can become true in places like Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, etc. Resentment against chief ministers can easily turn into that for the leader at the centre.
This becomes even more important with the party, as expected, perceived to have isolated the Muslim community, which forms 14 per cent of the population, with increasing incidents of cow related violence, constant talk of Uniform Civil Code, selecting a Hindu priest as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, where it is thought the Muslims had voted for BJP, etc.
Too early to bet against Shah's BJP
Despite all such hurdles, the reality is that Shah will be confident of achieving his target, given the support his trump card, Modi, continues to enjoy among the masses. Which can be seen from the many state election results where the nature and size of victories have been credited to the Prime Minister not only by his supporters but political analysts as well.
Such popularity coupled with the disjointed and sorry state of the opposition bodes well for the ruling dispensation. As could be seen by Congress-led grouping's failure to prevent cross-voting in the elections for the posts of President and Vice President of India, and still being caught up in playing catch-up with no great success when it comes to electoral strategies like coalition formation or voter reach out programs.
As for the saturation point, Shah has brought in parties like Janata Dal (United) in Bihar to make sure the numbers don't fall in a state that sends 40 MPs to the Lok Sabha. He has also begun the push for increasing its footprint in states where the party has little, if any, presence, like in the southern parts of India, West Bengal, Orissa among others.
For example, in Tamil Nadu, the party has gone out of its way to ensure that it is able to keep the warring factions of the ruling AIADMK from breaking that could lead to fresh elections and bring the DMK, which is more in tune with the Congress, to power. In states like Kerala, West Bengal, Orissa among others, it won't be a big surprise if the communal card is used in an attempt to force out some space, with controversies related to 'love jihad,' communal flare up in Mamata Banerjee's bastion already in the news lately.
This will also be in line with the over all agenda of the party's parent body, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, whose support is of utmost importance for the both Shah and BJP if they want to improve their previous performance.
These along with other measures that Shah has dictated to his party, though not enough to talk about the political scenario in the coming half-a-century, would make for the results in a couple of years from now an interesting contest. Especially with so much at stake for the party supremo.