The recently concluded meeting of the BJP`s 2014 election campaign committee sprang many surprises. First, the meeting saw BJP patriarch LK Advani, whose acrimony with Narendra Modi had recently brought the saffron party on the verge of a split, praising the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and secondly, the party shifting its focus to the Muslim community for the first time since the AB Vajpayee era.
The main Opposition has probably realised that it needs to impress the Muslim community, or at least a section of it, if it has to dislodge the Congress from power in 2014 General Elections. With the BJP top brass goading its office bearers to focus on booth-level activity and include all sections of society, the message is clear – the party now wants to get back to the basics to defeat the Congress by wining 272+ seats in the next Lok Sabha elections.
But, the moot question is whether BJP will be successful in its mission 272 and whether BJP`s `go for Muslim votes` strategy will make any difference and help it win maximum number of seats in Parliament to oust arch-rival Congress from power?
With the Janata Dal (United) parting ways with BJP over Modi and the Shiv Sena and SAD of Punjab still in dilemma over the Gujarat CM, the apex BJP leadership is aware of the challenges it faces in materializing its dream to defeat Congress.
The party is aware that getting allies on board would be a difficult task for the BJP with Modi at the helm of its affairs. Modi - the four-time Chief Minister of Gujarat and the party’s biggest bet for 2014 – too clearly knows that the parliamentary elections cannot merely be won on sentiments and macro issues.
And that’s the reason, why the hardline leader has asked his supporters and the BJP cadre to focus on local issues related to each constituency and every individual in order to prepare the party for what is surely going to be the mother of all elections.
As part of this new strategy, the BJP will take concerted attempts to woo the Muslim voters, probably telling them that it’s not a party against minorities, and attract the young voters in the age group of 18-24 years.
The BJP’s apparent softening of stance towards Muslims is a significant move since the party never openly brainstormed on winning crucial minority votes since the tenure of AB Vajpayee during which the party had experimented with a `Himayat Yatra`. But that too was not on a major scale as the BJP cadre was not involved in it and the initiative was led by a select group of Muslim leaders.
Sometimes back, LK Advani too had advocated the need for reaching out to Muslims and removing their misconceptions that it was a party of majority Hindus. In this context, Modi’s gameplan to take Muslims on board by giving them party tickets in the local body polls in Gujarat is a well thought-out move aimed at including the minorities at the ground level.
As expected, Modi’s appeal to open party’s doors for Muslims has evoked sharp reactions from the Congress, which has hit back saying that the party is just fooling the minorities and they would get nothing by sticking to the BJP.
By chanting the Muslim mantra, the BJP leadership is also aiming to woo those secular Hindu voters, who never approved the communal riots in Gujarat after the Godhra incident, and if the minorities too vote in favour of a ‘changed’ BJP, then it would be a major gain for the `Team Modi`.
Devising a strategy to win Muslim votes and actually getting their support are two different things. Securing the minorities’ support won’t be an easy task for the BJP, but it has no other option than to rely on the `Narendra Modi` factor in the high-stake 2014 polls. Modi’s impressive track record, the success of Gujarat model and, more recently, the international community’s softening of stance on a communal and a polarizing Modi can work in the party’s favour. There is no doubt that the BJP`s task won`t be an easy one.
The other factor which will benefit the BJP is the rising unpopularity of the Congress-led UPA government among the common people, especially due to spiralling prices of the essential commodities, slew of corruption cases and various scams in Dr Manmohan Singh’s two tenures.
Increasing confrontation with China, the beheading of Indian soldiers along LoC and repeated ceasefire violations by the Pakistan Army and the Centre’s failure to give a befitting response to our hostile neighbours has only added to people’s perception that the ruling disposition is effective in managing national security.
Not to forget, Modi too has come a long way from being a `minority-basher` to being a powerful mass leader and a successful administrator. His repeated success in Gujarat is a firm pointer to it and can’t also be overlooked. Modi’s detractors in Congress and within his party have now realized that his constant criticism over the 2002 communal riots will be of no use and can be counter-productive.
The disappointing economic situation has hit the common man most and left no breathing space for him. The Aam Admi has realized that the present Congress disposition has nothing new to offer to him and that’s where Modi’s clean image and his mass appeal could do the trick.
While there is no doubt that the BJP under Modi faces a colossal task of winning the bigger game of 2014, it also appears confident that its new avatar would probably change the political landscape of the country. As everyone awaits the all important 2014 elections, I am also keeping my fingers crossed and guessing if the BJP’s new found love for Muslims will be a game changer.