PM Modi continues to be the central and most prominent leader of India's ruling BJP Image Credit: ANI

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) National Executive that met on Nov. 7 — soon after the party got a mixed response in recent byelections — gave an insight into the party’s current mindset.

Soon after the setback in bypolls in the Indian states of Himachal Pradesh and West Bengal, the Modi government promptly reduced excise duty on petrol and diesel by Rs5 and Rs10 respectively.

It became clear that the BJP is facing adversities due to inflation in food, edible oil and fuel prices.

By decreasing the excise duty, the government gave a message to the people, BJP cadres and state leaders that the party has taken note of the setback.

The BJP National Executive meeting in New Delhi witnessed a 50-minute valedictory address by Prime Minister Modi and saw a sharp focus on some key issues.

1) The ruling party has already acted on inflation in the country by reducing the excise duty. In 1998, BJP lost elections in New Delhi due to high price of onions. Recently one of the BJP workers, while talking to a journalist remarked, “We fear the petrol prices may make us cry, as did the onions in 1998.”

2) The National Executive event was used to end any speculation surrounding UP Chief minister Yogi Adityanath. He was invited to propose the political resolution — to send across the message that the BJP is batting heavily on Yogi to deliver success in UP.

Those elections will impact BJP’s fortune in the short and long term. It may also reflect upon the upcoming President and Vice President’s elections as well.

Seven years in power have obviously increased the disconnect of some BJP leaders and ministers with the people. BJP’s entire focus is on winning coming assembly elections. To win assembly elections, BJP needs to go back to people.

In his speech, PM Narendra Modi’s main emphasis was to build “bridges of faith” by connecting with common people. He gave several examples on how connecting with people and working on ground would help the party.

BJP president J P Nadda announced that the party will constitute booth-level committees in all 10.40 lakh polling stations in the country by Dec. 25 and have “panna (each page of voter’s list) committees” in each constituency by April 2022.

These days unprecedented numbers of printed and digital material on Modi have been made available by the party. His biographies, photo albums and books written by him are everywhere.

3) During Indira Gandhi’s long rule, whenever Congress lost or got weakened within, Indira’s importance within the party would increase.

Similarly, Modi’s brand image is the only dependable poll plank that BJP continues to have. The PM’s public image is getting new touch-ups at every level. BJP’s political resolution underlined the party’s complete dependence on “Modi’s leadership”.

Except Modi, Nadda and Yogi, none of the top ranking leaders, not even Rajnath Singh and Amit Shah, spoke during the National Executive meet.

The idea of taking Mann ki Baat to every single voter in India is to further cement Modi’s connect with the voters. It started in Gujarat and is now being broadcast all over India.

4) The BJP initially ignored the ongoing farmer’s agitation but is seriously addressing the hurt feelings of Sikh community which have got interwoven with it. Nadda’s address and later a few RSS leaders interaction with media revealed that BJP doesn’t want to alienate Sikhs as the country can’t afford one more fault-line at this time.

5) BJP’s long-term focus to win hearts and minds of South Indian voters continues. PM Modi spoke about it in his speech when he talked about BJP’s victory in Telangana, improvement in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Nadda hinted that BJP will rewrite its Bengal story in view of the fact that some of its candidates lost their deposits in the bypoll in West Bengal.

6) Modi continues to have his signature attitude of “looking at glass as half-full.” Modi’s offensive comes out best when he dismisses his critics and opposition by labelling them “negative people.” The PM asked his party men to ignore negativity by critics.

According to one BJP leader, Modi said that he has practical knowledge of economy. Life is his teacher.

When earthquake devastated Kutch in 2001, the rebuilding and rehabilitation started in all earnestness. When people bought record quantity of silver in one of the festive seasons, he (then chief minister of Gujarat) understood that the development work is on right track.

BJP’s loss in Himachal Pradesh, the home state of party president J P Nadda and its young cabinet minister Anurag Thakur came as a bit of a shock to the party.

Its candidate in Jubbai-Kotkhai lost the deposit in the assembly byelection, getting only 2644 votes in the seat that was held by a BJP MLA who died due to Covid-19, necessitating the bypoll. While the losses may not augur well for the party, the BJP wants the cadre to take the Congress head-on.

Modi message is simple: beat the critics and the opposition leaders by connecting with people.

The worrying factor for the BJP is that before December 25, 2022, India will see elections in Uttarakhand, Goa, Manipur, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. Currently BJP is better prepared to face elections in UP and Gujarat. Elsewhere, BJP faces strong anti-incumbency.

It is a Congress versus BJP contest in the coming months that’s why both sides have increased direct allegations against each other. The latest controversy around the Rafale deal is just a starter.

As of today, Congress is in a position to give a good fight to the BJP in Goa, Manipur, Uttrakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab. In Punjab, Congress is facing AAP and Akali Dal, not BJP.

It is very clear that the results of the bypolls and the challenges of the coming elections have made the BJP cautious and alert and more reliant on Brand Modi.