It may not be completely wrong to suggest that a clear sign that elections are around the corner in a state is if the Central government, especially Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) biggest campaigner Prime Minister Narendra Modi, suddenly starts finding reasons to tour the state – on official visits.
That these official visits also often turn into surrogate campaign stops is now an acceptable fact. Equally true is the fact that the Centre manages to find some government-funded scheme – completed or even not fully completed – for the Prime Minister to inaugurate.
In places where there was nothing to inaugurate, the officials found something for which PM Modi could lay the foundation stone for.
Information and data collected from various sources, including official ones, tells an interesting story.
Between December 2017 and January 2022, PM Modi made at least 61 official visits to states with elections around the corner. Union Home Minister Amit Shah made a total of eight while Defence Minister Rajnath Singh made a total of five such visits.
While these visits were not election rallies, since all were official trips made in the capacity of the official roles they have in the Central government, in many cases the same were clubbed with rallies in support of the party candidates.
The state which received a majority of these visits in the past year alone is Uttar Pradesh. Modi, Shah and Singh have collectively made 26 trips to UP, the state which goes to polls in seven phases in February and March 2022.
Majority of these visits were either for inaugurating projects or announcements of the same like on January 2, 2022, when Modi laid the foundation of Major Dhyan Chand Sports University in Meerut district of Uttar Pradesh.
But it’s not just UP that got their attention.
India Ahead looked at the time period starting December 2017 – choosing this month as three state elections, namely Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland were taking place in early of 2018 – till January 2022 and focused on the states with elections in the offing.
As the party’s best-known mascot, PM Modi, obviously, has been the busiest in trying to reach every state where elections were about to happen, sometimes making his presence felt a year in advance. It’s not surprising to see as he continues to be BJP’s biggest selling point.
The most recent one was to Punjab on January 5, 2022, which has become infamous for the alleged security breach in the PM’s security. Before the rally which he could not attend, Modi laid the foundation of multiple development projects worth more than ₹42,750 crore, in Punjab’s Ferozepur. This visit is also a prime example of mixing an official visit with a non-official one like an election rally.
In 2021, Modi made 29 visits to states going to elections, including four to Uttarakhand which will vote on February 14, 2022. One of these trips included the inauguration and laying of foundation stones of projects worth over Rs 17,500 crore in Haldwani. One of the projects was the Rs 8,700 crore road sector scheme.
The other states he visited which will go to polls this year are Himachal Pradesh (elections likely in November 2022), and Goa (election on February 14, 2022). The states where elections were held in 2021 and Modi visited include Tamil Nadu (visit on February 14 and 25, 2021 with elections the same year on April 6); Puducherry (Feb 25, 2021 visit, elections April 6, 2021); West Bengal (elections March 27-April 29, 2021); Assam (elections March 27; April 1 and 6, 2021) and Kerala (April 6).
Like Modi, Amit Shah can also be seen mixing official duties with his party’s needs.
Take the case of December 17, 2021 when he launched projects worth Rs 155 crore in Uttar Pradesh’s Lucknow. After this, with UP CM Yogi Adityanath in tow, Shah addressed the attendees and said that before 2017 the cooperative sector in Uttar Pradesh was a hub of corruption but in the last four and half years, the Yogi government had transformed it.
“Under Behenji (Mayawati) and Babua (Akhilesh Yadav), there was rampant corruption in cooperative societies. But the Yogi government cleaned everything,” Shah said.
At the same time, before the launch of projects he had taken part in a rally named “Sarkar Banao, AdhikarPao”, using official visits to speak of his party’s achievements.
The Defence Minister’s visits that we have taken into account are the one on December 26, 2021, to Lucknow for laying of foundation stone for Defence Technology & Test Centre and BrahMos Manufacturing Centre of DRDO.
The inauguration of ‘RashtraRakshaSamarpanParv’ in Jhansi on November 17, and the inauguration of the first operationalised private sector defence manufacturing facility in Uttar Pradesh Defence Industrial Corridor (UPDIC) in Lucknow four days earlier on November 13 are also in the same bracket.
Lastly, the consultations with UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath to enhance investment in the UP Defence Industrial Corridor on November 12.
That is a glimpse of the year 2021.
The year 2020 was different, perhaps owing to the pandemic or more so perhaps because only two states were going into election – one the National Capital Delhi, and Bihar.
In 2019, Modi made 14 visits to states with elections.
These trips included four to Jharkhand which was going to polls in four phases from November 30 to December 20, 2019.
Take for example Modi’s visit on September 12, 2019, which saw amongst others, the inauguration of the New Vidhan Sabha Bhawan at Ranchi, and also the inauguration of Multimodal Terminal at Sahebganj along with 462 Eklavya Model Residential/ Day Boarding Schools. There was also a visit to Ranchi on June 21, 2019 for the International Yoga Day.
There was another trip to Jharkhand a year earlier on September 23, 2018, to Ranchi, where Modi launched Ayushman Bharat and laid the foundation Stone of Various Projects in Jharkhand.
The others visits he made include Haryana (October 21, 2019 election); Bihar (October 28, 2020, November 3, 7); Maharashtra (elections held October 21, 2019); Andhra Pradesh (April 11, 2019 elections); Arunachal Pradesh (elections held April 11, 2019); and Odisha (elections held in four phase from April 29 to 11, 2019).
In 2018, there were a total of 15 visits Modi made to states which were going to face elections. These were all official meets, many of them were used as public rallies to talk about the government’s work or simply to announce new projects or inaugurate finished ones.
These visits were to the poll bound states of Maharashtra; Rajasthan (election December 7, 2018); Odisha; Chhattisgarh (elections in November 12 & 20, 2018); Jharkhand (November 30; December 7, 12, 16, 20 of 2019); Sikkim (April 11, 2019); and Madhya Pradesh (November 28, 2018).
A more obvious trip by Rajnath Singh was in 2017 when he attended the Hornbill Festival in Kohima, Nagaland on December 8, 2017 while elections were due the following year on February 27, 2018.
The Prime Minister in December 2017 had official engagements in two poll bound states. The visit on December 16 included one to Mizoram’s Aizawl. The state was going to election on November 28, 2018, and Shillong, Meghalaya which voted on February 27.
These visits included the inauguration of Tuirial Hydro Electric Power Plant and distribution of cheques to entrepreneurs at Aizawl, Mizoram. In Shillong, it was about the inauguration of a road from the city to Nongstoin – Rongjeng–Tura. It was followed by a public meeting at Shillong which was classified as “non-official” on the PMO website.
It should be noted that travel expenses on domestic visits of the prime minister are met out of the budget of the Ministry of Defence. Any non-official visit has to be reimbursed.
A Right to Information response by the Indian Air Force to Commodore Lokesh K Batra (retired) had revealed back in 2017 that the IAF was paid Rs 89 lakh for 128 non-official flights taken by the PM from May 2014 till February 2017.
But in cases like the 46 mentioned above the prime minister would be able to perhaps circumvent the rule as the rallies, when addressed, were made in the backdrop of official visits.
The leaders also took the opportunity while launching projects or inaugurating finished ones, to boast about their achievements – in essence, their political parties – and hit out at the opposition.
Take December 11, 2021, for example, when Modi inaugurated the SaryuNahar National Project in Balrampur, Uttar pradesh. Here he said the estimated cost of the project was less than Rs 100 crore when it was first planned in 1978, but was completed after spending almost Rs 10,000 crore.
“What should have been done in 100 crore rupees has taken 10,000 crore rupees. Was it not your money, my brothers? Should not every rupee of your hard work have been used for the right work at the right time? Are those who didn’t do this your culprits or not? Will you punish such people or not? You will!” he said.
Cash Doled Out
These visits by the three leaders are not free. Not just because it costs to get to these states but also because a lot of promises are made, backed up with money.
Just in December 2021 and a few days into January 2022, the total announcements and projects inaugurated in poll bound states by Modi were totalling at least Rs 1,65,384 crores. The state that received a sizable chunk of this was UP with a project worth Rs 70,734 crore.
Since 2021 till January 2022, the Prime Minister has been on 18 visits to Uttar Pradesh, Amit Shah on four and Singh also four. These exclude any election campaigns made to the state.
One of the more recent visits by Modi was to Manipur, which will vote in two phases, on February 27 and March 3. The visit on January 4 saw an inauguration of a total 13 projects worth Rs 1,850 crore plus foundation stone for nine projects worth Rs 2,950 crore.
This totals to an announcement of projects worth Rs 4,800 crore. The projects relate to sectors such as road infrastructure, drinking water supply, health, urban development, housing, information technology, skill development, art and culture, among others.
These visits exemplify how the Prime Minister has worked to keep the attention on elections. It is not, like in the case of opposition parties, a plan made a few months before polls, but one that is in motion for over a year, sometimes even more.
With inputs from Abhishek Sankhyayan