Almost a year-and-a-half after coming to power, the first review meeting of the Modi government was held at Madhyanchal Bhawan in Delhi’s Vasant Kunj. With Prime Minister Narendra Modi and RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat in attendance, cabinet ministers made presentations, took notes and broke bread with others from the saffron brotherhood.
A review meeting of this scale under media spotlight has never been repeated in the last six years. Not that assessment and coordination meetings are not being held anymore; leaders in the government and those from the BJP’s ideological fount still do meet. But new mechanisms have evolved in the last five years. Interactions are still held quite regularly, but under the radar and out of the media gaze.
Which is why, it is quite surprising that news of three meetings involving top RSS and BJP leadership in the last one month wafted out of its own accord to the media.
The first interaction in this series was held in Delhi around 10 days ago and was attended by the Prime Minister, Home Minister and RSS general secretary Dattatreya Hosabale. Interestingly, BJP general secretary in-charge of organisation in UP Sunil Bansal was present. UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath remained conspicuous by absence.
Then Hosabale flew down to Lucknow and held a separate round of talks with cadre. This was followed by BJP national general secretary BL Santosh camping in Lucknow for full three days to hold review meeting of Yogi Adityanath’s cabinet colleagues.
There seems to be method in this mechanism.
The RSS has a well-institutionalised mechanism to get feedback. A top leader does not necessarily need to travel to Lucknow to feel the pulse. In how many states has a top BJP leader camped to meet ministers one by one to assess the performance of the party’s government?
The messaging perhaps was imbedded in the spectacle itself. A review of sorts in the backdrop of second COVID-19 wave which left behind a trail of despair in the most populous state. To send across a message to the cadre in particular and people in general that corrective measures need to be taken. An acknowledgement of grievances with the establishment.
“If one were to look at the schedule of upcoming elections, we have about eight hours left to prepare for each of the 403 assembly seats. That’s a lot of work. Panchayat poll results have been less than encouraging. And we have to fine-tune our strategy accordingly,” says a senior BJP leader from the state.
Does that mean the BJP may go for a complete overhaul of the party and the government to salvage the situation ahead of elections?
Uttar Pradesh is not Uttarakhand. Stakes are much higher in a province which sends the maximum number of seats to the Lok Sabha. The disruption thus at the top — at least in the government — may be calibrated so as “not to ruffle too many feathers”.
“Kalyan Singh was a lifetime swayamsevak. Just remember what happened when the party decided to sideline the former CM. We were pushed to the margins for almost a decade,” says another leader privy to recent developments in Lucknow.
But at the same time, the party would want to send across a strong message to some of its key constituents. In this process, apart from ramping up administrative efforts to bolster its people’s perception on governance, the party may make a visible effort to reach out to communities which form the core base of the party. Brahmins remain a key constituent in the BJP’s social coalition in UP. But the incremental votes in the last five years have accrued from other backward communities which have drifted away from SP and BSP.
The BJP has successfully projected and imported leaders from some most backward castes which has helped it expand its social footprint. Both deputy CM Keshav Maurya and minister Swamy Prasad Maurya are the faces which manifest this social engineering.
There have been some speculation in Lucknow that organisational changes may be timed with a possible cabinet reshuffle to ensure “better coordination between the government and the party”.