Behind The BJP's UP Election Machine, Meet The Party's Mini-Amit Shah

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Behind The BJP's UP Election Machine, Meet The Party's Mini-Amit Shah

Sunil Bansal, BJP's organisation secretary, has been entrusted the UP campaign by BJP chief Amit Shah

Varanasi: 

Highlights

  1. Sunil Bansal is BJP's organisation secretary of Uttar Pradesh
  2. Party chief Amit Shah entrusted UP campaign to Sunil Bansal
  3. BJP had won a record 71 of UP's 80 Lok Sabha seats in 2014 elections
If the BJP pulls off a win in Uttar Pradesh, there will be many public claimants for its success.

But there is one who is likely to remain invisible - Sunil Bansal, the party's organisation secretary, and the man to whom BJP chief Amit Shah entrusted the UP campaign.

Clad in a light pink kurta, Sunil-ji, as he is known, met us at the BJP headquarters in Benares, the party's nerve centre for the final phase of the elections.

Even before UP, Mr Bansal, who has his roots in the ABVP, a BJP-linked student body, had played an equally low key role as Mr Shah's apprentice for the BJP's enormously successful 2014 Lok Sabha campaign. The BJP had won a record 71 of UP's 80 Lok Sabha seats.

It is here, he told us, that he maintained a nightly diary on Mr Shah's style of election management, and it is to this diary he turned when he was handed the 2017 UP campaign. (The other BJP in charge of UP is its Rajya Sabha MP, Om Mathur, who also, like Mr Bansal, is from Rajasthan).

Mr Bansal says he noticed three key weaknesses that he sought to fix - one, to remedy the party's poor rural outreach, the BJP fought panchayat elections in UP in 2015, with a far greater intensity than before, contesting around 3000 seats. It only won about 350, but the exercise impelled it to create a village-level talent pool that would prove invaluable.

Two, in 2014, the party had a presence in less than a fourth of Uttar Pradesh's 1.4 lakh booths, the basic unit of election management. By late 2016, an aggressive membership drive had helped the BJP extend its reach to close to 1.28 lakh booths.

"There are on an average 10 workers per booth," Mr Bansal told us. The BJP's rivals have been skeptical of these claims, suggesting many of these booth committees are padded with false entries. Mr Bansal said a call centre of 150 people, based out of Lucknow, constantly dials workers to authenticate them; those that turn out to be "ghosts" are dropped.

Three, the above exercise allowed the BJP to remedy its image of a largely upper caste party. Today, he claims close to 40% of its mid to lower level functionaries in UP are from the Other Backward Castes, and from the Scheduled Castes. (Earlier that figure was around 10%, he said).

The final challenge was candidate selection, for which the BJP has come in for criticism, especially its decision to field a large number of imports - 80 in all - from other parties.

Mr Bansal said this too worked to a plan. He said that there are close to 67 seats in UP that the BJP has never won. (They fall mostly in districts which have a high percentage of Yadavs and Muslims, or Dalits and Muslims, the core base of the Samajwadi Party and the BSP, respectively.)

Most of the BJP's 80 imports, he told us with an impish smile, were selected to contest from these 67 "non-BJP" seats.

"In every district in UP you will find candidates that are representative of the BJP's social mix: a Thakur, a Brahmin, an OBC, a Dalit," he said.

Mr Bansal refused to be interviewed on camera, a stance he says he will maintain even after the results are declared. But the swelling crowd outside his room, that kept bursting in during our conversation is an indication that at least within the BJP's power circles, they are aware of a new Amit Shah taking shape.

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