The Bharatiya Janata Party’s final decision on whether it should name a chief ministerial candidate in Uttar Pradesh or bank solely on the image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi may be determined by the response the latter gets on October 11, when he is set to make his first public speech after the Army’s “surgical strikes” across the Line Of Control last week.
Modi’s speech – which is likely to lay down the electoral plank for the BJP in Uttar Pradesh after its massive drive to make political capital out of the military strikes – will be part of a Ramlila celebration at Aishbagh in Lucknow, where he will also set on fire an effigy of Ravan symbolising the demon of terror.
While the BJP’s state unit is working hard to make the show a success, a section of the central leadership is sceptical about the idea of letting the next year's Uttar Pradesh polls be perceived as a referendum on the Union government's performance.
According to BJP officials, the party’s predicament – caused largely by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s refusal to become the chief ministerial candidate – may end on October 11 if Modi gets an “adequate response” at the Aishbagh Ramlila.
“That will put to rest all speculation about the party’s CM face,” said a senior leader of the state BJP. “An adequate response in Lucknow will instantly kick-start the election campaign with Modi-ji leading from the front.”
Reviving the Modi wave
Many in the BJP said that pressure within the party to revert to a pre-Assam electoral strategy – fighting elections without naming a chief ministerial candidate – had increased considerably after the surgical strikes on September 29, which were in response to the terrorist attack on an Army base in Kashmir's Uri sector ten days earlier that left 19 soldiers dead.
While the BJP had announced its chief ministerial choice in the Assembly elections in Assam in April, it had contested the polls in Bihar last year riding on Modi's image. While it was victorious in Assam, it suffered a shock defeat in Bihar.
Those in favour of making the prime minister the face of the party in Uttar Pradesh argued that this strategy, if successful, would go a long way in reviving the Modi cult, giving the BJP’s prospects in future elections new impetus.
Of the four major parties in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP alone has not announced a chief ministerial candidate so far. The Samajwadi Party has said that incumbent Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav will be its candidate while the Bahujan Samaj Party has fielded Mayawati. The Congress has named former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit as its nominee.
The BJP, though, has put up hoardings and banners in parts of the state thanking Modi and the Army for the surgical strikes and calling for more action against Pakistan, according to news reports. Some posters depict Modi as Ram and Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as Ravan.
Yet another indication that the BJP is determined to draw political mileage out of the military action in UP came when Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar addressed a gathering of party workers in Agra on Thursday and said the felicitation was not aimed at him but at the Army and the “leadership of the prime minister”.