The Bharatiya Janata Party on Sunday held its national executive meeting in Delhi – the first since the outbreak of the coronavirus – to discuss the Assembly elections scheduled to take place in five states next year, protests against the three farm laws and other matters, India Today reported.

The chief ministers of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur and the chief of the BJP’s Punjab unit gave a presentation on the upcoming elections during the key meeting, according to PTI.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while addressing BJP leaders at the meeting, expressed confidence that the party will the people’s trust, according to PTI.

The prime minister also criticised the Congress in an indirect attack, saying that the BJP’s functioning does not revolve around one family.

“Modiji gave a mantra to the party workers that they should become a bridge of faith between the common man and the party,” Union minister Bhupender Yadav said at press briefing after the meeting. “The BJP has always been associated with the issues close to the common man of the country.”

The BJP will set up booth committees in over 10 lakh voting centres and also employ “panna pramukhs”, or micro-level mobilisers, according to The Indian Express.

At the meeting, the BJP also discussed expansion in the southern states of Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Telangana, the newspaper reported.

BJP discusses West Bengal

The BJP, which lost the Assembly elections in West Bengal to the Trinamool Congress in May, on Sunday said that it will “stand like a rock” with the people of the state, according to The Indian Express.

Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan claimed that 53 BJP workers had died in post-election violence in West Bengal. “We will fight back democratically, the party has decided,” the minister said.

The state had witnessed several incidents of violence following the Assembly election results on May 2. The BJP and the Trinamool Congress blamed each other for the deaths of multiple party workers. Various news reports put the toll between 11 and 14, but the police did not confirm the numbers.

There were also reports of sexual violence. On August 19, the Calcutta High Court had directed the CBI to investigate allegations of murder, rape and crimes against women in the state.

Farmers protest

A BJP leader claimed that the party had taken several measures for the welfare of farmers, India Today reported. “Minimum support price has been increased 1.5 times,” the unidentified party member said. “Kisan credit cards have been distributed. Pumps in farmyards [have been installed].”

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that the government was ready to hold discussions with the protesting farmers.

“Please tell us what you are opposed to in the laws,” Sitharaman said, according to India Today. “We have not been told what the objection is and their [farmers’] story is incomplete. We are still willing to listen to the farmers.”

Farmers fear that the new laws will bring about corporate dominance of the agricultural sector. Thousands of them, mainly from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, have been protesting at Delhi’s border entry points since November 2020, seeking the withdrawal of the laws.

Coronavirus crisis

BJP leaders at the key meeting praised India’s vaccination programme even as the Opposition has repeatedly criticised the slow rollout of vaccines and their acute shortage during the devastating second wave of Covid-19.

At the media briefing after the meeting, Pradhan said over 30% of India population was fully-vaccinated.

“More than 100 crore vaccine doses have been administered in the country,” the minister said. “The World Health Organization has recognized Covaxin, the vaccine manufactured by India.”

Meanwhile, Sitharaman claimed that within 48 hours of announcing the lockdown, the administration “came up with giving people food for free for eight full months”.

The nationwide lockdown imposed in March 2020 had triggered an exodus of migrant workers from major cities.

A survey of over 11,000 stranded migrant workers, done by the Stranded Workers Action Network, showed that half of them had stocks of ration that would only last less than a day. Out of these, 96% workers had not received rations from the government, and 70% had not received any cooked food. As many as 89% had not been paid by their employers at all during the lockdown, the report added.

Also read: During Covid-19 lockdown, over 300 died due to other reasons such as suicides, hunger, say activists