The Bharatiya Janata Party has effected a redrawing of its support base that now spreads beyond the Hindi heartland to include at least 10 states that form its core.
The results of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections show that Middle India is now firmly in the BJP’s kitty and comprises Rajasthan, Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.
There are two noteworthy states on this list — Odisha and West Bengal, ones outside the Hindi heartland but now part of the BJP’s support base. Thus far they had been islands, ringfenced from direct BJP influence because of some essential cultural differences between what comprised the way of life of traditional BJP supporters and people in these states. That wall has been breached with these elections.
In West Bengal and Odisha, the BJP followed a set strategy. It built its organisational muscle in these states by bringing in leaders from existing parties who, in turn, brought their foot soldiers with them. It then aggressively sold the idea of Modi — a strong leader, the Modi model of development and nationalism.
In West Bengal, the BJP was helped by the eclipse of the Left and the fact that there was a large Muslim population, which helped to generate positive sentiment on the question of Hindu pride.
Uttar Pradesh is the nerve-centre of the BJP support base. The mahagathbandhan of Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and Rashtriya Lok Dal appeared to be a roadblock in its way. The Kairana Lok Sabha by-election of May 2018, which it won, was expected to be a laboratory test for the mahagathbandhan.
But in this election, the BJP was building from a base of 40 per cent vote share in 2014. That vote share also included a share of the OBC and Jatav vote — people who were attracted by the BJP’s message of muscular nationalism and Hindu machismo. In the end, the mahagathbandhan was not very successful in containing a BJP surge in Uttar Pradesh.
In the remaining the states, including the ones where it recently lost power in state assembly polls, the party was able to galvanise its existing organization while lining up behind the Modi brand to win the states.
The Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the earlier avatar of the Bharatiya Janata Party, that was founded in 1951, emerged as a spokesperson for the Hindus and made the Hindi heartland its base. For a newbie, it achieved creditable success in state and Lok Sabha polls between 1952 and 1967. Its slogan was “one country, one nation, one culture and the rule of law”. It appeared to be a popular slogan and it showed in the party membership which rose to nearly 20 lakh by the end of the 1960s.
The BJP and before that the BJS were evidently long-term players. That explains why the party has expanded, over time, from the Hindi heartland to the Northeast where it had never been in power before this, and now to Odisha and West Bengal. In the interim there was a brief stint in Jammu and Kashmir.The next project, very clearly, is the conquest of southern India, where it has only had a government in Karnataka and had NDA partners from Tamil Nadu.