How Amit Shah won U.P., one booth at a time

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Lucknow: In the midst of Assembly polls in Assam last year, BJP president Amit Shah spotted party office bearer from Uttar Pradesh Mahendra Singh in his campaign helicopter. “Mahendra, this election is going to be over in a week, get to Uttar Pradesh fast,” Shah said with a half smile, but a more than serious intent. That was in May 2016.

In April, Mr. Shah had appointed Phulpur MP Keshav Prasad Maurya, from a non-Yadav OBC community, and the bare bones of his long trek to win Uttar Pradesh by the biggest margin in recent times was being put in place.

The first order of business appeared to be to ensure enough boots on the ground. “We made sure that we assigned 10-21 party workers in every polling booth. With 1,47,401 booths, that meant that the total number of workers we managed to operationalise was 13,50,000, a huge number on the ground,” said a member of Shah’s inner circle.

Surveys showed that there were 70 plus seats that were marginals (could be lost by small margins). “We refused to give up on them, and we now find that we have won 60 out of those 70 seats,” said a senior general secretary of the party.

The social engineering strategy too was as meticulous and maximum. The appeal to non-Yadav OBC and non-Jatav Dalits, apart from Mr. Maurya’s appointment, was made by a very generous tilt in ticket distribution. “Non-Yadav OBCs got as many as 150 ticket out of a total of 381 seats fought by the BJP.

Among the 85 seats reserved for Scheduled Castes in the Assembly, we gave 64 ticket to non-Jatav Dalits. The message was clear, when it came to OBCs and EBCs, we were the party that gave hissedaari [a share],” said a source.

Through the campaign Mr. Shah kept a strong grip on the narrative. As reports of Jat alienation from the BJP in western Uttar Pradesh started gaining currency, Shah made it a point to hold meetings with community leaders, allaying their fears. Union Minister Sanjeev Balyan was extensively deployed to prevent a Jat exodus from the BJP ranks.

In Meerut, when a local trader was shot in the market place, Shah cancelled his scheduled road show in the area and made an impromptu visit to the bereaved family. This is said to have made an impact in the community, upset with the BJP over demonetization. He spent 17 nights in total in the State, through the over month-long campaign, calling up candidates, office bearers and held 150 rallies in all.

“We began preparations over a year ago, with Mr. Shah drawing up a meticulous plan. The ”Parivartan yatra” that the party undertook four months ago, went on for 192 working days, with around 10,000 small and big meetings. We crowd-sourced for suggestions for our manifesto and the Prime Minister’s leadership won the day for us,” said BJP general secretary Bhupendra Yadav.

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