Life in Gurgaon

Inside BJP’s 2019 war room

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On June 9, 2013, Narendra Modi was appointed a chairperson of the campaign committee of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and tasked with steering the electoral battle against the Congress.

“On that very day, the campaign to wrest power began,” said a party functionary who has worked closely with Modi, and who asked not to be identified.

What followed was a high-octane campaign, planned with surgical precision, high on technology and innovation, but married to the traditional door-to-door canvassing that is the hallmark of the BJP and its ideological fount, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Peppy slogans, catchy songs and an avalanche of advertising across platforms came next.

The countdown to the 2019 general election has begun and all eyes are on the campaign, which is expected to be a notch higher in decibels, optics, and substance.

There’s one difference, though. In 2014, reams were written about the campaign and the strategy: how it was buttressed by the spin doctors at the party’s war room at its then headquarters in Delhi’s Ashoka Road; and how the message reached masses through offices at as many as 5,000 districts and through mobile phones and digital platforms. This time, there is a shroud of mystery on the operations so far.

Sure, some efforts have been launched and publicized, but these are largely in the form of support groups that drum up support for the Prime Minister online, such as ModiForPM, ModiOnceMore, and IITiansforModi. Most of these have a mix of volunteers as well as party functionaries in an advisory capacity.

According to people who are part of the campaign strategy, some of whom were involved in the 2014 campaign as well, there are two aspects that stand out: several people who played a critical role are no longer part of the mammoth exercise; and the campaign itself has been tailored to fit the party’s changed position — from that of the opposition to the ruling party. None of these people wished to be identified.

“One big change this time is that the campaign in-charge is the party president, Amit Shah, who has his own style of functioning. He may borrow from the template that was set by Modi or plan afresh, but so far, things are yet to take shape,” said the functionary cited above. Shah was involved in the campaign back then but was not the party president at the time.

Recently, the party announced 17 committees under the leadership of senior leaders such as Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, and Nitin Gadkari to prepare the manifesto, reach out to the beneficiaries and make contact with the electorate, but there is no clarity on who the backroom men and women anchoring the campaign will be.

The people involved in the campaign, as well as other functionaries, say that work is yet to pick up the pace, but that the focus will clearly be on the achievements of the Modi government.