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Shah starts with poll focus

Amit Shah

New Delhi, July 15: Amit Shah has got cracking a week after he was appointed BJP president, holding meetings today on two of the four states that go to polls in the coming months.

He met central and state representatives to discuss the preparations in Maharashtra and Jharkhand. Although Jharkhand is scheduled to vote in December, the BJP’s sense is that the election will be held simultaneously with those in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jammu and Kashmir in October.

Other than the leaders expected at the two meetings, a notable inclusion was the new BJP inductee from the RSS, Ram Madhav. Madhav joined the party shortly before Shah became president last Wednesday. Sources said his presence indicated he would be designated the general secretary (organisation) in place of Ram Lal, who is also an RSS pracharak (whole-timer).

The general secretaries, who come after the vice-presidents in the organisation, are more powerful because they are assigned electorally critical states and report directly to the president. The general secretary (organisation) carries more weight because he also serves as the BJP’s regular channel of communication with the RSS.

Ravinder Kumar Rai, the Jharkhand BJP chief, told The Telegraph: “The party president took a sense of the pre-poll preparations we have made so far and outlined certain strategies for immediate implementation.”

Sources said the issues of who would lead the BJP in the Jharkhand election and of forging any alliance did not figure in the two-hour meeting at the party headquarters.

The emerging view is that the BJP should not project a chief ministerial candidate although Arjun Munda had headed its governments in the past, the sources added.

Shah asked the state leaders — apart from Rai, the general secretary (organisation) in Jharkhand, Rajinder Singh, and his peers Sunil Kumar Singh and Balmukund Sahay were present — to share their assessment of the political scenario, the clout the regional parties wield and the programmes they had lined up to motivate workers and voters.

Shah also asked the Jharkhand leaders for a data bank on each Assembly constituency since the state was created and the names of individuals looking to join the BJP. He stressed the party must immediately induct “heavyweights” who can potentially enhance its image.

In the last Lok Sabha elections, the BJP won 12 of the state’s 14 seats. Sources said Shah told the leaders a repeat in the Assembly elections would be possible only with micro-management and “solid” ground work.

In Maharashtra, where too the BJP and ally Shiv Sena pulled off a spectacular Lok Sabha win, Shah said every central minister will be asked to spend a day campaigning so that every Assembly seat is covered by Narendra Modi’s council of BJP ministers.

There was no discussion on the Sena alliance or who should spearhead the party, the sources said. Tomorrow, Shah has convened a meeting of the Jammu and Kashmir and Haryana party units.

Sources said he would constitute his team “shortly” although there were two versions on what it would be like. Some believed Shah would only fill vacancies, created because the incumbents had joined the ministry, but others said he would recast the structures.

“Shah is only 50 and the youngest person to head the BJP so far. Obviously, those working for him will be younger, equally energetic and open to new and unconventional ideas that will be in sync with Modiji’s style of governance,” a source said.

The source said Shah was already tapping the “large” pool of young MPs elected to the Lok Sabha as well as the “bright sparks” in the states.

City rally

The Bengal BJP has decided to hold a rally in the heart of Calcutta where Shah will be the main speaker. The date will be finalised in consultation with the party’s central leadership, state BJP general secretary Asim Sarkar said tonight. It is expected by the month-end.