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Shah works on Bengal blueprint

- BJP chief eyes Odisha, Assam and TN
Amit Shah in Nagpur on Friday before meeting RSS chief Mohanrao Bhagwat. (PTI)

New Delhi, July 20: Amit Shah will start working for a “big breakthrough” in Bengal, Odisha, Assam and Tamil Nadu once the next lot of Assembly elections ends, a source close to the new BJP president has told The Telegraph.

Shah, architect of the BJP sweep in Uttar Pradesh in this year’s general election, will be eyeing a “substantial” number of seats from these four states in the next Lok Sabha polls, the source added.

Bengal, where the BJP is being increasingly seen as the main threat to the ruling Trinamul, will by then have held Assembly polls in the summer of 2016 along with Assam and Tamil Nadu. The Odisha state polls will be due simultaneously with the next general election.

“Our priority is to achieve a big breakthrough in Odisha, Assam, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu,” the source said, spelling out the challenges.

“Unlike Uttar Pradesh, where our organisation was dormant but existent and our core base intact, we have weak party apparatuses with defined core constituencies in these states, including Assam,” he said.

“To tap that constituency, we need structures. If we had these structures, our strike rate in the Lok Sabha elections would have been much higher.”

Asked why Shah had picked these four states, the source said the objective was to ensure “the BJP is no longer seen as a party of the cow belt and the west”.

“When the NDA was in power previously, our efforts at expansion were half-hearted and short-lived: there was no well-thought-out strategy,” he added.

Then why not target other states like, say, Kerala?

The source agreed that though the party had “an enduring base” in Karnataka in the south, it was “not good enough”.

“But Kerala is not really on the BJP’s radar because if we get down to serious work there, there will be an instant and violent retaliation from the communists.”

There’s a history to this, the source said.

“In north Kerala, where the RSS has a base, many swayamsevaks were killed in clashes with the Left. Now, when we are in power at the Centre with a good majority, it won’t do any good to our image if our workers get continually involved in violence,” he added.

“So Tamil Nadu and perhaps Telangana are the best options to tap in the south.”

Asked if the BJP would bite the bullet in Delhi and stitch together a government with Congress defectors and Independents, the source said the party must take a “cautious” call to avert damaging its image.

He stressed, though, that the BJP didn’t need too many defectors. “No MLA from any party wants a mid-term election. But don’t drag Modiji into this — he was not on the scene even when the choice of the new BJP president was made,” the source said.

A decision on Delhi is expected in the next couple of days.

The source also spoke on the BJP’s plans for Maharashtra and Jharkhand — headed for polls this year along with Haryana and Jammu and Kashmir.

In Jharkhand, the party will not project a single chief ministerial candidate but have a tribal face as well as a non-tribal one to please both sections. Former chief minister Arjun Munda is almost certain to be the tribal face but the other slot is undecided.

Asked if it could be Jayant Sinha, Hazaribagh MP and son of Yashwant Sinha, the source seemed to get animated.

“Leaders are not created overnight: leadership is earned with sustained hard work. Do you know that Modi has stayed overnight in virtually every village in Gujarat except for two during the decades he served as a party worker and then the chief minister?” he said.

“Do you know that as an RSS whole-timer and later as a BJP general secretary, Modi camped overnight in most districts of India? That too in workers’ homes, not fancy hotels or even circuit houses. Leaders are found there on the ground.”

In Maharashtra, the source claimed, the BJP was “back on track” after the death of its pan-backward caste leader Gopinath Munde in a road accident last month.

When Shah was in Nagpur on Friday, principally to meet RSS chief Mohanrao Bhagwat, he dined with officials of 30-odd outfits that claim to represent Maharashtra’s nine dominant backward castes.

Shah assured them that the BJP was with them. “He told the local caste leaders to not get exercised about leadership but to work hard to activate the booths. That is the clue to winning or losing,” the source said.

He claimed the “pillars of support” the party had set up for the backward castes would see it through.