The BJP chief ministers’ ‘review and forward planning’ meetings in Delhi are usually termed routine. But this time around, a buzz surrounds the meet slated to be held at the new BJP headquarters at 6 Deendayal Upadhyaya Marg on Wednesday. The meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah, assumes additional significance for various reasons: First, though the idea to have a structured meeting of chief ministers with party’s central leadership for better coordination and planning smoother delivery mechanism started during NDA-I with Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani at the helm, by February 2018, the party’s organisational structure and its geographical expanse has undergone a sea change.
It is thus only natural the basic contours of the meet and the agenda, in terms of styling and forward planning, would also change. The number of BJP chief ministers and deputy chief ministers are also at a record high: The party has 14 chief ministers and six deputy chief ministers. Of the six deputy chief ministers, four are in BJP-ruled states: Two in Uttar Pradesh, one in Gujarat, one in Arunachal Pradesh. The others are in Jammu and Kashmir and Bihar, where the BJP is in alliance with the PDP and JD(U). Compare this to 2014: BJP was ruling in five states when Modi was leading the charge during the 2014 poll campaign. Thus, having more state leaders than central leaders in the adequately-populated conference room will be a matter of great satisfaction for those attending the meet.
Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh has the distinction being the chief minister who has served the longest (since 7 December, 2003), while Himachal Pradesh chief minister Jairam Thakur is the latest addition (since 27 December, 2017) in the big league. Second, this would be the first occasion for these leaders to visit their new party headquarters: The biggest and most modern political party office in the world for the biggest political party in the world. Third, the meeting is being held after presentation of fifth and final Budget of this Modi government and as final rounds of Assembly elections near ahead of the 2019 general election.
A BJP general secretary, a key central leader responsible for organising this meet, told Firstpost “Wednesday’s meeting continues those held on 21 August and 25 September. The party is in government in so many states, the idea is to have everyone sit together and deliberate on issues of governance and ensure better delivery for poorer sections of society.” Another party leader said the Modicare scheme — promised to provide free medical care of up to Rs five lakh each to 10 crore poor families (about 50 crore beneficiaries assuming five members per family) — announced in the Budget and large number of other schemes announced for farmers and rural India would be discussed in detail.
The focus is on finding ways and means, finding speedier methods to implement these programs in the BJP-ruled states. The idea is that the BJP-ruled states must act as a role model in ensuring last-mile delivery without glitches and without much delay. If the BJP states are able to do that — even if they achieve partial success in delivery — it will set the right note for the party and Modi when campaigning for next round of Assembly elections and later parliamentary election begins.
In the last Budget, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley stressed programmes for farmers, rural sector and Modicare. In fact, Jaitley changed order of content in his all-important speech, putting farming and rural sector at the top, reflecting shift in political and social priority of Modi government. The middle class is now slightly unhappy with Modi government. The government also had to face a great deal of negative publicity due to the Nirav Modi-Mehul Choksi PNB scam. Although the scam was building much before the Modi government assumed office, the fact that Nirav and Mehul fled before law enforcement agencies got their hands on them has gone against the BJP.
However, it remains uncertain whether this will be deliberated or if feedback will be sought by the central leadership from the chief ministers during the meet or on the sidelines. Party leaders are, however, confident that middle class will broadly remain with Modi and BJP and when time comes and show their preference at the polls as they did in Gujarat.
Modi is now focused on connecting with the masses through flagship schemes such as MUDRA, Ujjwala, Ayushman, Saubhagya, Sauchalaya. If Modi can ensure all BJP states make these schemes visible on the ground, he can safely assure a return to power in 2019. Interestingly, this meet is being held just three days ahead of the poll results in three states in North East: Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland. The BJP leaders are very optimistic, even sure of dismantling the Left’s ‘invincible’ citadel of Tripura and red giving way to shiny saffron and uprooting Congress in Meghalaya.
Uppermost in minds of BJP leaders, even if there is no formal deliberation, is the upcoming Karnataka election and after that, the polls in three BJP-ruled states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. This round of Assembly elections will decide whether the head count of BJP chief ministers will increase or decrease at the next such meeting.
Giving Firstpost a sneak peak at part of the meeting’s agenda, which the BJP had, thus far, managed to keep confidential, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan stated, “We will try and arrive at a consensus for holding simultaneous elections for state Assemblies and Parliament.”