After facing reverses in the by-poll elections across the country, the BJP after four year of governance at the Centre is finally waking up to the realities of electoral politics and has embarked on a course correction through Sampark Abhiyan to bolster its prospects in the 2019 general elections. In a series of meetings under the programme, BJP’s chief election strategist and president Amit Shah has met few prominent celebrities including party chiefs of the allies of the NDA government at the Centre. According to the BJP, the idea behind such meetings is to apprise the people of the country about the development works done by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in the last four years. Surely, the saffron brigade is facing the heat a year before the general elections as there is a school of thought which is gaining prominence that the country has deviated from economic progress and there is jobless growth in the country.
In India, election is about perception and the Sampark Abhiyan is an attempt by the party to drive away that image of non-development from the public mind. However, it remains to be seen how much of it would fetch any dividends for the saffron party just ahead of the general elections. Politically, two oldest friends BJP and Shiv Sena are at draggers drawn and Shah, under the Sampark Abhiyan, first met Uddhav Thackrey, chief of Shiv Sena, to mend ways but the results were not encouraging. The Shiv Sena has openly mocked the Sampark Abhiyan and said that the party would contest solo in the 2019 general elections. It further said that the 2019 polls could be the reason behind the BJP chief’s outreach programme. But the ruling party has lost contact with the public and it should find reasons behind it. So it is clear from the reaction of one of its oldest partners that the outreach programme of Shah was necessitated to walk that extra mile to inform the people about the performance of the BJP-led government in the last four years and that the party still has its ear on the ground.
In fact, Modi has been criticized by opposition parties for making grand announcements with little work on the ground. And, in reality, if one takes a stock of the Modi government, it gives an impression that on the economic front the government has not been able to move the country ahead. Job creation, which was a prominent promise before the 2014 elections, has not happened as desired. Unemployment figures in the country are still abysmally very high. On the social front also, it looks as if the country is much divided over religion. Communal politics has reached a new high with politicians openly indulging in venomous speeches against each other. So, on the socio-economic front, the governance was found wanting many times. Be it mob lynching or communal riots in various States, the Modi government has acted or reacted too late. All these factors have led to a perception gaining currency among sections of the people that the NDA government has deviated from its slogan of Sabkaa Saath Sabkaa Vikaas.
Coming back to Assam, the Sarbananda Sonowal-led BJP government in the State completed two years recently. On the completion of the second year, Chief Minister Sonowal gave a detailed summary of the performance of his government. Counting on the achievements, Sonowal said unearthing corruption has been one of the major achievements of his government. On the economic front, however, the Sonowal government, besides organizing the Global Investment Summit, has not done anything commendable to write home about. After organizing the much-hyped event, the government said investors have pledged a Rs 1 lakh crore investment but how much of it has come till date the government does not seem to have any statistics. The unemployment rate in the State is still hovering around the same level as it used be before 2014. Moreover, the law-and-order situation in the State has gone from bad to worse. Mob lynching and moral vigilantism have taken away many innocent lives. The social fabric of the State is also under cloud with both the contentious Citizenship (Amendment Bill) and the update of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) having to have all the makings of creating a rift in the pluralistic society. On the Citizenship Bill, Sonowal is probably facing the biggest test of his political career with protest against the Bill getting louder by every passing day in the Brahmaputra valley. As ordered by his superiors, Sonowal also met certain prominent personalities of the State under the Sampark Abhiyan. He started his outreach campaign by meeting Hiren Gohain, an intellectual, who is a diehard critic of the BJP government. Gohain, who is branded by many BJP leaders as a Leftist, is leading the campaign against the Citizenship Bill and has often questioned the process of update of the NRC. In fact, Sonowal, in a surprise move, also met autorickshaw drivers in the heart of the city and interacted for nearly half an hour.
In governance, there is always a need for connect with the masses and there is nothing wrong in doing so, but if it comes at a time when the public mood is changing, then it clearly a signal of nervousness. A year before the general elections if the signal emanating from BJPs top brass is anything to go by, it could be said with certainty that performance of an united opposition has send some worrying signals to the saffron camp and they are out in the open to counter it.