Mumbai: Back-to-back stinging poll reverses for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), first in the Legislative Council elections of February 2 and now in the March 2, Legislative Assembly by-elections to Kasba Peth and Chinchwad constituencies, point fingers at its much-vaunted polling booth level management failing spectacularly.
In both the set of elections, besides the political blunders that the state BJP leadership committed in its decision making, one common thread in both the elections was the spectacular and abject failure of its polling booth level management.
Much of BJP’s recent election success stories had much to do with its famed well-oiled poll management machinery delivering the goods at the polling booth level. According to experts and cynical BJP supporters in Kasba Peth at least, the defeat of Hemant Rasane to Congress candidate Ravindra Dhangekar was not just about to politically evenly matched candidates, but it was the failure of BJPs grassroots poll booth machinery failing to draw its committed voters to the polling booth.
One of the reasons for failing to draw the committed BJP voter to the polling booth in both Kasba Peth and Chinchwad assembly by-polls was that the party relied heavily on its young Turks, tech-savvy social media and IT cell party office bearers to run its election campaign and draw its committed voters to the polling booths.
The party bosses must have by now realised the folly of being taken for a ride or they themselves getting carried away by the presentations and social media campaigns that in reality failed to translate into over-pouring of popular voter turnout at the polling booths.
The state party-bosses appear to have simply dumped its former party boss Amit Shah’s ‘Panna Pramukh’ (Poll Booth In-charge) strategy of making the polling booth level party worker important and giving him or her the responsibility of ensuring the committed voters turned up to the polling booth to vote for the party.
Already the sizeable Brahmin voters of Kasba Peth were mighty miffed at the BJP overlooking the candidature of Shailesh Tilak and his son Kunal Tilak to retain the seat banking on the sympathy wave factor following the demise of its sitting MLA late Mukta Tilak.
Also Read: ECI final order in Shiv Sena dispute case, a grim warning to all the political parties on their internal democracy
The resentment amongst the sizeable Brahmin community against the BJP was also because of its decision in October 2019 assembly polls to replace its sitting MLA Medha Kulkarni and instead nominate state party president Chandrakant Patil, who is considered as a rank outsider to the constituency as he hails from Kolhapur.
Secondly, the party after somehow having clamed down the anger of the Brahmin community in the Kothrud polls, appeared once again apprehensive of nominating another candidate from the community.
It eventually fell into the electoral trap laid by its rival Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA), rebel Uddhav Thackeray Shiv Sena faction, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress. The MVA was quick to latch on to the dithering, vacillating BJP, painting it as an anti-Brahmin community which spooked the already angry Brahmin community.
A closer examination of the polling booth level voting in Kasba Peth assembly seat reveals a sizable swing of 8,215 votes in favour of Dhangekar. Assembly by-elections are always marred by low voter turnouts, are often bereft of any wave that usually is prevalent during general elections, generally tend to be anti-establishment and appear to be localised.
What is even more embarrassing for the poll managers in the BJP is that there were only 270 polling booths to manage in Kasba Peth assembly constituency. Out of these, Dhangekar got lead margins in 161 booths as against 107 booth margins for Rasane. There were only two polling booths that saw divided voter loyalty towards both the candidates.
Dhangekar trounced Rasane by a margin of 10,915 votes to wrest the BJPs traditional stronghold, it was largely possible because of the 8,215-vote swing away from the BJP borne largely out of an angry electorate teaching the party a lesson for taking them for granted.
It also must be borne in mind that given such under-currents of voter animosity, Assembly or Lok Sabha by-elections are no barometer for things to come. Tides and fortunes can change dramatically. But if the party bosses fail to read the straws in the wind, then an electoral doom is certain.
In Chinchwad assembly by-polls were it not for the presence of UBT Sena rebel Independent candidate Rahul Kalate splitting the anti-BJP votes, it was a certain uphill task for BJP and Ashwini Jagtap to retain the seat.
Out of the total 44,112 votes polled by Kalate, a sizable of them around 17,100 votes came from 140 polling booths where he had polled anywhere between in excess of 100 to 200 votes. The rest of the anti-establishment votes he chipped away in the rest of 370 polling booths, out of the 510 polling booths in the assembly constituency.
Jagtap defeated her nearest NCP rival Vithal @ Nana Kate by a margin of 36,168 votes. Considering Kalate’s 44,112 votes polled, it reflects a clear split of 7,944 anti-BJP votes.
Almost a month ago, similar history had repeated itself in the February 2 Legislative Council elections to the twin seats of Amravati Graduates and Nagpur Teachers constituencies in BJPs Vidarbha stronghold.
In these polls what stunned pollsters was that a party which prides itself at being masters in handling Legislative Council elections and preferential system of voting, simply did not read the changed mood of the electorate. In recent years the partys poll managers have all but given up on enrolling new graduates and teachers in the voters list for these types of constituencies.
Here too again the party had failed to read the poll winds that cried for fresh new faces in the poll fray. Besides, another contributing factor according to local party insiders was the taken for granted attitude of the local IT Cell driven poll managers who relied more on social media campaigns rather than on ground direct voter mass contact program.
The party now seems to have taken note of the warning signals flashed by these recent poll reversals and set up a three-member panel for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. The party has constituted a panel of three-party general secretaries – Vinod Tawde as its convenor, with Sunil Bansal and Tarun Chug as its other two members.
The team will draw up strategies and plans for the central and state leaders poll tours, focus on seats where the party came second, mass voter contact programs, organisational poll strategies, constituency specific poll issues, topics for poll speeches of leaders and other poll related factors.
The task is an uphill one to beat yet another anti-incumbency factor and also fix the glaring loopholes of over reliance on social media influencers and taking voters for granted. Maharashtra polls have served as a warning signal for the party top brass, but the question is have the signs been heeded or not, only time will tell!