Mandate 2024, Ep 5: Behind the BJP’s political dominance, ‘panna pramukhs’, surveillance and even fear

In the fifth part of this series, Sreenivasan Jain dissects the factors behind the BJP’s political dominance — from its organisational strength, money power to surveillance and fear.

WrittenBy:NL Team

In the Modi-Shah era, the BJP’s rise to power has been marked by deeply disturbing practices – from the selective use of enforcement agencies, to intimidating the media. But the party’s political dominance also derives from its grassroots machinery – a vast cadre base and booth level organisation that is far ahead of its nearest rival, the Congress. 

Some of the BJP’s election machine is fuelled by its deep pockets. And some with a relentless, 24x7 work culture.  

In this episode of Mandate 2024: Claim vs Reality, Sreenivasan Jain examines the contrast between the  organisational strength of the BJP and its main rival, the Congress, that has been severely drubbed by the saffron party in the past two Lok Sabha elections. 

Jain speaks to the workers and leaders of both the parties at Mumbai North Central constituency, where the Congress has fielded four-time MLA Varsha Gaikwad against BJP’s Ujjwal Nikam, a public prosecutor known for securing the conviction of Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Kasab. 

The energy in Gaikwad’s campaign is evidently driven by the presence of its allies, particularly the Shiv Sena Uddhav faction, whose workers hinted at the Congress’ relative lack of ground presence.

On the contrary, the BJP’s presence, on its own, is sizable. Despite Nikam being a fresh face, the party has strong heft on the ground, with political outreach through booth workers, and ward and mandal officers. 

The BJP claims it has a person in charge of each page of a voters’ list – the famed “panna pramukhs” – for the 1600-odd booths in the constituency.  

Rita Bahuguna Joshi, who jumped ship from the Congress to the BJP in 2016, says the Congress has a lot of the workers, but they are “all disoriented”. “We [Congress] worked from event to event. So the outreach was very fragmented…Now with the BJP, there’s a lot of discipline. Every month, they have two or three outreach programmes for the workers. So everyone works at the grassroots.”

The party’s accountability mechanisms, however, purportedly rely on a mix of surveillance and fear. Khushboo Sundar, another leader who crossed over from the Congress to the  BJP says, “There are invisible ghosts in the BJP who monitor you…Like you're working in Tamil Nadu but you’ll have people from Gujarat. You won’t even know.”

“The monitoring really brings in a lot of discipline and...a little fear,” says Joshi. 


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