BAREILLY: For a retired armed forces personnel, Tejpal is a rather busy man these days. A 60-year-old from Thiriya Khurd booth of Meerganj Vidhan Sabha, he starts bright and early. Not for a morning walk or running errands. Rather, with a voter list in his hand, he knocks on his neighbours’ doors to verify their names.
Being a booth-level worker of the BJP in Bareilly’s Meerganj assembly seat, he takes great pride in his new job: verifying voters and helping others get voter ID cards. “BhaJa-Pa (as the BJP is referred in the Hindi belt) mein booth hee sab kuchh hai (Booth means everything in the BJP). Booth mazboot toh party mazboot (The party is as strong as its booth),” he avers.
The exercise is part of the party’s Lok Sabha Sanchalak Samiti initiative ahead of the 2019 polls. The booth is the lowest unit in an electoral battle. That’s where most voters will come in personal contact with a representative of the party. Typically, a booth will have between 1,000 and 1,300 voters.
BJP’s attempt in recent years has been to strengthen its booth-level presence. Every page of a booth-level voter’s list, comprising of some 50 voters, is assigned to a party worker designated a panna pramukh. Every booth typically has some 20 panna pramukhs. Ten-fifteen booths form one sector and 10-15 sectors comprise a mandal. There are 3-5 mandals in an assembly constituency.
With the prime minister enjoining party workers to regularly interact with voters of their respective constituencies and ensure that at least 20 youth and families are working with the party in every polling booth, public representatives have started mapping polling booths and ensuring ground strength.
“Booth management is based on the old technique of man-to-man contact. The basic premise is that the candidate can’t reach out to every voter but a boothlevel worker — who resides in the same mohalla or ward — can,” says Sangit Kumar Ragi, professor, political science, University of Delhi.
The politics of yore had politicians — from seasoned to wannabes — walking the long mile and meeting voters personally on a regular basis. Then a time came when thanks to technology, leaders got distanced from the voters they represent. Today, man-to-man contact is back. “In fact, through booth management, the BJP was able to evolve from being a party of the urban and semi-urban to one with a base in rural areas. Incidentally, technology made the job much easier,” says Ragi.
SOME FORMER BOOTH-LEVEL WORKERS IN BJP
As the BJP sounds the poll bugle for 2019 with the PM himself exhorting its foot soldiers to make “Mere Booth, Sabse Mazboot (my polling booth, the strongest)”, ET Magazine travelled to a key constituency of UP (along with sixtime MP and Union Minister for Labour and Employment Santosh Gangwar) for a closer look at BJP’s booth management strategy.
Welcome to Bareilly, known for its soorma (a kind of kajal), kites, cuisine, baans & barfi (bamboo work & sweets). The Lok Sabha constituency has five assembly seats: Meerganj, Nawabganj, Bhojipura, Bareilly city and Cantt — all held by the BJP. Bareilly division has five Lok Sabha seats: Bareilly, Aonla, Badaun, Shahjahanpur and Pilibhit. Except Badaun — represented by Akhilesh Yadav’s cousin Dharmendra Yadav — rest are with the BJP.
Arms & Armour
Pucca roads from Bareilly city lead us to a nondescript building of one Sant Mangal Puri Inter College in Meerganj. A boothlevel committee meeting is on. Volunteers have assembled under a Jamun tree on the college premises that has doubled up as a meeting point keenly listening to what their president has to say. “Saathiyon, aapko har booth mein jana hai, pachaas vote badane hai, pachaas vote katvane hai (Visit every booth; get 50 new voters added, and get 50 defunct votes deleted),” says Bhagwan Singh. “Get the names of people who are either dead or have migrated, got married elsewhere, or those who have double votes deleted,” he tells the gathering.
For an “ideological party” that gives great importance to organisation and workers, its strategy boils down to booth and youth. “Remember you also have to focus on youth who will turn 18 by Jan 1, 2019. Give them Form 6 and ensure they fill it immediately. Soon it is the turn of district secretary Veerendra Gangwar to speak up.” “Yeh matdaata soochi hee humara hathiyaar hai (This voter list is our weapon). Oil it well and we shall indeed succeed,” says Gangwar. The ubiquity of smartphones means the age-old strategy of person-to-person contact is conducted with the aid of technology.
“Booth management will only get more comprehensive and organised for 2019,” adds Ragi. Party insiders tell us how they plan to have a social media coordinator for every single booth for 2019. “We aim to spread the government message down to the last,” he says. Here is how. “The national team will send their tweets to all states. The state units will then pass it on to each district and the district will then send to each mandal and eventually to the booth worker. He will then send it to his WhatsApp group of voters.”
Opposition, meanwhile, is smelling foul. “In the name of ‘strengthening booth’, they are getting our supporters ‘votes deleted,’ Samajwadi Party president for Uttar Pradesh, Naresh Uttam, tells ET Magazine. All parties allegedly aim at getting the core votes of opposition parties deleted from the electoral rolls. Booth workers typically comprise of panna pramukh, booth adhyaksh and, lately, social media coordinator. They do all the backstage electioneering work, including helping people get voter ID cards, managing the electoral rolls, holding corner meetings and talking up the party’s achievements in the government, canvassing for candidates, arranging vehicles to bring voters to the booth and organising campaign meetings for senior party leaders.
“We have given a list of 23 tasks that a booth worker ought to do. This includes how to induct, who to induct, what to discuss and what not to discuss, among others. This exercise will go on till January after which big and small conventions will be held at booth, mandal and sector level,” says one senior organisation leader of the BJP on the condition of anonymity. The exercise of voters’ verification – whereby workers will visit every household – will go on till October 20. The enormity of this exercise is hard to fathom. There are 1,63,000 booths in UP alone. That means the BJP needs 32 lakh workers just to man booths. This is an increase of 15,000 from the summer of 2017 when the state went to polls. “Booth level committees have been reconstituted at 1,40,400 polling booths,” says the BJP leader.
Back at the meeting at the inter college, all instructions have been given, queries raised and answered. A tollfree number is announced by the conveyor that is keyed in by each worker. Now it’s time for the chief guest to speak. Six-time MP from Bareilly and Union minister for labour and employment rises and does not lose a minute to send the message straight: “Mitron, aap jante ki Chhatra Pal ji (MLA from Baheri assembly seat of Pilibhit Lok Sabha) isse pehle wala chunav (2012 assembly elections) kitne vote se hare they?”
“Atthaara vote se (by 18 votes)”, listeners reply in chorus. Gangwar digs deeper in history and fishes example from other parties. “And in Rajasthan there was one Congress candidate (CP Joshi) who lost by one vote (in 2008) and owing to that, he could not become the chief minister. Ek-ek vote nirnayak hai (each vote is decisive). Due to diligence of our booth-level workers, we won all Bareilly seats by getting 51% vote share. Have you ever wondered what will happen if others (opposition parties) get together? But we can still win by taking each vote seriously and making every booth stronger,” he signs off. The sun is about to set, but not before the minister enjoins workers to carry on the exercise every day, one booth at a time.
Govt may pay part of woman worker’s salary during maternity leave: Santosh Gangwar
Union Minister for Labour and Employment (Independent Charge) Santosh Gangwar tells ET how the government creates an enabling environment for workers. Edited excerpts:
You are a six-time MP from Bareilly. Why aren’t there enough jobs and industry in the constituency?
Bareilly’s problem is not joblessness but a glut of engineering and medical institutions that churn out more students than the market can employ.
What about the situation at an all-India level? The Modi government is often criticised for not creating enough jobs?
Let me clarify: it is not the work of the labour and employment ministry to create jobs. Our work is to create an enabling environment for workers at all levels. Towards that end, the Union government has taken many steps to enhance their working conditions, safety and social security and also to improve their living standards. In the past two years, 1 crore workers have been linked with ESIC (Employees’ State Insurance Corporation) benefits and more than 1 crore have been brought in the fold of the EPFO (Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation). Efforts are on to increase the government’s contribution to new employee’s EPF so that employers don’t have to bear this share. As far as job creation is concerned, lack of data on number of people getting employed is a major hindrance in getting the correct number of jobs created.
What about women employees?
The government increased maternity leaves from 12 to 26 weeks but reports says new hirings for women have actually come down in one year. We are aware of the situation. To check this, the government is considering a scheme under which it will foot a part of the salary of women employees on maternity leave. This will cover women employees across sectors and levels, except Aasha and Aanganwadi workers. This should arrest the fall in women employment that was noticed in the last few quarters.
Recently, there was a mega protest by workers at Jantar Mantar demanding better wages.
There are a slew of measures that the government has announced under the PM’s initiatives such as a social security scheme named the Atal Bimit Vyakti Kalyan Yojna. Some 3.2 crore insured persons will benefit from this newly launched scheme of ESIC that will deposit cash directly into the beneficiary’s bank account in case of unemployment. This cash benefit given to the unemployed will be 25% of his/her average earning of the last 90 days. There are some 40 crore workers in the unorganised sector. The Pradhan Mantri Jeewan Jyoti Beema Yojna and the Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Beema Yojna are totally free for unorganised workers. The honorarium of 14 lakh Aanganwadi workers have been increased from Rs 3,000 to Rs 4,500 a month and that of Aanganwadi helpers from Rs 1,500 to Rs 2,250 a month. The incentive of Aasha workers too has been doubled.
Source: Economic Times