Localised, Quieter Organisational Activities: Under lockdown, BJP leaders focus on community kitchens, reaching rations

Liz Mathew
Under lockdown, BJP leaders focus on community kitchens, reaching rations

Lok Sabha MP and Bihar’s BJP state unit chief Sanjay Jaiswal doing echocardiography of a patient.

For the last six years, BJP office-bearers and MPs have been used to doing party's organisational tasks in non-election times – such as membership drive, mobilisation of beneficiaries of government schemes, or conducting outreach programmes. All that has changed now.

Amid a deepening uncertainty and growing anxiety over the spread of coronavirus and the nationwide lockdown, the nature of their work has taken a turn. As a result, party office-bearers, of criss-crossing states, are now coordinating community kitchens and distribution of ration to the poor, and monitoring the pandemic over telephone and through conference calls and video-conferencing.

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Soon after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the Janata Curfew on March 22, BJP president J P Nadda and general secretary (organisation) B L Santosh made swift decisions to shape and guide the party's course of action – at least for a month.

Just over a week later, each BJP office-bearer and MP makes an average 80-90 phone calls each day, attend at least four video conferences and spends 10-12 hours in coordinating various activities, party leaders told The Indian Express.

The party has given instructions for community kitchens to be run in each district and asked each party worker to provide food to at least five people and make dry ration available for those who cannot access it. To be sure that the political messaging is not lost, each state has named the meal after the Prime Minister --– so while the community kitchen is named 'Modi Roti Bank' in Uttar Pradesh, it is 'Modi Ahaar' in Jharkhand and 'Modi Anna' in Odisha.

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“All this is done while maintaining social distancing. There could be some minor aberrations to lockdown, but no compromise on social distancing,” BJP general secretary P Muralidhar Rao told The Indian Express.

While Rao is coordinating party's community activities in the southern states, especially in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, Fellow party general-secretary Anil Jain keeps track of these activities in Haryana and Chhattisgarh. For Jain, the day starts early with yoga and puja, before he gets on telephone calls and video-conferencing with state ministers and district in-charges from 11 am. “We collect daily reports from them and submit it to the central office. There is a meeting of general-secretaries with Nadda-ji at 7 pm every day on Skype,” he said.

With instructions to launch a 'mask movement', Jain has outsourced making of these masks to an NGO run by his wife – they get clean old clothes, disinfect them and stitch masks. Being a doctor, he says such masks are not foolproof but they “also help”.

Activities are smoother in BJP-ruled states, but in states such as Odisha, BJP workers “feel pressure” from the local authorities. “At some places we are denied passes by the local authorities. It is a tough task, as the Naveen Patnaik government has established a wide network for welfare schemes,” a party leader from Odisha said on the condition of anonymity.

With political activities at a standstill even in Bihar, where Vidhan Sabha polls are due later this year, BJP state chief Sanjay Jaiswal confines outreach programes into community activities such as creating a helpline number for workers from the state who are employed outside Bihar and are returning after the lockdown. “The helpline has already helped around 4,200 people in the last five days. We reach help and follow up on each call. We are getting nearly 1,500 calls every day,” he said.

Jaiswal, a heart surgeon, and his gynecologist-wife pack food for at least 100 people each day and distribute it at the local government hospital. They have also brought together a group of doctors from private hospitals for a 24-hour medical service cell. Jaiswal said he treats at least 8-10 patients a day during the break.

Lok Sabha MP from Kaushambi, Uttar Pradesh, Vinod Bansal, is tasked with coordinating the vehicles that have gone out to spread Modi's appeal for social distancing in five Assembly constituencies in his constituency.

BJP vice-president Baijayant Panda, who was in Bhubaneshwar before the lockdown. said he works 12-14 hours a day, as he coordinates party activities in Jharkhand. “I hold video-conferening every day with Union ministers Dharmendra Pradhan and Pratap Chandra Sarangi; the BJP state president and core group members to take stock of the activities. Another video conference with national office-bearers is held, and in the evening party the president holds a meeting,” Panda said.

Besides running community kitchen for at least 650 people and distributing dry rations, BJP MP from Ayodhya Lallu Singh ensures that 20 kg gram is provided to monkeys at different places in Ayodhya. His niece makes home-made hand sanitiser using spirit, aloe vera, neem leaves and camphor, and party workers distribute them among the villagers. Singh's day starts with a puja and he watches 'Ramayan' on TV with family members before meeting people at 11 am.

“Despite requests from the temple, I decided not to visit on Ram Navami. When I ask people to stay away from such gatherings, how can I visit the temple,” he asked.

The leaders said despite the lockdown and the stay-at-home policy, they hardly get time to pursue any hobby. “I usually finish a book every week, but I just could finish what I was reading – 10% Less Democracy: Why You Should Trust Elites a Little More and the Masses a Little Less (Garett Jones) – because there is so much to do,” Panda said.

Jain has started 'Sixteen Stormy Days: The Story of the First Amendment of the Constitution of India' by Tripurdaman Singh.