Arun Singh interview: ‘In Odisha, Modi’s name, popularity worked most for BJP’

In Odisha, it was Narendra Modi’s name and his popularity that worked most for BJP. The Modi wave worked wonders for us, says Arun Singh.

When BJP president Amit Shah decided to strengthen the party’s organisation in Odisha, one of the states he set as a target for expanding the party’s growth, he picked BJP national general secretary Arun Singh, one of his trusted organisation leader, as the party’s in-charge for the state. Singh tells LIZ MATHEW how the BJP increased its tally from one Lok Sabha seat in Odisha in 2014 to eight this time:

What worked in BJP’s favour in Odisha?

In Odisha, it was Narendra Modi’s name and his popularity that worked most for BJP. Then (come) the strength of the organisation and quality of Lok Sabha candidates. The Modi wave worked wonders for us.

Were the results as expected?

We were expecting more seats, but our vote share has seen a huge jump — it was 21.5 per cent in the last Lok Sabha polls; it is 38.6 per cent this time. We were expecting more (seats), including Puri and Kendrapara. In Kendrapara, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik camped for three days and unleashed his government machinery there.

READ | Rivals call BJP’s Odisha growth ‘one-time benefit of Congress votes’

What was the condition of the organisation in 2014? How is it different now?

The BJP under the leadership of Amit Shah has gone really ahead as far as the organisation aspect is concerned. Compared to 2014, the organisation is 10-times stronger. We had only 550 mandals (then); now we have increased it to 1,001. Our party president made it a point to visit the state and travelled across the state frequently. He had even put up posters of ‘mera booth sabse mazboot (my booth is the strongest)’ in the state.

We have had a number of activities, agitations and programmes at different levels. Our focus in those programmes was on failure of the (Naveen Patnaik) government on various fronts.

Why did BJP not do well in the Assembly polls?

Our vote share has increased from 18.5 per cent to 32 per cent (in Assembly elections). But we could not project ourselves as an alternative to the Naveen Patnaik government in the state. The Congress has been wiped out. We should have got the entire (share of) Congress votes and the BJD’s votes, but the Congress votes went to the BJD as well. Our focus was on Lok Sabha polls. People did not see us as an alternative to Naveen Patnaik. There was anti-incumbency against his (Patnaik’s) government, but not against him personally.

What did you do to build the organisation in Odisha?

Our focus was on the ground level. There were many agitations against the (state) government. There were rallies; schemes of the Modi government were introduced successfully. Three schemes —Ujjwala, Ayushman Bharat and PMKISAN — had Odisha as one of its focus in their implementation.

Do you think the BJP could have won more seats if the party machinery was stronger in some constituencies?

The BJP has done well, and we have become really stronger in Lok Sabha. What was at play in Odisha was the state machinery. The government had unleashed a number of programmes in which people would get money just before the election, which were meant for winning election.

What will you do next in Odisha?

Now the MPs who won will have to see that the organisation maintains its strength and converts it into votes. The party will occupy them with a mission to spread the programmes. The efforts to strengthen the organisation will continue.

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