Eye on 2019: BJP begins screening process, several MPs may not make cut

Several sitting members of parliament (MPs) of the Bharatiya Janata Party may not make the cut when the party picks candidates for the next Parliamentary elections due in 2019, two party leaders familiar with the development said, putting this proportion at over 15%.

The two leaders, who asked not to be identified, explained that this is, in part, because the party has decided to use a multi-pronged strategy, including crowd sourcing feedback on its sitting members of Parliament, to decide its slate of candidates.

Last month, a survey was started on the NaMo App, the mobile app of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to elicit public feedback on how people rated their elected representative such as Lok Sabha members, one of the two said. The data is being stored and will be shared internally at the opportune moment, he said.

“This is just one of the many exercises that will be undertaken in the run-up to the next Lok Sabha election to select the best candidates,” the second leader said.

The Prime Minister’s governance strategy depends a lot on crowd sourcing, the second leader said.

“He solicits responses on welfare schemes, other government programmes and even subjects that people would want to hear from the Prime Minister on his monthly mann ki baat radio programme,” the person said.

But this will be just one input in the approach the party will adopt towards picking candidates.

BJP president Amit Shah, the first leader said, has introduced a new method of candidate selection wherein a lot of weightage is given to the findings of independent surveys commissioned by him to decide on candidates. Such surveys have been helpful in the past and the practice will continue in the future, including the next parliamentary election, he said.

There will be a separate exercise, closer to the election, involving the state units and the politicians overseeing them to discuss threadbare the names of potential party candidates capable of winning seats.

This will run parallel to another exercise wherein feedback is sought from the Sangh Parivar, or the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological mentor of the BJP, and its affiliates.

“In most cases, there is a convergence between the outcome of the independent surveys and the response of the Sangh Parivar,” the first leader said. “It limits scope for manipulation, favouritism and helps identify the best candidate who can win election. A two-thirds majority (in the assembly) in states such as Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand would not have been possible without right candidates.”

The two leaders said that the number of MPs who won’t get a chance to be re-elected on the party’s ticket is significant because of two reasons.

First, the BJP fears that about a dozen MPs in Uttar Pradesh will cross over to either the Samajwadi Party or the Bahujan Samaj Party. The two parties have joined hands in the country’s most populous state, which accounts for 80 Lok Sabha seats. That has upset the BJP’s calculation, particularly in western and eastern Uttar Pradesh, where Muslims and Dalits form a sizeable chunk of the voters.

“We will need new candidates in these seats and the candidate selection will be a careful, exhaustive and scientific exercise, given unity among opposition parties,” the first leader said.

Second, the BJP is wary of the performance of a large number of its MPs in northern, western and central India, the three regions which gave the party 232 out of its total tally of 282 seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. It has received negative feedback about them in several surveys conducted by the party and the response from the local units, too, is not enthusiastic. “Then, you have some candidates who are 75-plus. There will be a debate on whether such candidates should get a ticket to Lok Sabha,” the first leader said. The BJP has a broad policy of not giving ministerial positions to leaders above the age of 75. Kalraj Mishra and Najma Heptullah resigned from the union cabinet after they crossed 75. About a dozen BJP MPs would be over the age of 75 by May 2019.

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