IT CAME AS NO SURPRISE when Prime Minister Narendra Modi praised Gujarat BJP president C.R. Paatil for the party’s big win in the assembly elections, securing 156 of 182 seats and 52.52 per cent votes. It was a campaign model devised by Paatil―tried and tested in his Navsari Lok Sabha constituency―that helped the BJP register the thumping victory. He won the 2019 Lok Sabha election by a margin of 6.89 lakh votes without addressing even a single public meeting. In fact, he was barely there in the constituency, as he was busy managing Modi’s campaign in Varanasi.
On the electoral roll in Gujarat, there are 30 voters on one page. Paatil’s method involves identifying five voters from these 30 and asking them if they would like to become page committee members. One of these five is selected as the page president. This team works tirelessly in close coordination with the office-bearers of the party.
The system has been very effective in Gujarat, and the party is planning to use it in other states going to the polls this year, said Yagnesh Dave, one of the key persons who monitor the exercise in Gujarat. Uttar Pradesh already has page committee presidents.
The page committee members remain constantly in touch with the other voters on the page and make sure that they cast their votes. “In this assembly election, the voting pattern was observed at each of the booths till 12pm. Wherever the voter turnout was weak, the party called up the page committee members to ensure voting,” said Dave.
With its characteristic efficiency, the BJP has outsourced to call centres the task of connecting to page members. Some of these call centres are not even in Gujarat.
In 2020, the BJP used the system in the byelections to eight assembly seats and it won all eight. It was also used in the civic polls in the state. It is, however, not restricted to elections, as page committee members proactively try to address the problems of voters assigned to them. And there is a structured system to make it work. Above the page committee presidents, there are booth committee members and booth in-charges; then there is the district level support; and above that is the state executive committee, which reports to the state president.
“It is about the organisation and administration working together,” said Kashyap Kotecha, a booth in-charge from Vejalpur constituency. “When we visit the voters, it results in an informal survey about what a person wants. We connect with the agencies concerned and try to resolve the problems as soon as possible.”
While most political parties struggle to get volunteers during elections to handle booths, it is just another day for the BJP in Gujarat. The page committees are also a means to propagate the party’s ideology. “The page committee members get a feeling of family,” said Hitesh Patel, 60, a senior BJP member, who is also a page committee president. “Getting tiffins from home once or twice in a year and eating together in a group of 50 to 100 is something that happens only in the BJP―tiffin baithak.” The page presidents have identity cards and get greetings from the state party president on their birthdays and wedding anniversaries.
Taking the system to other states, however, might not be that easy. The BJP already has a strong base in Gujarat and finding page committee members is not that difficult there. That might not be the case in other states where political affiliations and demographics vary. In fact, in a Muslim majority assembly constituency in Ahmedabad, most page committees are said to have just two members each for want of inclined voters.
And, it is not easy to keep them active throughout. For instance, there are around 52,000 booths in Gujarat, and one booth has 30 to 35 pages. The BJP had 81 lakh page committee members and 15 lakh page committee presidents, said Dave. “We know that not all can be working when there is a programme or they are required. Some may be inactive and some may have genuine reasons. We estimate that 30 per cent of the members will be inactive and the enrolments are done keeping this in mind,” he said.
Some critics say there were cases when people were made page committee members without their consent. The BJP, however, said the phone numbers and Aadhaar cards of the persons were verified before appointing page committee members.
Political analyst Hari Desai said the system was effective in a way as it accommodated the so-called local leaders. “They think that they are holding some important position,” he said. “The members love to be associated with the BJP’s apparatus as the party has been in power for quite a long time.”