Before the Uttar Pradesh election began, the Bhartiya Janata Party had said Prime Minister Narendra Modi would only address 10-12 rallies over the seven phases of polling between 11 February and 8 March. However, he has already addressed 15 rallies and is all set to address at least 6 more, taking the total number to 21. There could still be even more. That's a ratio of at least 3 rallies per phase.
His last rally will be in Varanasi on 5 March. "The number of rallies has increased because of huge public demand. People want to see, hear and interact with the prime minister everywhere," says BJP spokesperson Chandra Mohan.
"The BJP was overconfident of winning UP. As the phases have gone by, they are trailing behind by a huge margin."
Samajwadi Party leaders, however, say this sounds a lot like Bihar 2014 assembly elections, where the prime minister had stepped up the number of his rallies mid-way, addressing a total of 31 rallies during the election campaign.
"The BJP was overconfident of winning UP. As the phases have gone by, they are trailing behind by a huge margin. That's why the PM has increased his rallies and changed his language from development to communalism," says Samajwadi Party spokesperson Sharvendra Singh.
The mid-way decision to increase his rallies does suggest a change of strategy. Significantly, the frequency of rallies increased after the first two phases, in which many believed the BJP didn't do as well as it expected, thanks to the Jat shift to the Rashtriya Lok Dal.
Before the elections began, the BJP had decided not to overplay the Modi card, for fear of a Bihar-like attack from the SP, which could have turned it into an Akhilesh versus Modi election, just like Bihar became a Nitish versus Modi election. However, as the election narrative failed to become Akhilesh versus Modi, the prime minister has quietly increased the number of rallies.
BJP sources say the number of rallies could be increased even further, and that they are being strategically held in districts the prime minister hasn't visited in over a year.
PM Modi has addressed rallies and public meetings at Meerut, Agra, Ghaziabad, Bijnaur, Badaun, Lakhimpur Kheri, Kannauj, Hardoi, Barabanki, Fatehpur, Urai, Allahabad, Basti, Bahraich and Gonda.
Four of the seven phases are over, the remaining three phases are all in eastern Uttar Pradesh that the SP had swept in 2012 and the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
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