The Bapu Sabhagar, a huge convention centre in Patna, was to host a two-day national convention of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s OBC cadre starting on 15 February. Thousands of party workers had gathered from across the country, all of them members of the BJP’s OBC Morcha—a party cell created in 2015 to organise and woo the Other Backward Classes, which many analysts concluded had been crucial to the BJP’s resounding victory in the general election the preceding year.
On the morning of the first day, participants gathered at a conference hall next to the Sabhagar. Each was given a welcome kit, with a jute bag, a notebook and pen, and a scarf printed with the party’s symbol—a lotus. Also included were brochures describing the efforts made specifically for the OBCs by the BJP-led central government, under Narendra Modi. But the gathering never really got going. By lunch, the participants were strolling aimlessly around the premises. The day before, over 40 paramilitary soldiers had been killed in a militant attack in Kashmir, and the country’s attention was fixated there. No one knew if Rajnath Singh, the home minister, would still be coming to inaugurate the event as planned. By 3 pm, the Morcha’s leaders gathered in the Sabhagar. Bhupendra Yadav, a member of the Rajya Sabha and the man put in charge of the BJP’s campaign in Bihar for the looming general election, announced that, in light of the events in Kashmir, the convention was being called off.
But the gathering was hardly a waste. A television journalist covering the BJP office in Patna told me that, just by organising the convention, the party had shown that it was paying serious attention to the OBCs. “Jo message tha sangthan ka, wo toh chala gaya” he told me—The intended message has already gone out.