From lining up six rallies by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to deputing seasoned poll managers to sharpen electioneering, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is pulling out all stops in West Bengal ahead of the last two phases of the general elections.
With 17 of the state’s 42 Lok Sabha seats going to the polls on May 12 and 19, the BJP is aspiring to pull off as good a showing in Bengal as it did in Uttar Pradesh in 2014 (it had won 71 of 80 seats). Locked in a no-holds-barred contest with Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC), the saffron party has set itself the ambitious target of winning 20-plus seats in the state.
Apart from six rallies by the Prime Minister, BJP national president Amit Shah is scheduled to hold a rally in Kolkata’s Jadavpur on May 13, followed by a roadshow in the city. The party is hoping these events will give a fillip to its voter outreach. It has also deputed senior leaders Himanta Biswa Sarma, Sunil Deodhar and Arvind Menon to chalk out strategy.
Sunil Deodhar: Deodhar, who shot to fame after handling PM Modi’s Varanasi constituency in 2014 and is credited with the BJP’s big win in the communist bastion of Tripura in 2018, has now been drafted in for Bengal. He said just as the BJP’s 2014 victory in Uttar Pradesh had come as a surprise, the 2019 Bengal results would be a revelation.
“In Bengal, the election is between the people and the police — while the people are with the BJP, the police are with the TMC and guilty of carrying out excesses against the people. What the CPM [Communist Party of India – Marxist] was doing in Tripura is what the TMC is doing here, the only difference being that Mamata Banerjee has no control over her party cadre,” Deodhar, who was also in charge of the 2019 Andhra Pradesh campaign, said.
He said efforts were underway to strengthen booth-level management, ensure a large turnout and push for deployment of more central forces in the last two phases.
Himanta Biswa Sarma: Sarma, who is the Assam finance minister and a key functionary overseeing polls in the Northeast, has begun work in the state where the BJP is expecting to coalesce Hindu voters, party officials aware of developments said. He is also credited with bringing back the Asom Gana Parishad into the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) fold after the fallout over the Citizenship Amendment Bill. Sarma could not be reached for comment.
“His rallies are well attended; he brings in a lot of energy and connects with the crowds. He is good with strategy in critical situations,” said a BJP functionary in Bengal on condition of anonymity.
Arvind Menon: A Bengali-speaking Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) man, Menon has been made co-in-charge of Bengal. He played a key role in the 2017 Gujarat assembly election.
“Menon speaks little but has used his RSS training to build the party from the grassroots. The party’s presence has grown across the state and it is no longer supported only in urban areas,” the functionary quoted above said.
The RSS, too, has been pitching in. As in other states, its workers have been doing door-to-door campaigning to enthuse people to go out and vote.
A senior RSS functionary said the BJP’s assertion that both its seats and vote share would increase was not without reason. He said the party vote share had gone up from 4% in the 2011 assembly polls to 10.16% in 2016. Besides, the BJP coming a close second in a number of panchayat seats in the March panchayat elections had stirred hope that it would better its 2014 vote share of 17%.
In the panchayat polls, the BJP made gains in tribal areas and in districts such as Purulia and Jhargram, which were considered Maoist bastions.
According to Rakesh Sinha, BJP Rajya Sabha MP, “West Bengal developed a dislike for Mamata Banerjee because of her extreme love for politics of minority appeasement and her anti-Hindu attitude. Her consistent anti-federal stance and extremely hateful utterances against Narendra Modi alienated her from the masses. Another factor which weakened her is that the TMC as an organisation has crumbled and there is no bridge between her and the masses.”
Former Union railway minister and Trinamool MP Dinesh Trivedi said, “The BJP has no idea about the spirit of India, leave alone Bengal. There have been attempts to divide India on religious lines; the British tried, the Mughals tried but couldn’t. Pakistan’s agenda is to weaken India and divide it on religious lines. The BJP directly or indirectly is carrying forward that agenda of dividing the country on religious basis. But India has stood firm and won’t be divided. If BJP continues like this, it will in the future be reduced to what it started from — two seats in the Lok Sabha.”
May 09, 2019 07:54 IST
BJP sharpens its election pitch in Bengal for last two phases – Hindustan Times