Kolkata: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), flush with funds, is pulling out all stops for a breathless election campaign in West Bengal, with the Modi-Shah duo expected to address over 40 election rallies in the state. This would be the highest number of rallies to be addressed by the duo in any poll-bound state, apart for Uttar Pradesh, which is geographically a much larger state.
In fact, addressing about 40 poll rallies is probably the highest by any Prime Minister in West Bengal in the past 50 years.
Already, the BJP has held five Paribartan Jatras, two of which were inauguarated by former party president and Union home minister Amit Shah and three by current BJP president J P Nadda.
While the saffron party s banking heavily on Modi and Shah to propo up its electoral fortunes in the state, if the Paribartan Jatra and Matrishakti Sammelans held by BJP are not drawing the desired crowd. The Matrishakti Sammelans have been designed keeping in mind that the state Chief Minister is a woman.
Political observers say the resource-rich BJP, after a green signal for the party central leadership, is planning a blitzkrieg to make its presence felt in every nook and corner, including engineering defections, as it did in Tripura in the 2018 Assembly elections
Following the pattern during BJP’s election campaign in Tripura where defections and last-leg rallies by PM Modi in Shantibazaar and Agartala is said to have helped swing the perception its way, the party is planning a similar strategy in West Bengal.
After winning 18 seats in West Bengal in the last Lok Sabha elections, the BJP’s strategy has been to use seasoned campaigners, as it did in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and chart out a defection-based poll strategy.
In Tripura, practically the entire Congress's Tripura unit had shifted loyalty to BJP followed by big time media publicity and propelling the Modi-Shah duo as ‘key attractions’ to gather crowds just before the polls.
The Bengal Campaign
According to sources, the BJP’s campaign strategy in Bengal is to hold big rallies, where two or three aspiring MLAs (mostly those who have switched from Trinamool Congress) will be present. Also, the state has been divided into zones, such as A,B C and D, on the basis of penetration of BJP. So, Malda , Asansol, Raigunj and Cooch Behar falls into Zone A, where hardline Hindutva campaigner, like UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, has been used and where Hindu-Muslim strife has occurred in the past. The idea is to sharpen religious polarisation to garner Hindu votes.
The Lok Sabha seats other than the ones that the BJP won previously fall in the B zone, in C Zone are seats where BJP has not recorded any victory and D zone are those areas where it expects to face a stiff challenge, such as in the Assembly segments under Kolkata South, Jadavpur, Diamond Harbour , Jainagar and Hooghly .
Modi and Shah are scheduled to address rallies in all the four zones, which will have additional ‘star’ campaigners like Smriti Irani in urban areas and Sadhvi Pragya and Yogi Adityanath for already polarised areas, according to inputs from Keshab Bhavan (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh state headquarters in Kolkata ) .
The BJP plans to ‘flood’ all the roads with people in last leg of the campaign (though this time the eight-phase election is bound to stretch the twosome of Modi-Shah), and is using all its might to get the media, especially TV channels, to go whole hog in giving it publicity. This pattern worked for the BJP in Agartala, which is a much smaller state and shorter election duration.
Interestingly, BJP’s investment in state media in the past-two three months has doubled. The party has reportedly also hired social media volunteers on daily wages, most of which is being handed over to unemployed youth. This is apart from the over 1,000 already trained RSS volunteers who have been deputed for BJP’s election campaign. RSS is the ideological mentor of BJP.
After the last Assembly elections in the state, BJP leader Ram Madhav, one of the ‘architects’ of the party’s win in Tripura, was deputed to West Bengal. But he was suddenly withdrawn after Assam finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, an ex- Congressman, Sunil Deodhar of RSS and Union minister Dharmentra Pradhan were assigned the job of daily dealings with BJP cadres and providing inputs to RSS inputs.
Now, nearly a month preceding the polls, the party is sending UP Deputy Chief Minister Keshabprakash Maurya, its MP, Sanjiv Baliyan (accused in the Muzaffarnagar communal riots) and Sunil Bansal, BJP general secretary, who has been given additional responsibility.
It may be recalled that BJP has also posted people among daily commuters to in many suburban railway lines and has formed unofficial cells that are reporting back to the input coordinator of the IT cell personnel deputed in the state, say sources.
BJP’s IT cell chief Amit Malabya , Tejinder Bagga and Kapil Mishra (whose speech against anti-CAA activists preceded the Delhi communal violence last year)are reportedly steering the BJP’s social media campaign and have trained a couple of hundred of volunteers in several districts on how to draw maximum benefits from polarisation in case of any incident of “suitable” nature. They are also trained about the matrix of social media and whispering campaigns to be run in each district.
The RSS’s frontal organisations, such as its school wings like Saraswati Bidyamandirs and Sarada Vidyapeeth teachers have been assigned the responsibility of talking to guardians in an effort to channelise their discontent and also share “suitable” audio-visual clippings in their personal, official and school network.
Even employees of many traders who have strong RSS connections are being inducted within the RSS guided campaign network to campaign for BJP.
Amidst other BJP ‘star’ campaigners who are doing the rounds of the statea re Madhya Pradesh home minister Narottam Mishra, Lok Sabha MP Nishkant Dubey from Jharkhand and Union Minister Dharmendra pradhan, who are mainly concentrating on the Hindi-speaking areas. Dubey and Central oil minister Pradhan have been given additional responsibility of arranging funds for the campaign..
BJP’s campaigners are basically assigned to attack TMC supremo and state chef minister Mamata Banerjee’s Bengali-centric approach, which has landed the saffron party in trouble as it has hardly nay face to sell in the state apart from TMC turncoats, such as Shuvendu Adhikary, Rajib Banerjee , Baishali Dalmiya and Mukul Roy.
The Caste Angle
To demarcate bases where casteism has greener pastures for the BJP rather than communalism (social engineering, as BJP terms it), the party has deputed Delhi MP Ramesh Bidhuri, Rajasthan’s Rajyavardhan Singh Rathod, Gujarat leader Pradip Singh Baghela, Basanta Pandiya, Vinay Sahasrabudhhe and Binod Sonkar, a known ‘master of social engineering’ within RSS circles in New Delhi, say sources.
“In the 1980s, we had 4% of the votes; in the 1990s, this was 10%. In 2014, we reached 17%. After I took charge as state party president, we crossed 35% in the 2018 panchayat elections. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, we crossed 40%. So, you can see the trajectory,” state BJP President Dilip Ghosh was quoted as saying in an interview .
However, the trajectory that Ghosh is referring to, may not stand this time round, which is why the party’s big time splurge on a media blitzkrieg.
Avoidence of Farmers Issues, Privatisation
Prima facie Ghosh’s promise in all the recent rallies has been to build a ‘golden Bengal’ ,and weed out TMS’s corruption. However, the BJP leader has been avoiding saying anything on controversial issues like the massive farmers agitation and privatisation issues during the party’s poll campaign.
Incidentally, till the Left Front government was in office, the BJP struggled to get even 10% vote share in West Bengal. The saffron party’s ‘achhe din’ in Bengal started only after the Left was voted out of office in 2011.
While the BJP is planning to replicate its Tripura model of campaign in West Bengal, what may have worked in a small state like Tripura may not work in a highly populated and bigger state like West Bengal with 30% minority vote and a major chunk of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe Voters who are still not “socially engineered”, as RSS would define it.