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BJP's Bengal Overkill

By AMULYA GANGULI
March 11, 2021 08:58 IST
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Left high and dry, the BJP has had no option but to go for the overkill with 800 rallies, including 20 by the prime minister.
In the process, it may be overplaying its card, observes Amulya Ganguli.

IMAGE: Narendra Damodardas Modi, the Bharatiya Janata Party's lead campaigner, with the BJP's latest star member Mithun Chakraborty at an election rally at the Brigade Parade Ground in Kolkata, March 7, 2021. Photograph: Swapan Mahapatra/PTI Photo
 

It is sadly ironical that the tell-tale intimations of the transience of life frustrated the Bharatiya Janata Party's efforts to field the candidates of its choice in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu.

But for Sourav Ganguly's heart problems and Rajnikanth's fluctuating blood pressure, they would have, in all probability, been the party's nominees for the chief ministerial position in the two states.

But, now, the party has none in West Bengal -- Mithun Chakravarty does not fit the bill -- and has to depend on a fragile AIADMK in J Jayalalithaa's absence to cross the electoral rubicon in Tamil Nadu.

If some of the opinion polls are to be believed, the BJP will have to wait for another five years to make its debut in the two states which have always been out of its reach.

Of the two, West Bengal appeared to be almost within its grasp.

The reason is not so much a welling up of religiosity and nationalism in a state which takes pride in its 'progressive' outlook as Mamata Banerjee's fall from grace because of her inability or unwillingness to control her party's lawless cadres, many of whom have drifted into the Trinamool Congress from the CPI-M.

Lack of ideology is another factor.

Mamata's vacuous 'ma, mati, manush' mantra could hardly be enough of a bulwark against the allurements of lucre and protection from the 'caged parrots' or the investigative agencies.

The BJP saw a golden opportunity, therefore, to reap the benefits of Mamata's mistakes.

But it didn't a face.

Having never been a party of any consequence in West Bengal, the BJP has neither a sizeable cadre nor a person to lead them.

The few it does have are either borrowed from Trinamool like Mukul Roy or those who have come up through the ranks, like Dilip Ghosh.

But they lack popular appeal as they have neither the persona nor the intellectual calibre.

The latest acquisitions cannot be projected for the top slot.

Hence, the seeming preference for Sourav, whose popularity is widely acknowledged, especially after the success of his 'dadagiri' shows on television.

But the former Indian captain has kept his cards close to his chest.

Besides, his familiarity with Bengali society and culture will warn him against too close an association with an overtly anti-Muslim party even if sizeable sections of the urban middle class do have reservations about the minorities.

The charge by Suvendu Adhikari that Mamata's victory will turn West Bengal into Kashmir -- presumably a pre-August 5, 2019, Kashmir when terror and separatism were said to be rife -- underlines this toxic middle class mentality.

It is the same accusation which Hindutva campaigners made in Bihar when they said that the BJP's defeat will lead to celebrations in Pakistan.

Against this politically lurid background, Sourav still probably feels safe to keep his distance from the BJP at the moment and wait for the future to decide on his fate.

Left high and dry, the BJP has had no option but to go for the overkill with 800 rallies, including 20 by the prime minister.

It wants to make up for the absence of a face with muscle power.

In the process, however, it may be overplaying its card.

It is not known what effect the prolonged stridency of 'Jai Shri Ram' slogans will have on the genteel Bengali bhadralog psyche unused to the rough-and-ready ways of the Hindi heartland.

If the iteration of Lord Ram's name helps the BJP, the party can pat itself on the back.

But what if it doesn't?

The demoralisation in its ranks, high and low, will be huge.

The BJP is palpably investing an inordinate amount of political capital in West Bengal.

It clearly has the money and the organisational clout to do so.

Moreover, the inputs are unavoidable because the party has to make up a lot of ground because of its unfamiliarity with the Bengali way of life -- the meals shared by Amit Anilchandra Shah in peasants' huts did not have the mandatory fish, an indispensable part of the Bengali cuisine.

Even the poor shun vegetarianism in West Bengal.

The BJP's reputation of being a party of Hindi-speakers from the cow belt is another disadvantage.

It will need a herculean effort, therefore, for the BJP to emerge on top.

Amulya Ganguli is a writer on current affairs.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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