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2024 Polls: Will BJP Triumph In Bengal?

By Radhika Ramaseshan
February 17, 2024 12:51 IST
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Sukanta Majumdar, the state BJP president, said, "Amit Shah has set a target of 35 seats. We will achieve that".

IMAGE: Bharatiya Janata Party leader Amit Shah at a public rally at Dharmatala in Kolkata. West Bengal BJP President Sukanta Majumdar and Leader of the Opposition in the West Bengal assembly Suvendu Adhikari are also present. Photograph: ANI Photo

If Karnataka and Telangana are pivotal to the Bharatiya Janata Party's blueprint to stamp its footprint and expand in the South, West Bengal is central to establishing its presence in the East, notwithstanding its near-dominance in the North East with the help of regional forces.

The BJP entered Bengal with a bang in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, winning 18 of the 42 seats, four less than the Trinamool Congress Party, its principal adversary.

However, the setback in the 2021 assembly election, followed by more reversals in by-polls, including the loss of the Asansol Lok Sabha seat, dampened the state party's morale.

The central command was determined to build on the BJP's status as the main Opposition party in the West Bengal legislature and never double-backed.

With parliamentary polls three months away, the BJP's main agenda is not just to retain the seats it picked up five years ago but to augment the score.

Sukanta Majumdar, the state BJP president, said, "Amit Shah has set a target of 35 seats. We will achieve that; wait and see."

The confidence emanated from the local BJP's assessment that in each parliamentary constituency, Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself commanded a vote share of "5-6 per cent" and with the "appropriate" strategies, a "strong and aggressive" discourse, and unrelenting attacks on the TMC, this quantum would "rise exponentially".

Asked if the figure was based on a survey, Samik Bhattacharya, the West Bengal BJP's chief spokesperson, claimed, "We are day-to-day political activists who have our ears to the ground.

"The only issue before our people is the restoration of democracy, which Mamata Banerjee (the chief minister and TMC chairperson) wiped out because she doesn't believe in the right to dissent."

Suvendu Adhikari, Nandigram MLA and Opposition leader in the assembly, claimed, "There is a pro-Modi storm in the state."

With the collapse of the tentative efforts to build an Opposition coalition of the TMC, the Left Front and the Congress, the BJP will likely be pitted against Mamata, as in the elections of the recent past.

By the BJP's reckoning, the battle might not be as "one-sided" as it publicly hoped for because so far it seemed that Mamata had set the narrative.

"With a powerful regional leader against us, the problem is that state-specific issues get tangled with the central themes on which we want to campaign," a state BJP source conceded.

Mamata flagged the Centre's 'stepmotherly' attitude towards West Bengal through the alleged closure of funds allotted under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) and the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, despite repeated reminders from the state.

At a TMC meeting last November, she exhorted the cadre to protest against the 'freeze' in all election booths on December 2 and 3. She accused Governor C V Ananda Bose of functioning like a 'zamindar'.

'New zamindars have come up in Raj Bhavan; you eat, move, and give prizes on state expenses,' Mamata charged, and she said that assembly sessions were prorogued on the governor's orders.

'You lead colourful lives, and we cannot even pass a single Bill?"]' she alleged.

IMAGE: Suvendu Adhikari, along with other Bharatiya Janata Party MLAs and leaders, celebrate their party's win in the Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan assembly elections, December 4, 2023. Photograph: ANI Photo

Ashok Lahiri, the BJP's Balurghat MLA and a member of the 15th Finance Commission, contended, "What she's saying does not have substance. MGNREGA is an Act, and an Act has certain provisions governing financial probity.

"Article 27 (of the Act) says that if you think there's hanky-panky, appropriate action will be taken by the Centre."

Lahiri said there was no audit report beyond 2017 until one came out in 2022.

"The Centre sent three teams at different points that found certain infirmities. Funds were used for activities not authorised under the Act. There was a huge amount of money for which no utilisation certificate was given."

Majumdar assailed Mamata's latest sit-in to protest the Comptroller and Auditor General of India report, which drew attention to the alleged wrongful use of funds, and asked, "She says the CAG report is false. How can a chief minister say that? The report is based on documents from her government."

While Lahiri said the BJP's campaign would revolve around "corruption (the TMC's) and being long on promises and short on delays", Adhikari and Majumdar flagged the Ayodhya temple.

"The temple has had a good impact on our people," said Adhikari, while Majumdar's take was, "It's an ideological issue and not a political one. But it would have been impossible without Modi".

IMAGE: State BJP Mahila Morcha president Phalguni Patra at a protest by surrounding the police station in the Howrah Sadar organisational district to protest against the alleged oppression of women in the state and the inaction of the state police. Photograph: Kind courtesy BJP West Bengal/X

The West Bengal BJP spared no effort to create the pre-temple consecration atmospherics, using the cadre to convey the message, especially to families in the villages.

The implementation of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, in abeyance after its passage by both Houses of Parliament in 2019, was resurrected by Home Minister Amit Shah at a Kolkata rally in December 2023 and reaffirmed by West Bengal's central ministers, Shantanu Thakur and Nisith Pramanik.

The BJP's problem was that the two largest Dalit communities, the Rajbanshi and Namasudra, which it had wooed and won over to an extent since 2019, were split on the CAA.

The Rajbanshis were not enthused by the Act, fearing that Bengali Hindu refugees from Bangladesh residing in North Bengal would become bona fide Indian citizens.

The Matuas from the Namasudra sub-caste had for long demanded the rehabilitation and resettlement of Hindu Bengali-speaking refugees.

Reconciling the divergent stands taken by two vital sources of its support base is another challenge before the BJP in West Bengal.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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Radhika Ramaseshan
Source: source
India Votes 2024

India Votes 2024