Shah Turns up the Heat on TMC
He did not mince his words. “I am Amit Shah. I have come here to uproot the Trinamool Congress,” the BJP president had thundered to a 200,000-strong crowd in North Kolkata in December 2014. Shah was responding to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s disparaging reference to him as some “Haridas Pal (average Joe)”.
Since that day, Shah has been assiduously chipping away at the TMC’s base in West Bengal, making three trips so far—most recently on April 25—holding closed-door meetings and addressing rallies. “The BJP has identified 12 states where it’s weak and needs to improve its tally of MPs,” says West Bengal BJP chief Dilip Ghosh. “Amit Shah is touring these states to strengthen the party organisation.” Ghosh is confident Shah’s efforts will ensure more BJP MPs from the state in the 2019 elections.
In the previous Lok Sabha election, the BJP gave the TMC a tough fight in several seats. The party is eyeing these for 2019. To that end, the BJP’s Rajnath Singh, Ravishankar Prasad, Smriti Irani and Uma Bharti have been regularly visiting these areas.
Of late, the TMC is beginning to worry about a possible groundswell of opinion in the BJP’s favour. On Ramnavami this year, Kolkata’s streets for the first time witnessed processions by BJP workers, who were brandishing swords and chanting
22 PER CENT jump in BJP’s vote share in recent Contai (South) by-election
THE BJP IS CONFIDENT AMIT SHAH’S EFFORTS IN BENGAL WILL ENSURE MORE WINS IN THE 2019 LOK SABHA ELECTIONS
‘Jai Shri Ram’. Many, including Ghosh, were booked under the Arms Act, but they dared Mamata to arrest them. Ghosh claimed other communities were allowed to carry weapons during religious processions.
Recognising this as a strategy to wean away her Hindu voters, Mamata has asked her supporters to celebrate Hanuman Jayanti. “The BJP is trying to divide the electorate over religion. The impact of such polarisation could be scary,” says a senior TMC minister, evidently also worried at reports of Congress and Left supporters gravitating towards the BJP.
In the recent Contai (South) by-election in East Midnapore, the BJP’s vote share jumped 22 per cent while the Left Front’s plummeted 24 per cent. Although TMC candidate Chandrima Bhattacharjee won by a margin of over 40,000 votes, the BJP pulled off a big surprise by leaving the Left and the Congress a distant third and fourth. East Midnapore has been a TMC bastion.
“It (the BJP surge) is an indication that many other supposed strongholds of the TMC may be witnessing a Hindu uprising,” says political analyst Biswanath Chakrabarty.
A petulant Mamata said, “I am not concerned with who is second and who is third. We are first.” But even she hasn’t been sitting idle. Didi is holding a series of administrative meetings in north Bengal, where the BJP has gained strength, and is reportedly all set to distribute doles to win back disgruntled voters.
ON A HIGH Amit Shah launching the Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay Vistarak Yojana in West Bengal