Shah Turns up the Heat on TMC

India Today - - STATES - By Romita Datta

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


‘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

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