AS the 2019 Lok Sabha election draws near, politics in West Bengal has taken a new twist with the parties competing to hold yatras (ceremonial processions) and long marches. This form of campaign, alien to Bengal’s political culture, was sparked off by the much-hyped “rath yatra” planned by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The ruling Trinamool Congress immediately countered it with a plan to hold a shuddhikaran, or purification, yatra. Although administrative and judicial hurdles forced the BJP to postpone its rath yatra from the scheduled date of December 7, the battlelines were drawn as the two parties were locked in a tense and violent face-off over the matter.
The BJP had pinned a lot of hope on the rath yatra, which was to have been kicked off by party president Amit Shah, to spike its vote share and consolidate its position at the ground level. Labelling it as a “Save Democracy” yatra was a ploy to kill two birds with one stone—attack the Trinamool government and at the same time extend the BJP’S political reach in its traditional fashion. The 41-day rath yatra was to have taken place in Cooch Behar and Birbhum districts and in Gangasagar in South 24 Paraganas district.
At the outset, Chief Minister and Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee dismissed the BJP’S call for a rath yatra as a political gimmick and announced a “Purification and Unity Yatra”. “I have told my party workers to conduct purification and unity yatras to cleanse the places through which the BJP’S chariots will pass.... It is Ravan yatra [that the BJP is
Competitive “yatras” by the BJP and the ruling Trinamool Congress mark a new twist in West Bengal politics.
ARRANGEMENTS AT the venue on National Highway 31 in Cooch Behar on December 7 in anticipation of a rally to launch the BJP’S rath yatra.