WEST BEN­GAL: EN­EMY AT THE GATES

Led by PM Modi and Amit Shah, the BJP plans a blitzkrieg on Ma­mata’s turf to face the ma­ha­gath­band­han head on

India Today - - STATES - By Romita Datta

The united op­po­si­tion, hosted by a beam­ing Ma­mata Ban­er­jee at Kolkata’s Bri­gade Pa­rade Ground on Jan­uary 19, was dis­missed by Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi the same af­ter­noon as cor­rup­tion-tainted lead­ers gang­ing up to save them­selves. Now, the BJP in­tends to sharpen its at­tack on the prospec­tive ma­ha­gath­band­han with a se­ries of ral­lies by Modi and party chief Amit Shah across West Ben­gal, to be rounded off with a mega show in April at the very venue where Ma­mata and oth­ers had vowed to end the BJP’s ‘tyranny’.

From all ac­counts, the BJP is plan­ning a point-by-point re­but­tal of all that the op­po­si­tion lead­ers threw at the party and Modi. Hur­dles along the way are be­ing taken in stride. Like the un­avail­abil­ity of the venue cho­sen for Modi’s Fe­bru­ary 2 rally at Thakur­na­gar in North 24 Par­ganas—due to a pre-book­ing by the Tri­namool Congress (TMC). The BJP per­force shifted its pro­gramme to an al­ter­na­tive site.

Shah’s rally on Jan­uary 29 in the paddy fields of a BJP sup­porter at Kan­thi, East Mid­na­pore, faced un­cer­tainty the night be­fore as the TMC al­legedly forced the own­ers of ad­ja­cent fields to go to the district po­lice de­mand­ing that the crowd should not spill over to their land. On Jan­uary 23, Union min­is­ter Sm­riti Irani had to can­cel her rally at Suri in Birb­hum since the Ma­mata gov­ern­ment sat on the re­quest to al­low her heli­copter to land on a gov­ern­ment he­li­pad. Irani had to land at the Kalaikunda air force base, an hour’s drive from the first rally venue at Jhar­gram. The re­sul­tant de­lays made her miss the sec­ond rally at Suri.

The BJP sees a pat­tern in all this. “The gov­ern­ment used the same dirty tac­tics for Amit Shah’s rally on Jan­uary 22,” says Dilip Ghosh, the party’s state pres­i­dent. Shah gave it back by vow­ing to fight ev­ery inch to up­root the TMC from Ben­gal. “If they don’t

al­low the heli­copter to land, I will ad­dress peo­ple from the chop­per. If they don’t al­low the [save democ­racy] rath [ya­tra], we will take out pro­ces­sions, walk on foot, but we will chal­lenge them,” he said at the rally.

Ex­pect more such ul­ti­ma­tums and war cries as BJP heavy­weights, in­clud­ing Ra­j­nath Singh, Yogi Adityanath and Shivraj Singh Chouhan, get set to ad­dress over 100 ral­lies across 32 Lok Sabha seats in the state in the next two months. In all, the party plans to hold more than 300 ral­lies in the runup to the Lok Sabha elec­tion. “Modi will fo­cus on how such op­por­tunis­tic coali­tions in the past re­sulted in the col­lapse of gov­ern­ments and fre­quent elec­tions,” said BJP state vice-pres­i­dent Jayaprakash Majumdar.

With Shah set­ting a tar­get of at least 22 Lok Sabha seats in 2019, Ma­mata’s turf war with the BJP is in­ten­si­fy­ing by the day. She has al­ready in­structed TMC lead­ers to camp in their re­spec­tive con­stituen­cies and hold counter-ral­lies against the BJP. “Make sure to re­tal­i­ate against them (BJP) wher­ever they come down to spread lies,” she said.

The Jan­uary 19 rally hosted by Ma­mata was a rare com­ing to­gether of over two dozen op­po­si­tion lead­ers from var­i­ous par­ties and ide­o­log­i­cal hues, but the ‘glue’ ce­ment­ing them was Modi and his party. While they all es­poused a com­mon cause, there was pre­dictably no men­tion of who would lead the ma­ha­gath­band­han if it suc­ceeded in top­pling the saf­fron al­liance at the Cen­tre. While Ma­mata had em­pha­sised the im­por­tance of col­lec­tive lead­er­ship, Shah re­sponded with sar­casm at his Jan­uary 22 rally: “This is an al­liance for the lust of power. Re­cently, Ma­mataji brought a hand­ful of lead­ers to the Bri­gade Pa­rade Ground. Of the 23, nine want to be prime min­is­ter,” he said.

The al­liance is grap­pling with fresh chal­lenges. On Jan­uary 28, the Congress’s Malda (North) MP Mausam Be­nazir Noor joined the TMC in the pres­ence of Ma­mata. “Ma­mata talks of a grand al­liance on the one hand and poaches our lead­ers on the other,” said a Congress MP from north Ben­gal on con­di­tion of anonymity. These are chinks in the op­po­si­tion’s ar­mour that Modi and Shah will surely ex­ploit as they criss­cross Ben­gal in the com­ing weeks.

MA­MATA HAS TOLD TMC LEAD­ERS TO HOLD COUNTERRALLIES AGAINST THE BJP IN THEIR CON­STITUEN­CIES

SAF­FRON SURGE Amit Shah with BJP lead­ers at the Jan. 22 rally in Malda

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