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
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