Kolkata: With the BJP expecting major gains from West Bengal, where the party has emerged as a force to reckon with, its biggest campaigners — Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party President Amit Shah — are carpet bombing the state canvassing for the Lok Sabha polls.
The charge by Modi and Shah is in keeping with the awareness in the saffron camp that it might not repeat its 2014 feat of nearly sweeping the Hindi heartland states, three of which — Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh — it lost to the Congress in the Assembly polls held in November and December.
Having devised an alternative “Look East” policy , the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is laying great stress on states like Odisha and West Bengal, particularly the latter for having the third highest number of Lok Sabha seats — 42 — after Uttar Pradesh (80) and Maharashtra (48).
Modi and Shah’s frequent visits to West Bengal are an indicator of the importance the BJP attaches to the state in its bid to retain power in New Delhi.
Between March 26 and May 1, that broadly covers the campaign for the first five phases, Modi has held a total of 80 rallies or road shows — 14 less than Shah.
While Uttar Pradesh has seen the most number of rallies and road shows by the two — Modi 13, Shah 12 — Bengal comes second. Modi and Shah have together addressed more rallies in West Bengal than in their home state Gujarat.
Even compared to Maharashtra, which it rules in alliance with the Shiv Sena, the eastern state apparently holds significance in BJP’s scheme of things.
Amid huge crowd turnouts, Modi has held ten rallies in West Bengal including one at the famed Brigade Parade Ground in Kolkata, while Shah has addressed 11 during the March 26-May 1 period.
Riding on the party’s Hindutva and anti-infiltrator planks, Modi and Shah have sought to encash on what the BJP has claimed to be growing disenchantment of the masses with the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress regime.
She has also been attacked over what the saffron outfit calls her strategy of “Muslim appeasement”.
In all their meetings, the two leaders have gone all guns blazing against Banerjee, who has time and again displayed her ambition of playing a key role at the national level.
With the Congress fighting to retain its handful of strongholds and the Left not expected to make much of an impact, the contest in the bulk of the 42 seats in the state is mostly between the BJP and the Trinamool Congress.
In 2014, the Trinamool bagged 34 seats followed by the Congress with four while two seats each were won by the Left Front and the BJP.
Shah, whose plans to undertake “Save Democracy Rath Yatras” in West Bengal in December were foiled by the state government, has hit the campaign trail with a vengeance.
Going hammer and tongs against Banerjee and her Trinamool over alleged corruption and law and order issues, Shah has vowed to throw out of the state “all infiltrators”, likening them to “termites”.
Modi, too, has been unsparing in his attacks against Mamata. Pillorying her over hindering the state’s development, he has sarcastically described her as “speed-breaker didi” and highlighted the Narada, Saradha, and Rose Valley scams.
He has also mentioned “extortion rackets” operating in the garb of syndicates supplying building materials.
Modi also set a lot of tongues wagging with his claims that as many as 40 Trinamool MLAs were in touch with him and would desert the party once the BJP won the poll.
“When the lotus will bloom all over Bengal after May 23, Didi (Banerjee), you will see that your MLAs will also abandon you and run away. Forty of your MLAs are in touch with me even today,” Modi told an election rally in Hooghly district on April 29.
With Bengal voting in all the seven phases of the polls, both Modi and Shah have been trooping down to the state addressing mega rallies before every round. They are likely to hold road shows in Kolkata before the last phase of elections on May 19.
State BJP president Dilip Ghosh said Bengal is the main “target state” for his party. “Naturally, Modi and Shah are holding so many rallies in the state.
“The state leadership has taken BJP to the present position after working hard for three years. But we don’t have that many celebrity leaders in the state. So they (Modi and Shah) are coming so often to lead from the front,” Ghosh told IANS.
However, the Trinamool was dismissive of Modi-Shah’s efforts.
“They will lose wherever Shah-Modi are coming and campaigning. Yes, I have heard that people are attending Modi’s rallies. But they are attending to see PM and his helicopters. People know how much development taken place in the state under Mamata Banerjee, ” Trinamool party leader in Rajya Sabha, Derek O’Brien told IANS.
Apart from Bengal, Modi and Shah have also extensively campaigned in Odisha as also other eastern states — Bihar and Jharkhand. The four eastern states collectively have 117 parliamentary seats of which the NDA in 2014 secured 46 and the BJP’s number was 37.
However, the majority of these wins were from Bihar which it now rules in alliance with the JD-U and Jharkhand where it also runs its government. Of the 63 seats in West Bengal and Odisha, BJP/NDA had won just three seats (one in Odisha).