MALDA: In a nondescript village in Malda district’s Habibpur, four Tata Ace vehicles (locally known as Chhota Hathi), each carrying four to six giant loudspeakers, are roaming the area non-stop and playing a song — Pishi ebar tumi jao, ashche BJP (Aunty you leave, BJP is coming to power).
This never-seen-before style of campaigning begins sharp at 8 am every morning and continues till the time the locals go home for an early dinner and call it a day.
The vehicles, with lotus everywhere and photos of the BJP candidate in this Assembly constituency, often cross paths with those of their rivals, who are equally armed with loudspeakers blaring a 22-second piece — jora phuler bhangiye neta, sohoj noyko vote e jeta/bondhu ebar khela hobe (winning elections with TMC turncoats won’t happen mate, the game is on).
Bengal has witnessed several high-voltage elections, but the style of campaigning has never been such noisy, ignoring the decibel restrictions prescribed by the pollution control board.
“These vehicles even venture into the remote pockets. Throughout the day, we hear these songs. Both parties are trying to inject their own narratives into the mind of voters. If you pass by a roadside tea stall, you will see youngsters humming these lines,’’ says Swapan Debnath, a local grocery shop owner.
A BJP leader in Malda said that in Habibpur itself, at least 50 vehicles are roaming around.
“For this, we don’t need to engage manpower. One person is driving and songs stored in pen-drives are being played. But yes, you need to spend a lot for this kind of poll campaigning,” he says.
The leader said each driver is given Rs 500 per day other than the fuel charge. This practice is followed in almost all the constituencies in North Dinajpur, South Dinajpur, Alipurduar and Jalpaiguri districts.
The high-decibel campaign in north Bengal’s rural region, comprising six districts from Cooch Behar to Malda, is a part of the high-intensity psychological warfare the two rivals have engaged in.
The saffron camp is desperately trying to create a perception that it has nearly captured power. TMC and its election strategist Prashant Kishore’s team are not lagging behind either.
While BJP and TMC are following high-octane, technology-aided methods to influence voters at the grassroots, the Left Front-Congress-Indian Secular Force (ISF) alliance seems to be preferring the traditional way of reaching out to people.
The alliance is giving importance to door-to-door campaigning.
“We are holding street-corner meetings in remote areas and raising issues the common man can relate to. We are not giving any specific promises like ‘Sonar Bangla’ or providing door-step ration,’’ said Ali Imran Ramz, the Left candidate in North Dinajpur’s Chakulia constituency. He was referring to the poll promises made by BJP and TMC, respectively.
In contrast to the BJP and the TMC campaign fight that primarily takes swipe at each other, the alliance is highlighting the issues of joblessness, anarchy in the field of education, poor healthcare system and the stalled industrialisation in the state.
The psychological war between the BJP and the TMC to create perception seems to have an impact on floating voters in the rural pockets of northern West Bengal.
In Malda’s Ratua village, Zulfiquar Ali, a 28-year-old jobless youth who helps his father in farming, usually refrains from politics and other related issues.
“But this time, I am keeping a tab on the happening and campaigns more closely than ever. It is an unprecedented election. Those who quite frankly expressed their political view even a couple of months ago have now gone tightlipped. Both sides are bluffing and both sides are getting their bluffs called out,’’ Ali said. “One of the results of this high-decibel propaganda war of exposing and exaggerating the weakness in the rival camp is that the real issues are getting buried.”
The jobless villager’s view is seconded by a teacher of a girls’ high school in Malda town.
“The propaganda war is intense. It seems either both the BJP and the TMC are on the same ground because supporters are both camps stand clueless about the outcome. What I found is interesting that a section of TMC supporters think the party may not return to power, while supporters of BJP think Mamata is likely to sail through,’’ said the teacher who refused to be named.
The psychological war of the main opposition and the ruling party reached its peak after Nandigram went to polls on April 1.
Mamata contested in the high-profile seat against her once trusted lieutenant Suvendu Adhikari.
Once the election in Nandigram was over, the BJP’s high command, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah started trying to create an impression that Mamata would lose to Adhikari by a big margin.