NEW DELHI: West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s decision to accompany the Prime Minister on his maiden visit to Bangladesh on June 7 is being perceived as a victory for Modi as she had ignored Manmohan Singh’s efforts to rope her into the Teesta treaty. This could also be because she would not like to be pilloried for ignoring national interests for her political state-level gains. While the optics of the visit may signal bonhomie between the two leaders, the BJP is holding its fire for now.
The current comradery may benefit the NDA government at the national level and help it get support for some key bills, but locally BJP finds such ‘closeness’ working against it. “We have enough ammunition. We are just holding our fire till the Bangladesh visit gets over. It’s an international visit so we would wait for it to get over to start our attack on the Trinamool,” a senior BJP leader said, adding the party cannot be seen engaging with the TMC. Sources said issues such as the Burdwan blast, Saradha scam would get impetus along with several new exposés.
Mamata’s accompanying the PM will cement the country’s ties with Bangladesh, BJP feels, adding that electoral gains will be accrued later on. Along with Assam, West Bengal elections—likely during March-April 2016—are crucial for BJP’s eastward rise. Bengal holds a sentimental value for the saffron party as Jan Sangh, BJP’s initial avatar, founder Shyama Prasad Mukherjee was from the state.
With assembly polls due in early 2016, the BJP has started strategising for the polls. Party will informally shortlist over 150 candidates by next month so that they get an early start over their rivals. The BJP will plan for bigger state-wide rallies after the monsoon.
The BJP has divided the state into seven clusters comprising three districts each, with each cluster headed by party leaders. For the state, BJP chief Amit Shah has appointed a 10-member team, including leaders like Nirmala Sitharaman and Babul Supriyo, MP SS Ahluwalia, state prabhari Siddhartnath Singh, state party president Rahul Sinha, BJP joint secretary Shiv Prakash. The RSS, too, is pitching in with its focus on cultivating Hindutva forces in the state.
Bonhomie Factor vs Credible Opponent
Early this month, Union Minister of State, Commerce and Industry (Independent Charge), Nirmala Sitharaman, who is also the minister deputed to look after BJP’s affairs in West Bengal, was quick to dissociate the party from her ministerial colleague Babul Supriyo’s “jhalmuri diplomacy” with state CM and TMC chief Mamata Banerjee.
Sitharaman said there was no “bonhomie” with the TMC. Her statement set the tone for the BJP which found itself humiliated after the April civic polls, as party leaders conceded that one of the reasons for defeat was the perceived “closeness” of two parties at the national level. But for now, it’s a Catch-22 situation for the BJP.
Despite a good performance during the 2014 elections, BJP suffered reverses within a year. A BJP leader explained, “We never had a cadre in Bengal so whatever we got were people from the Left and the Congress who thought we could take on TMC. However, when a message percolated down that BJP that the Centre was trying to woo the TMC, they went back to Left thinking that it was a safer option.”
“It is only when we can assure that we would be a strong opposition that they will support us,” he added, thus explaining why the BJP was at pains to clarify that there was no “bonhomie” with Didi.
Closer home, the BJP is likely to tell the minority in the state that the PM has helped protect them from illegal Bangladeshi immigrants who were eating away their resources. West Bengal’s population has 25.2 per cent Muslims, and all parties have to play their cards well.
Modi’s Lok Sabha poll campaign and the subsequent results gave the BJP a 17 per cent vote share. In terms of BJP’s performance analysed assembly segment wise, the BJP held second and third position in around two dozen seats each, while it was in third position in nearly 135 seats. “This gives us hope if we work hard, we would be able to do well,” a national BJP leader said.
From Street Battles to Court Wars, BJP Readies to Fight on all Fronts in West Bengal
BJP chief Amit Shah blames the biased local police for the party’s complete rout during the April 2015 civic elections in West Bengal. BJP sources said they have been facing increased threats from the TMC cadre and leaders who systematically target the party. To help its cadre, the BJP has engaged an army of lawyers to back their party workers down to the district level. BJP said it has over 700 lawyers associated with it, who will work round-the-clock to extend immediate help to the workers arrested by police or booked in cases.
“Everytime there is a clash with the TMC, our workers are booked under various sections, but police go slow on the other party. We have to be ready to provide immediate help in terms of securing bails, providing legal support to them,” a senior BJP leader said.
A team of two to three lawyers is working for each assembly level, while a bigger team works at the level of High Court to give support to party workers, the leader added. The BJP has also engaged a law firm to help win court wars after pitched street battles.