“I am not here to listen how you got beaten up. I know that. I am here to listen to how you have resisted. I am waiting to hear such a story.” This statement by BJP national president Amit Shah during the first of a series of closed-door meetings with party leaders in Kolkata sums up the tone of his visit to the state.
Tough is the word for Amit Shah, who not only came down heavily on West Bengal leaders but, according to party sources, is rethinking on a strategy for the state. He made it clear that West Bengal was prime on his mind and the party will go all out in grabbing power in the state where communal clashes and political violence are on the rise.
The BJP national president expressed his disappointment that so far the party has failed to combat or even respond to the might of the Trinamool Congress at the booth level. The three-day visit saw Shah interact with senior state leaders, party’s grassroots leaders, a group of intellectuals, victims of political violence and even an informal meeting with senior journalists and editors. Like his every visit, he also met with RSS leaders in Bengal. Shah ended his tour with a lunch at a house in a slum area of Cossipore, Kolkata. Interestingly, there was no rally or public meeting, not even a scheduled press conference.
Despite emerging as the main opposition in West Bengal in terms of its vote share (16.4 per cent in 2009 Lok Sabha, 17.2 per cent in 2014 Lok Sabha and 10.7 per cent in 2016 assembly), the party has failed to win not more than two Lok Sabha seats (2014) and six assembly seats (2016 in alliance with GJM). The party came second in municipal polls held in August this year (got vote share of 28 per cent and 41 per cent in Buniadpur and Dhupguri in North Bengal).
Shah, known for his corporate style functioning, was seen quizzing party leaders including senior ones in almost all the meetings. During a meeting with ‘Bistaraks’ in Kolkata, when he asked what they were supposed to say when they visited someone’s residence, there was little response. He also caught senior party leaders off guard by asking them about the yearly eight booth-level programmes which were to be undertaken.
He also asked questions to party leaders on Swami Vivekananda, which some of them failed to answer. Shah began his Kolkata tour by visiting Vivekananda’s ancestral home in North Kolkata on the occasion of his 125th anniversary of his Chicago speech.
The party’s state unit which boasts of over 40 lakh members (made through missed call alerts) in West Bengal was also questioned by the national president. Party leaders were asked to convert these phone numbers to real cadres. Shah also took party leaders to task regarding setting up committees in nearly 75,000 booths in the state.
According to party leaders, the national president wanted the BJP to gear up for a tit-for-tat response to Trinamool Congress, which the cadres have so far failed to carry out. The Narada scam investigation also came up for discussions.
State party leaders have also been told to target Trinamool Congress’ ‘Muslim appeasement’ policy and expect polarisation during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The party aims to bag a big share of the total 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state, which seems to be an uphill task as of now.