Its shadowy political strength in West Bengal notwithstanding, the BJP on Wednesday managed to assemble a crowd of “eight lakh people” for its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi’s rally at the Brigade Parade Ground. But what seemed to split the opinion on the crowd was where the people had come from.
While the party’s state president, Rahul Sinha, firmly held that the “eight lakh people had gathered from across the state,” those from the crowd said how “interesting” and “free” their ride from their native states – Jharkhand, Bihar, Assam – to the City of Joy had been.
“We had come yesterday and spent the night at Howrah Station. The party people had provided us with khichdi and roti-sabzi in the morning. We came because of (BJP leader) Arjun Munda’s influence in Jharkhand,” Sudama Yadav, a resident of Giridih in Jharkhand, said. Munda was one of the guests on stage, along with Modi and BJP national president Rajnath Singh.
“We didn’t have to pay for the train fare. The partymen said if we wear the badge, no one would ask us for the tickets. The party had taken care of the meals. After the rally, we plan to visit some interesting places in Kolkata and will either return late tonight or early tomorrow,” 30-year-old Narayan Yadav, also from Jharkhand, said.
And then there were some for whom the significance of the rally was secondary. “Yahan pe aane ka achha bahana thha (It was a nice excuse to come to Kolkata),” Nunu Ram Paswan, a Jharkhand resident, said. “Many of my relatives work here and I might get an employment here. After the rally, I will visit some of my acquaintances who work here and see if I can get a job too,” he explained.
Paswan was indifferent to the notion that his visit was a statistic when put in the party’s context of assembling “a large gathering”. “For me, it was an opportunity to visit Kolkata for free,” he said.
The party’s state president, meanwhile, refuted that people from other states had come. “No one had come from any other place. They were all from across the state.” When he was informed of the specific details of the people from Jharkhand, he signed them off as “one or two stray cases” and “not more than that”.
Narayan Yadav pointed out they were not “isolated cases”. “There must have been at least 2000 people from Jharkhand alone, and then there were people who had turned up from Bihar and Assam as well,” he said.