BJP general secretary Varun Gandhi has said that the size of the crowd at Narendra Modi’s election rally in Kolkata on Wednesday was perhaps a fourth of what his party colleagues have claimed, and that the meeting was just about an “okay” success.
Asked about the rally and the supposedly “huge” turnout, Varun, who also has special charge of West Bengal for the BJP central leadership, said on Thursday, “It was okay.”
Asked why he did not think it was excellent, Varun said, “You have got the figures wrong. It is not true that 200,000 plus people turned up at the meeting. The crowd was at the most 45,000 to 50,000.”
Reporters covering the event had made visual estimates of the size of the crowd, backed by the assessment of the police. State BJP leaders have been euphoric about the turnout at Brigade Parade Ground, historically the venue for massive rallies by the Left Front and Trinamool governments, and their estimates have varied from 3 lakh to 8 lakh.
Tathagata Roy, former state BJP president, said over 300,000 people had come to listen to Modi, and over 50,000 had been stopped on their way to the Brigade by TMC cadres.
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Asked what he thought of the content of the speeches by Modi and BJP president Rajnath Singh, Varun said: “I am not to comment on that. You should ask state leaders like (state unit president) Rahul Sinha.”
State BJP leaders were disappointed on Wednesday at what they perceived as Modi and Rajnath going soft on the Trinamool government.
On Thursday, a defensive Sinha said that it was possibly the expectations of the media — and not of the crowd — that the two top leaders had failed to meet.
“Central leaders are expected to follow a national perspective, and focus on national leaders, not state leaders. The state is our domain. Mamata Banerjee is not a national leader on whom Modiji or Rajnath Singh would dwell,” Sinha said. “We have spent 10 years together and know what stuff she is made of. We will not make the same mistake again. She is not to be taken into the BJP’s house.”
Tathagata Roy said: “Central leaders have their own points of view on Mamata Banerjee’s shortcomings. They too tried to criticize her indirectly. They asked the crowd if ‘poribartan’ had come to Bengal, and everyone roared back ‘No!’”
Tapan Sikdar, who was a minister in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government, however, admitted that the issue of Modi and Rajnath treading softly on Mamata was being discussed within the party. Political circles in the state have been abuzz with speculation over whether the BJP central leadership was following the same line vis a vis Mamata as the Congress’s central leadership — that is, allowing state leaders to attack her, while holding their punches at the top.