In this tale of two rallies — one at Nadia and the other in Chowringhee, the heart of Kolkata — the differences couldn’t have been more stark.
While in the first, BJP leader and Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh drew thousands, the Chowringhee rally saw barely a hundred people. While at Nadia, Singh visibly fed off the energy and response of the crowd, subdued silence left him visibly disappointed in Kolkata.
On Monday, Singh was scheduled to address a series of rallies — beginning with Karimpur in Nadia at 2 pm — and ending at Chowringhee in Kolkata at 7 pm.
Soon after the Nadia rally, the BJP state leadership deemed it a “resounding success”. A few hours later, it admitted that the rally in Kolkata received a “cold response” from the people.
Barely six minutes into his speech at Nadia, Singh said: “You have helped us form a government at the Centre. Kurta toh pehna diye aapne, magar keval kurta pehnake aapko chor diya jaaye toh kya aap theek thak lagenge? (You’ve helped us wear the kurta. But if you are left wearing just that, will one look fine?) So, I want to appeal to you today, help us win West Bengal and help us wear a pyjama-dhoti as well.” He was greeted with loud cheers.
But when the minister said the same thing in Kolkata, he drew little response.
In Nadia, Singh got the crowd to participate, asking the audience if they had received “irrigation for their fields, schools and medical facilities” and if “Bengal has any industry”. When the crowd responded with a thunderous no, he added: “There may not be textile, jute or tea industry here, but one that is flourishing is bomb-making industry.”
But when he repeated the same thing in Kolkata — “Yaha pe bomb rahega, ya hum (BJP) rahenge”, he was greeted with scattered applause, concentrated in the section where local party workers were sitting.
Soon after, when Singh’s repeated attempts at getting the audience to interact had failed, he glanced briefly at his watch and said: “Kuch kahiye aap log, main zyaada bhashan nahi doonga (Say something, I will not give a long speech)”. After a brief pause, during which he received no response, he reiterated: “Kuch sochiye. Main toh bas isliye aaya hu ki aap kuch sochie… hoga kuch (Think… I have come here so that you will think. There must be something…)”. The crowd again refused to respond.
Singh then went on to speak about Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Claiming that his government had declassified all files related to Bose and found that “certain files had either been destroyed or misplaced”, Singh said Congress was answerable for this “grave crime”.
The ripples of the Kolkata rally were felt through the BJP state leadership. While one leader pointed out that the venue — Talatala Park in Chowringhee — could “barely hold 200 people” and “wasn’t suitable for a leader of Rajnath Singh’s stature”, another alleged that the party’s Bengal unit “didn’t have the required strength to ensure mass participation for a rally”.
“The problem was that locals were misinformed about the rally’s timings. They had gathered as early as 4 pm and began leaving by 5.30 pm. Rajnath Singh was scheduled to begin at 6.30 pm,” said a leader.
In 2014, former BJP Bengal president Rahul Sinha had sent a report to the central leadership, citing that the party was doing well in the Chowringhee Assembly constituency. In the report, he had said the party was “well ahead of Trinamool Congress” by almost “30,000 votes” in Lok Sabha elections.
But things have changed since then. Singh, towards the end of his speech in Kolkata, asked: “Aur Kolkata, sab theek hai (Kolkata, is everything all right?)”. When two voices responded in the negative, he said, “Theek kariye (Fix it).”