At a time when the feedback from the ground on Uttar Pradesh post the announcement of the SP-BSP alliance is not encouraging, the BJP leadership is looking to the east to pick up seats in Lok Sabha. The leadership has made it clear that West Bengal, which has 42 Lok Sabha constituencies, will be its top priority in the list of the states that it is focussing on.
A top leader has said that the party’s target is to win 23 seats, which may sound steep to observers of the political scene in West Bengal. But the BJP leadership cites the case of Tripura, where the party was able to ramp up its less-than 2% vote to 43% — and 36 seats in the 60-member Assembly in the 2018 Assembly elections — to argue that when enough people want real change, the outcome could be unpredictable.
BJP chief Amit Shah began the campaign with a massive rally on January 22, and the party is set to hold 310 big and small election meetings across the state. A series of public rallies are planned for Prime Minister Narendra Modi — he is likely to address two rallies on February 2, and one on February 8.
However, the BJP is mindful of the popular support enjoyed by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and the strong organisational network of the ruling Trinamool Congress. Apprehensions that administrative interventions could be employed to shrink the turnout for the Prime Minister’s rally on February 8, perhaps led the BJP to cancel the scheduled meeting at Kolkata’s Brigade Parade Ground. It will now be held on the same day but in Asansol.
The BJP hopes to consolidate Hindu votes with its move to amend the Citizenship Bill. Hindus in West Bengal, the party says, have been angry over the influx of illegal Bangladeshi migrants. It also believes that the 10 per cent quota for the economically backward in the general category will boost the support for it. West Bengal has a large share of the population in the general category.
The BJP is also banking on the emotional appeal of Syama Prasad Mookerjee, the Jana Sangh leader whom the BJP credits with the creation of West Bengal. Then of course, there is Subhas Chandra Bose, whose legacy the Parivar has tried to appropriate based on some ideological differences that he had in the latter part of his life with the Congress led by Gandhi and Nehru. The Prime Minister has recently repeatedly invoked Netaji and his contribution to the freedom movement.
Over the last four years, the BJP that won 2 seats and 16.8% votes in the 2014 elections, has grown into a formidable opposition force, emerging as the second largest party in the Panchayat elections last year. With the CPI-M in continuous decline and the Congress confined to a few small pockets, the BJP’s acceptability has been steadily rising.
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