File image of Union Home Minister and senior BJP leader Amit Shah at the December 19 rally in West Bengal (Image: Twitter/@AmitShah)
West Bengal is arguably the biggest election prize that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been eyeing in recent times. As the state gears up for the election to the 294-member assembly scheduled in April-May 2021, union home minister and former party chief Amit Shah has set the BJP a target of 200 seats in Bengal, where the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) has been hit by a string of desertions in recent days.
With Shah and party’s president JP Nadda at the front, the BJP has embarked on a high-pitched campaign challenging Mamata Banerjee, who is seeking to return as the chief minister for the third time. Her political strategist Prashant Kishor raised the temperature when he said the BJP will struggle to cross double digits.
While it remains to be seen whether Shah's 200 or Kishor's below-10 claim will hold, Moneycontrol breaks up BJP’s West Bengal strategy in five points.
No booth unattended
Grassroots is where the BJP's poll strength lies and Bengal will be no different. The party has decided to involve maximum possible workers on the ground in the campaign. The idea is to hold at least one event at each booth. Like in the 2019 general elections, the party has divide the state into zones and districts, with central leaders given charge of each of these segments.
The party has appointed five central observers—Sunil Deodhar, Dushyant Gautam, Harish Dwivedi, Vinod Sonkar and Vinod Tawde—for as many organisational zones. Seven senior party leaders—KP Maurya, Gajendra Singh Shekhwat, Prahlad Patel, Sanjeev Baliyan, Arjun Munda, Mansukh Mandavia and Narottam Mishra—will be responsible for strengthening the campaign. Shah and Nadda will visit the state separately every month until the assembly election.
Restoring 'Bengal’s pride'
During a visit to West Bengal in November, Shah urged the people to fulfil their responsibilities to restore the "pride" of the state.
“West Bengal is the land of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Thakur Ramakrishna Paramhans, Vivekananda. I urge people to fulfil their responsibilities to restore the pride of the state which was the centre of spiritual and religious awakening,” Shah said.
The home minister was back in the state the previous week, opening his visit from the birthplace of Swami Vivekananda in north Kolkata. The party has kicked off the campaign with "soft" Hindutva and will gradually shift to "hardcore"issues like rolling out of the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and targeting the Mamata government for allegedly appeasing Muslims, say analysts. West Bengal has a 70 percent Hindu and a 27 percent Muslim population.
READ: Amit Shah reiterates BJP promise of ‘Shonar Bangla’ in 5 years if voted to power in West Bengal
Along with Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, Vivekananda, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, the BJP has also begun invoking other Bengal luminaries such as Rabindranath Tagore, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay and even Bidhan Chandra Roy, former chief minister of Bengal from the Congress, as elections draw near. In October, Prime Minister Narendra Modi joined the Durga Puja celebrations virtually and addressed the people of Bengal.
BJP vs TMC
The party wants the electoral battle in West Bengal to be seen as a BJP vs TMC contest, sidelining the two other players, the Congress and the Left Front who are expected to go into the poll as partners.
In the 2016 assembly polls, two years after the BJP swept to power at the Centre, the party could manage only three seats. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP won 18 of the 42 seats.
The BJP has made political violence allegedly unleashed by the TMC against its workers an election issue. In a TV interview, Shah said at least 300 BJP workers were killed in the last 18 months in Bengal. An attack on Nadda’s convoy during a recent visit to the state snowballed, with the Union home ministry recalling three Indian Police Service officers, a move that has angered Banerjee.
Shah’s rally in Midnapore on December 19 saw a host of Trinamool Congress, Left and the Congress leaders switching sides. Among the new entrants is Banerjee’s trusted aide Suvendu Adhikari. Speaking on the occasion, Shah said that the West Bengal chief minister would be left alone by the time the assembly elections would be held.
Adhikari’s defection to the BJP is a big setback for Banerjee and the TMC. If the defections do not stop, it might hurt TMC’s prospects and strengthen the BJP, analysts say. Earlier, senior leaders including Mukul Roy, Arjun Singh and Nisith Pramanik had joined the BJP.
Also, Read: Why Suvendu Adhikari, who quit TMC and will likely join BJP, matters in West Bengal politics
Focus on women votes
The BJP's state unit is focusing on participation of women at booth-level to neutralise Banerjee’s crucial vote bank. The party in November drew up a list of 23 organisational activities to be carried out over the next two months. The events include padyatras by BJP women morcha workers at every booth, morning rallies and cycle rallies.
The BJP’s focus on women voters is on the back of the NDA's victory in Bihar where women voters are believed to have supported the party. In his speech after the Bihar victory, Prime Minister Narendra Modi credited the “silent” women voters. Women constitute 48 percent of the electorate in West Bengal. The TMC fielded 45 women in the 2016 assembly election and the BJP 31.