File photo of Home Minister Amit Shah, who campaigned in Bidhannagar constituency of Kolkata on April 13, 2021. Bidhannagar goes to the polls this Saturday, April 17, 2021. (Shutterstock)
The urban areas of West Bengal have traditionally been with Mamata Banerjee and shunned the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) but in these elections, the BJP is making an audacious attempt to sway the urban voters too by stressing that they are also impacted by the ills of the All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) government and no longer need to compromise with Banerjee as chief minister (CM).
On Tuesday, News18 attended Home Minister Amit Shah’s rally in Bidhannagar seat that covers the posh Salt Lake City area of Kolkata and BJP President J.P. Nadda’s ‘Intellectuals Meet’ in Rajarhat New Town, another posh area of Kolkata, to witness their fervent appeal to the urban voters. The BJP has also plastered Modi hoardings across Kolkata over the last week.
Both these seats poll on Saturday. “The day is not far when the problem of infiltration (from the borders) will enter Kolkata too. Other parties cannot stop this as they see in it their vote banks. Only BJP can stop it,” Shah said in Bidhannagar.
In New Town, Nadda said intellectual pursuits and discussions had ceased in West Bengal as the political leadership was dominated by the essence of violence. “Where the thought process stops, development of society ceases. You have been subjugated, so you are not able to give your best. We want to bring rule of law to Bengal which will be helpful to all,” Nadda said. He said the “administration in Bengal was politicized and police is criminalized”.
BJP’s refined urban strategy
A number of intellectual meets and street meetings have been started by the BJP in West Bengal cities to appeal to urban voters who have traditionally been averse to the right-wing ideology of the BJP.
According to Nadda, continuing with this approach would be fallacious. “This is the time to remove this government lock, stock and barrel, and give a chance to the good and well-meaning people in BJP. I know the problems intellectuals like doctors, lawyers and teachers are facing. When lawlessness comes, everyone faces trouble. Politics is a very important weapon for change. If the right people are there in power, change will happen,” Nadda said.
The urban bhadralok progressive voters of Bengal voted for the Left before changing over to the TMC in 2011; they remain critical of the approach of the right-wing BJP whom they perceive to be regressive. The BJP’s pet issue of ‘cut money’ does not resonate as much in urban areas as the rural seats. But by raising issue like lawlessness and infiltration to create a doubt or an anticipated fear, the BJP is trying to occupy the ‘grey area’ where the bhadralok may also not like CM Mamata Banerjee as much.
Shah, for example, raised issues in his speech on Tuesday like a Rs 22,000 crore infrastructure fund for urban areas of Kolkata and North 24 Parganas, implementation of the 7th pay commission for employees and setting up a new Commission for teacher wages, to convince urban voters of the BJP’s concern for them.
Many challenges ahead
However, challenges for the BJP remain in the urban centres. At Nadda and Amit Shah’s events on Tuesday, Jai Sri Ram
slogans were raised by BJP cadre.
On most occasions, whoever has won the Kolkata seats in Bengal has also won the state. All 11 seats in Kolkata district were won by the TMC in 2016. However, the BJP says it managed to get leads in three of these assembly segments during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The BJP expects a close fight in three more seats in Kolkata district this time and said the party could win 50% of the seats in Kolkata district, a senior BJP leader told News18. The BJP’s urban faces like Swapan Dasgupta are accompanying Shah in campaigning on such seats.
Nadda on Tuesday said at the intellectual meets that his father was a professor and vice-chancellor and made a case that “culturally, spiritually and socially, Bengal has a name which has to be reinstated by bringing real change.” He said he felt very proud of being a “Bengali son-in-law” and mostly spoke in English. “The whole country looks at Bengal with an aura and a respect. But in last 30-40 years, people started migrating and deserting, something strange has happened here,” Nadda said.
While it will only be known on May 2 if the 20% urban voters of the state chose to shift in some degree to the BJP, the party under Modi’s leadership is leaving no stone unturned to try and make this happen.