A battery of BJP’s star campaigners is descending on West Bengal for campaigning.
Even though the most optimistic of opinion polls give the BJP a maximum of 4 seats out of 294 in the West Bengal assembly, and only about 5% vote share, the party’s list of campaigners include: Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP President Amit Shah, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, transport minister Nitin Gadkari, home minister Rajnath Singh, and human resource minister Smriti Irani.
BJP insiders explained to HT that this grand exercise should be seen as political seeding: with an eye on the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and the state’s rural body polls in 2018. Strengthening the party’s base seems to be the real goal.
“It is the Lok Sabha which is the bird’s eye. However we are leaving no stones unturned [for the state election]. You must have heard how Modi spoke aggressively and passionately in his inaugural public meeting in Kharagpur,” said a senior BJP leader.
“In 2019 we will need seats from Bengal as well as other states to compensate for a possible loss in numbers from states such as UP, where [we] won 71 out of 80 seats. Anti-incumbency will take away some seats in the states where we rule and therefore we have to make up for the loss from states such as Bengal,” the leader argued.
By Thursday evening Prime Minister Modi would have addressed four public meetings, one each in Kharagpur, Asansol, Birpara, and Siliguri.
Some of the other leaders who have already campaigned in the state, or will do so soon, are: Arun Jaitley, Shahnawaz Hussain, Suresh Prabhu, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathod, Piyush Goyal, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, and Uma Bharti.
BJP has always been a fringe force in Bengal and its vote share has hovered at 5–6% levels. Yet, in 2014 it rode the Modi wave to secure 16.8% votes. However, the party quickly lost momentum and failed to win a single civic body in the 90 plus municipalities that went to the polls in 2014. Its vote share, too, dropped to around 10%.
The party’s public image of a disciplined party also took a beating with its supporters publicly clashing at the BJP’s state headquarters last year. Some of them were demanding the removal of Rahul Sinha as president of the state’s unit. Scuffles had broken out inside the party office then, which were televised widely. Sinha was removed from Bengal and inducted as national secretary of the BJP in December 2015.
However, insiders have a different view. Many of them believe that the party can benefit from its full-fledged campaign in Assam, where the BJP believes it has a serious chance at power. Elections are taking place in both the neighbouring states almost concurrently. Perhaps it is to the credit of BJP’s campaign managers that they are making the most of their party’s resources.
Despite the discouraging poll outlook in the state, Modi and Shah are scheduled to visit the state 10 times each. Almost the entire cabinet and the party’s top leadership have been assigned a schedule for Bengal.
“This only shows how much importance we are giving to West Bengal. Almost all our senior leadership and cabinet ministers are scheduled to campaign in Bengal. People are not happy with Trinamool Congress and the CPM-Congress alliance is being hyped by a section of the media. BJP is the only alternative for Bengal,” remarked Rahul Sinha, BJP’s national secretary.
“The people of Bengal will prove the opinion polls wrong,” Sinha added.