In Bengal, the battle of political narratives
Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi formally kicked off the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s campaign in West Bengal on Sunday. The key thrust of his speech in Kolkata was a critique of governance under the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and a roadmap of how the BJP, if elected, would shape Bengal’s future over the next 25 years.
The PM’s speech had five elements. One, to take on the “outsider” tag, the PM traced the BJP’s roots back to SP Mukherjee, rejected what he attempted to portray as the TMC’s political parochialism, lauded Bengal’s cultural distinctiveness and committed to a BJP government in Bengal treating the state’s inter-ests as supreme. Two, to take on the charge of crony capitalism or serving the interests of his “friends”, the PM, like he had done with the chowkidar slogan during the 2019 polls, owned the term and expanded it to claim that his friends were the poorest citizens. Three, tapping into the religious divide, the PM rejected the politics of “appeasement” — a code word for the TMC’s alleged pro-Muslim tilt. Four, by promising investment, industrialisation, and infrastructure, the PM stuck to his narrative on development. And five, by promising the extension of central schemes, he was conveying the benefit of having the same party in power in both the state and at the Centre. The PM thus attempted to portray the BJP as a party of modernity, welfare, and justice, sensitive to Bengal’s aspirations. This was meant to counter the TMC’s self-projection as a party of the soil rooted in Bengal’s ethos, committed to progress, harmony and welfare of all, led by a woman chief minister, fighting an oppressive Centre. Which narrative convinces voters will be known on May 2.