Amit Shah’s strategy: BJP treating Bengal rural polls as ‘quarter-final match’ before 2021 assembly election
The battle for control on Bengal’s panchayats may have shifted to the courts but If the ongoing violence is being described by all opposition parties and even intellectuals as unprecedented in respect to rural polls in recent history then it is BJP’s fast growth that can be cited as one of the catalysts.
While, Congress and the Left parties bled profusely in recent years, BJP’s vote share rose steadily to pose threat to opposition parties and Trinamool Congress. Despite its small presence in most districts, BJP is now being accused of inciting violence by even heavyweights of the ruling Trinamool who, till the other day, almost refused to acknowledge its presence.
Results of some recent elections explain why BJP is no more the shadow boxer it had been during the 34-year-long Left regime in Bengal.
In the Uluberia Lok Sabha by-poll- the last big contest held in Bengal in February 2018 - BJP lost to Trinamool but emerged second with 23.29 per cent vote against the CPI(M)’s 11.04 per cent and the Congress’s 1.84 per cent. BJP also came second in the Noapara assembly by-poll held during the same time.
In August 2017, the CPI(M) could not win even one out of 148 wards in seven urban civic bodies where by-elections were held. Trinamool Congress swept the polls held at Dhupguri, Haldia, Panskura, Durgapur, Cooper’s Camp, Nalhati and Buniyadpur municipalities. Shocking all parties, BJP wrested six seats and emerged second in the race, keeping Left parties behind in the final tally in most of the civic bodies. With one seat, the Forward Bloc was the only Left Front partner to score.
The civic body results came barely four months after BJP state leaders started working on the strategy party president Amit Shah prepared during a three-day trip to Bengal in May 2017.
Taking on the organisational strategy of the Marxists, Shah asked Bengal BJP leaders to spread out to the state’s 77,000 odd polling booth areas.
To strengthen the organization and fortify it, Shah told party leaders at a closed-door meeting that the process of purchasing land and property for setting up ‘Karyalayas’ or party offices in all districts should be completed by June 2017, senior state BJP leaders said on condition of anonymity.
“We will strengthen our presence at the booth level. To achieve this, party workers across Bengal will undergo training. The panchayat polls will be the quarter-final, the Lok Sabha polls in 2019 will be the semi-final and the Assembly polls in 2021 will be the final match,” Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh announced at a party meeting days after Shah left.
Having witnessed the effectiveness of Shah’s strategy in the Lok Sabha, assembly and civic by-polls, CPI(M) should now have more reasons to worry about the coming panchayat polls than Trinamool. Clearly, BJP’s vote share in Bengal is growing at the cost of Left’s losses.
The civic polls proved that despite allegations of electoral malpractice, even by the BJP, voters chose BJP as the main opposition, rejecting CPI(M) and Congress.
“Had the last election been free and fair, we would have done much better. Our main job in the panchayat polls will be to counter state-sponsored violence,” BJP national secretary Rahul Sinha said a few days ago.
“If our men are beaten up we will not watch quietly. We also know how to adopt the right counter measures,” Dilip Ghosh thundered after the first shots were fired allegedly to stop opposition candidates from filing nomination papers.
As reports of violence poured in from villages across Bengal, statements by ruling and opposition parties only helped BJP hit the headlines.
Hours after CPI(M) central committee member and former Lok Sabha MP Ramchandra Dom suffered head injury in a clash at Birbhum district on Thursday, CPI(M) Politburo member Biman Bose alleged that in several districts Trinamool and BJP leaders had joined forces to drive Left parties out of the race. “Democracy is in peril,” quipped Bose.
Faced with endless allegations, even Trinamool secretary general Partha Chatterjee alleged on Thursday that BJP leaders, and not those from his own party, were spreading violence. “The canards are baseless. For zilla parishad seats, BJP has filed more nominations than Trinamool,” Chatterjee said.
Till Monday, the last day for filing nominations, the BJP managed to field candidates for around 50 per cent seats in the state although the target was 100 per cent.
“This is not the last election in Bengal. Another one is coming next year. People will see what we are capable of,” said Ghosh, reacting to Monday’s Supreme Court order that asked the BJP to move the state election commission with its demand for deployment of Central forces, extension of deadline for filing nomination and provision to file nomination papers online.