Cyclone Amphan a catalyst for BJP’s new poll strategy in Bengal
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership in West Bengal is wooing voters by physically visiting areas affected by the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak and Cyclone Amphan while holding virtual meetings in zones, where movement is difficult because of the pandemic.
The opposition BJP’s outreach is aimed at crucial assembly polls slated to be held next year, while the civic body elections in the state have been postponed due to the pandemic.
Bengal has reported over 10,000 Covid-19 cases. The pandemic and the destruction in Cyclone Amphan-hit districts have turned into catalysts for the BJP’s new strategy to wrest more ground from the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC).
In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP had bagged 18 of Bengal’s 42 Lok Sabha seats, while the TMC’s tally came down from 34 to 22.
State BJP leaders told HT that during the virtual conference on June 9, Union home minister Amit Shah had urged BJP workers and leaders to help people in every community block and polling booth area.
In his public address, Shah had promised to oust the TMC government and criticised chief minister Mamata Banerjee for not implementing the Narendra Modi government’s welfare programmes for the poor, such as the Ayushman Bharat scheme.
Shah’s strategy comes at a time when senior TMC leaders, such as panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee, have criticised party leaders for not visiting Amphan-hit areas.
On June 12, BJP state president and Midnapore Lok Sabha member of Parliament (MP) Dilip Ghosh visited a quarantine centre in the Arjuni gram panchayat area in Kharagpur.
On the same day, party general secretary and MP Locket Chatterjee met people in Hooghly district, while in Kolkata, the new BJP Mahila Morcha president Agnimitra Paul stood in rain to distribute hand-made masks and copies of the PM’s message on Atma Nirbhar Bharat.
“You cannot see a single TMC minister visiting Amphan-affected districts. The Centre is sending funds, but you cannot see any relief work on the ground,” alleged Ghosh.
“Our party’s entire focus is on the 2021 assembly polls. Since the CM is a woman, the Mahila Morcha has to play a key role. Poor people have been affected the most by the pandemic and Amphan. We distributed over 33,000 masks and the PM’s message on Friday. This will continue in all the districts for a week,” said Paul, a well-known fashion designer, who also holds a degree in business management.
The masks have emerged as a symbol of the ongoing political war.
Around a fortnight ago, Ghosh appeared before the media wearing a saffron mask with a big lotus (the party’s symbol) printed on it. This caught on.
Earlier this week, a photograph of CM Banerjee wearing a white and blue (the state’s official colours) mask with a map of Bengal and the word ‘Maa’ (mother) written in bold in Bengali did the rounds on social media.
“Copying is the best form of appreciation, but it’s a bad design. Had she sought my help I could have designed a better one. Many TMC leaders are in touch with us, waiting to join,” quipped Paul.
On Saturday, Soumitra Khan, the new state president of the BJP Yuva Morcha, visited a blood donation camp and distributed hand sanitisers in Howrah. “The Yuva Morcha is strengthening BJP’s position at polling booth level in Howrah, Kolkata, Birbhum, Midnapore and the North and South 24 Parganas. Our motto is ‘apna booth, apna dum’ (our booth, our strength),” said Khan.
“The party’s media and IT (information technology) cells are helping us hold virtual meetings at places, where physical gatherings cannot be held,” he added.
“In the Lok Sabha polls, our vote share was low in several south Bengal assembly segments. Many of these were later hit by the pandemic and Amphan. The disasters exposed the cracks in governance, something we had been trying to tell the voters for long,” said Ritesh Tiwari, one of the new state vice-presidents of the BJP.
The TMC has not taken the BJP’s new campaign strategy lightly.
The CM’s nephew and Diamond Harbour Lok Sabha MP Abhishek Banerjee, who also leads the youth wing, launched the Banglar Jubo Shakti (Bengal’s youth power) programme on June 11.
“I am pleased to announce the launch of #BanglarJuboShakti, an initiative of TMYC to onboard, unite and join hands with one lakh motivated youth who are willing to help the people of Bengal during this time of crisis,” tweeted Banerjee.
On June 4, Banerjee had tweeted, “@BJP4Bengal leaders have made no contribution towards improving the lives of people in Bengal but have definitely started preparing for Bengal elections 2021. Priorities are clear. @MamataOfficial continues to stand by her people & protect them from every danger #BanglarShotruBJP”
“It’s unfortunate that the BJP is trying to take political advantage of the pandemic and the cyclone that have affected millions. No party in the world has done such a thing. The BJP has no organisational strength in Bengal. Their desperate efforts won’t yield any result,” said Tapas Roy, minister of state for parliamentary affairs.