Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah’s latest visit to West Bengal has heated up the political stage. On a three-day visit to the eastern state that ended on Thursday, Shah unveiled a roadmap for party workers to strengthen the saffron organisation’s presence in a state where it has never previously held power.
Shah also took on the ruling Trinamool Congress government led by Mamata Banerjee, who promptly hit back urging voters not to support the saffron party.
Shah found an opening to attack Banerjee in the series of corruption cases in which several Trinamool Congress leaders have been named, including the Saradha and Rose Valley chit fund scams. Prominent leaders such as suspended MP Kunal Ghosh was arrested in the Saradha case while Tapas Paul and Sudip Bandhopadhyay were held in the Rose Valley case. The latest blow came earlier this month, in the form of the Central Bureau of Investigation’s move to file an FIR against 12 Trinamool leaders in the Narada sting operation. Videos released in March last year by Narada News purportedly showed Trinamool leaders accepting cash in return for favours.
Shah shot down Banerjee’s claims that the BJP had conspired to frame Trinamool leaders in these cases. “It is all on camera. It is all in evidence,” Shah said. “Why do you raise the question of our allegations of corruption against the Trinamool Congress government? It is all there for everyone to see. The TMC government has lost the power to answer and defend.”
Declaring that his party would get the largest share of seats in Bengal in the 2019 general elections, he said, “The lotus should be blooming in Bengal soon.”
Bouyed by its success in the bye-poll in West Bengal’s Kanthi Dakshin Assembly seat on April 9, where it came second, the BJP is now eyeing a victory in the state’s local body elections next year. “We are already in the second position in the state and a tour of the state gives me a feeling of an overwhelming surge in our support base,” said Shah. The party had also come second in the bye-poll in Cooch Behar in November.
Shah’s itinerary was drafted carefully and deliberately. He began from the visit from Naxalbari in Siliguri in North Bengal – where the radical Left-wing movement began in the ’60s and ’70s. Here, he promised development, driving home the message that “vikaas” and not violence will bring prosperity. The visit, significantly, came a day after 25 CRPF personnel were killed in a Maoist attack in Sukma, Chhatisgarh He also visited several Adivasi homes in the area and kicked of a booth-level grassroots drive for BJP workers.
On Wednesday, he toured Bhawanipore in South Kolkata, Mamata Banerjee’s home constituency, where he accused the Trinamool of politics of appeasement and proclaimed that the “lotus will bloom in this soil too.” He also visited several homes in the Chetla slum area in South Kolkata.
Refuting Banerjee’s claims of an “economic deprivation” of West Bengal under the Modi government, Shah said, “If the earlier Left Front government in Bengal had borrowed Rs 192,000 crore in running the government for 34 years, the Mamata Banerjee government had surpassed it in less six year’s rule of Bengal,” said Shah, claiming that the Trinamool government had already borrowed Rs 350,000 crore.
He also claimed that the Trinamool government had not done much to develop the state. “All other industries in West Bengal had been closed down and only the bomb making factories are running and flourishing here with the patronage of the Mamata Banerjee government,” Shah said. “Earlier, you would come to Bengal to listen to Rabindra Sangeet but now only the sounds of bombs would greet you.”
Trinamool and Left party leaders that this writer spoke to privately acknowledged that there had been a transfer of votes from “Bam to Ram” (from the Left to the saffron party).
At a public rally in North Bengal, coinciding with Shah’s visit, Banerjee exhorted the people not to support the “communal and destructive BJP.” “Bengal is a different terrain and communal politics will not pay dividends to the BJP,” she warned.