As BJP’s Bengal Rath Yatra Commences, Focus On Women, Minorities

While the party initially called the event a ‘Rath’ Yatra, it is now insisting on calling it a “Parivartan” Yatra.

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Politics
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As BJP's Bengal Rath Yatra Commences, Focus On Women, Minorities
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The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in West Bengal is heralding the elections in the state in the way it can best- by organising a “Rath Yatra”.

This “yatra” which will be flagged off from five different points in the state over the next week, will traverse all 294 assembly constituencies in a bid to consolidate BJP voters. The event, which will see top leaders of the party like Amit Shah and JP Nadda descend on Bengal was publicised initially as a Rath Yatra. However, leaders in the state subsequently insisted on calling it a “Parivartan Yatra”.

The use of the term “Parivartan” is ironic, as the Bengali version of it – “poriborton” – was the political buzz word on the back of which Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo Mamata Banerjee, now the BJP’s main opposition in the state, came to power for the first time in 2011.

On The Agenda: Energising BJP Cadre & Promoting Central Policies

As allegations of a “divisive” event pours in from the TMC, BJP has tried to tone down the ‘religiosity’ of the event.

“In Indian parlance, “Rath” is the term used for a vehicle. Any vehicle can be a rath. This is only a grand rally that will touch every constituency and with that, all the people in the state”, says Bengal BJP Vice President, Jay Prakash Mazumdar, to The Quint.

Mazumdar further claims that the party is targeting an outreach to almost 3 crore people, including their own cadre.

“This is also a way to infuse passion and exuberance in our cadre. In every constituency that the yatra will travel to, even booth level leaders will take part in the programme”, he added.

The main messaging will revolve around the drawbacks of the 10-year TMC rule in the state, focusing especially on corruption, law and order and the BJP’s favourite point of attack for Mamata’s party- tolabaaji (extortion).

The yatra will also focus on promoting the efficacy of central policies and schemes.

Mazumdar also says that women and minorities will be key electoral groups that will be targeted during 25-day extravaganza.

According to the schedule released by the party, the starting point of the yatras are going to be Nabadwip in Nadia district, Jhargram in the Jangalmahal, Birbhum in South Bengal and Cooch Behar in North Bengal. There is also a yatra that will start from Kolkata, but dates for the same are yet to be confirmed.

In districts with a higher Muslim population, the BJP is trying to highlight the Modi government’s role in scrapping instant Triple Talaq.

In the Jangalmahal, the BJP which made massive gains in area in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections on the back of their CAA-NRC push, is looking to tap into the female vote.

As the party refuses to bring up CAA-NRC in its Bengal campaign, it is looking at rural schemes like Ujjwala Yojana to woo tribal and rural women.

Corruption by the TMC during ration distribution at the time of the nationwide coronavirus lockdown and after cyclone Amphan is expected to be mentioned heavily.

The ‘Jai Shri Ram’ Conundrum

Ahead of BJP President JP Nadda arriving in the state to inaugurate the first yatra on 6 February, the programme has already started courting controversies.

Right after the yatras were announced, a PIL was filed in the Calcutta High Court seeking for permission to be denied for the same citing law and order reasons. There were also accusations that the Bengal government would not grant permission for the Rath Yatra, having denied permission for the same in 2018 as well when the BJP has proposed a similar programme.

The overwhelming “Hindu-ness” of the programme has, however, been questioned by the TMC and political analysts alike.

“They are starting the programme in Nabadwip, which is the land of Sri Chaitanya. Sri Chaitanya preached togetherness and love. Will the BJP give the same message in its Rathyatra?” asked TMC Minister Bratya Basu.

Others have pointed at how the “ethos” of the Rath Yatra is very alien to Bengal.

“This is a very North Indian and a very Hindu concept”, said Professor Moidul Islam, of the Centre for Studies In Social Sciences.

“The gains that the BJP made in 2019 were on account of the CAA-NRC. How far this Hindutva narrative and Jai Shri Ram will cut ice with the masses in something that the 2021 elections will test”, said Islam to The Quint.

However, sources within the BJP believe that Jai Shri Ram has occupied the imagination of the Bengal electorate.

“A lot of people said that Ram is not a traditional part of Bengali Hinduism and that is true. But in the context that the BJP uses it, Jai Shri Ram has become a cry of liberation for many Hindus in the state who have seen Mamata’s Muslim appeasement. It’s not like those who chant Jai Shri Ram are Ram bhakts. For them, chanting Jai Shri Ram is a way of channeling their Hindu identity; to assert that Hinduism will not be defeated”, said a source in the party on the condition of anonymity.

Moidul Islam feels that the only counter that the TMC can fall back on, is to promote their governance track record.

“There are schemes of the government that are flagship schemes of the TMC like Kanyashree, Rupashree, Khadya Shathi, Swasthya Sathi etc. The only way to tackle the polarisation by the BJP is to attack them with good governance”, says Islam.

TMC MP Sougata Roy tells The Quint that his party is not planning to counter the Rath Yatra in any manner.

“We will hold our own programmes, but we do not need to respond to religious provocation”, he says.

As the chariots get readied, apprehensions loom large on whether the event will be peaceful or get marred in violence that has now become characteristic of Bengal politics.

(The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

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