Amit Shah in Bengal: BJP’s Hindutva Agenda Unlikely to Topple TMC

BJP’s obsession to take Bengal by storm has mystified political pundits on the kind of gains it hopes to make.

4 min read
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BJP President Amit Shah’s belligerent and polarising speech at Malda this week, kick starting the party’s Lok Sabha poll campaign in West Bengal is typical of the intriguing hype around the BJP’s election strategy in the state.

Shah rushed to the electoral battle field almost directly from hospital, where he had been recovering from a bout of swine flu, brushing aside pending poll preparations in other crucial regions of the country for the upcoming general elections.

Indeed, the BJP’s growing obsession to take West Bengal by storm, illustrated by the party’s lengthy legal battles to unleash a rath yatra across the state, has mystified political pundits on what kind of gains it hopes to make by pursuing such a strategy.

BJP Plays Second Fiddle to TMC in Bengal

At a time when the Modi juggernaut shows palpable signs of slowing down, and the BJP is scrambling for seats, it is most unlikely that West Bengal is going to provide significant enough numbers to bolster the party’s Lok Sabha kitty.

It is true that over the past few years the BJP has made significant progress in the state, steadily moving into the second position after the ruling Trinamool Congress. But it remains a very poor second, and this position is largely because the other traditionally strong parties in the state (like the Left Front and the Congress) have been virtually obliterated by the Mamata hurricane.

As a matter of fact, Amit Shah’s claims that his party would win as many as 22 out of the 42 parliamentary seats in West Bengal, may turn out to be just empty bluster.

A closer constituency-wise examination of the upcoming Lok Sabha polls in the state reveals that in an overwhelming majority of them, the difference between the Trinamool Congress and the BJP remains clearly tilted towards the former, and while the latter may get a respectable percentage of votes, the number of seats it actually wins may not be much more than the one or two it has managed to win over the past two decades, in successive elections.

Amit Shah’s Overt Hindutva Agenda in Bengal

Yet, despite the unlikelihood of much short-term gain, the BJP leadership has invested a huge portion of time and resources in West Bengal, driven by some kind of an ideological crusade to win a state that’s long been considered a left liberal bastion, quite out of the Sangh Parivar’s reach till now. There is an interesting similarity in the approach to the inordinate importance given by the current regime to capturing JNU, another left-liberal bastion, despite losing one student election after the other.

What is even more surprising is that Amit Shah, clearly with the support of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, appears ready to push an overt Hindutva agenda to win West Bengal, even if this jeopardises the recent decisive blows dealt by the BJP to the Congress in the latter’s former bastion of the northeastern states, most notably Assam.

There is little doubt that the National Citizen’s Register (NRC), pushed by the Citizenship Amendment Bill, is a thinly-veiled bid by the BJP to polarise the Hindu- majority on the issue of illegal Muslim migrants, largely aimed at West Bengal, the entry point of many who cross over illegally from neighbouring Bangladesh.

This was underlined by the BJP president in his Malda speech this week, where he went out of his way to pinpoint the Muslim migrants from Bangladesh as his targeted enemy, distinct from those belonging to any other religious community.


Asom Gana Parishad’s Exit From NDA

Unfortunately for the BJP, in its haste to exploit anti-Muslim feelings and rush to confer citizenship to migrants from all other religious communities, it has inadvertently opened up a Pandora’s Box in Assam and other northeastern states.

Local communities there, agitating against outsiders feel that the BJP’s new move to grant citizenship to all migrants (as long as they are not Muslim), would be against their own interests, and even violate the Assam Accord.

The Asom Gana Parishad has already marched out of the NDA in protest, while several other northeastern parties in the alliance have threatened to follow suit. Even senior BJP leaders in Assam have privately registered their protest with the central leadership.

Interestingly, it remains to be seen whether the NRC and the move to push the amended Citizenship Bill will actually make much difference to the BJP’s electoral prospects even in West Bengal.

Mamata Likely Views BJP’s Anti-TMC Campaign As A Boon

While it is true that anti-Muslim migrant feelings are high in districts bordering Bangladesh, the decisive victory in the recent elections by the Awami League and its leader Sheikh Hasina, has somewhat defused communal sentiments in these areas. It is highly unlikely that just on this issue, the BJP would make dramatic gains in the coming Lok Sabha polls from West Bengal.

Meanwhile the excessive priority given by the Modi-Shah duo to her state has come as a big boost for West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

This has helped her build a profile as the main opponent of the BJP regime in the coming Lok Sabha polls. Bolstered by her recent impressive show, lining up so many Opposition leaders on a common stage in Kolkata, Banerjee is likely to see the BJP’s no-holds-barred campaign against her more as a blessing than a curse.

(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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