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Amit Shah’s West Bengal visit signals battle lines are drawn

BJP and Trinamool have begun wooing voters ahead of the 2021 assembly elections

Eastern Times, New Delhi: The battle lines are being drawn in West Bengal ahead of the 2021 assembly elections. Earlier this week Union Home Minister and senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Amit Shah kickstarted the party’s election campaign on a two-day visit to the state.

On his visit Amit Shah did what he does best – rile the opposition with some strong words. But Mamata Banerjee is no political wuss. When it comes to sledging she can give back as good as she gets.

Addressing BJP workers in Bankura on Thursday, Amit Shah urged the people of Bengal to “uproot” Trinamool Congress from West Bengal (“ukhar ke phek do” were his words).

Mamata was quick to retort. “Aloo aur pyaaz ka daam bar raha hain. Jab pyaaz aur aloo nahin milega, kaun kisko dekhega, kaun kisko uhar ke phekega,” she said.

It is hardly gainsaying the fact that Bengal’s upcoming election campaign will not be a civil one.

The saffron strategy

Amit Shah’s visit has given a glimpse of BJP’s two-pronged strategy for the Bengal elections. First consolidate the Hindu vote by focusing on the SC/ST voters and second use divisive rhetoric.

On Thursday Shah visited Bankura. After paying homage to Birsa Munda, a tribal icon and freedom fighter, he had lunch with an Adivasi family. Scheduled castes and tribes account for 35.8 per cent of votes in the 12 assembly seats in Bankura. Wooing them makes political sense.

Shah’s Friday lunch date was at a Matua household in Gouranganagar, in the northern fringes of Kolkata.

By some accounts Matuas form over 17% of the 1.8 crore SC population in Bengal. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Narendra Modi started his Bengal campaign by first visiting Matua matriarch Boroma. Of the 10 seats reserved for SCs, BJP won four.

Accusing the Mamata Banerjee government of not doing enough to check illegal immigration, Amit Shah said he was committed to implementing the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in Bengal.

The home minister’s visit also highlighted why BJP has found it so hard to crack Bengal. Many analysts believe that the desecration of a Vidyasagar statue in the third phase of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls cost BJP a few seats.

BJP’s own goal

This time too there was a faux pas. At the Birsa Munda statue-garlanding event in Bankura. Very late BJP leaders realised that the statue was not that of the tribal icon but of a general tribal hunter. A portrait of Birsa Munda was quickly obtained and placed at the foot of the statue, which was later duly garlanded.

But that’s not the end of the story. NDTV reported that a section of the tribal community felt insulted and on Friday sprinkled Ganga water around the statue.

Trinamool was quick to pounce on it. The party tweeted: “Bohiragato’ are at it again! Union Home Minister Amit Shah is so ignorant of Bengal’s culture that he insulted Bhagwan Birsa Munda by garlanding a wrong idol and placed his photo at someone else’s foot. Will he ever respect Bengal?”

Nusrat Jahan, Trinamool MP from Basirhat, criticised the BJP for its “blatant disrespect to legendary Bengal icons”.

But more than taking on BJP in the twitterverse, Mamata Banerjee has hit the ground running by announcing a number of measures to develop the cultures of backwards communities.

On Wednesday she held a meeting with representatives of Matua, Bagdi, Bauri and other backward communities at Nabanna, the state secretariat. There she announced the setting up development boards for these communities. Grants to these boards were also announced.

Mamata Banerjee also distributed land deeds to 25,000 refugee families. She said that the process of getting caste certificates has been simplified.

The wooing of voters has begun. BJP winning 18 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal came as a shock to many. Can it repeat it in the 2021 assembly polls? With Amit Shah’s visit it seems the saffron brigade is going all out.

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