34-year-old Archana Bagdi works at a lodge in West Bengal's Tarapith, close to the Chillar Math, where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) launched one leg of its Poriborton 'Rath Yatra'. The party's national President JP Nadda was the 'star' leader of this specific Rath Yatra rally, flagged off from the Birbhum district on 9 February.
— Ishadrita Lahiri (@ishadrita) February 9, 2021
Bagdi, who walked in half-way through Nadda's speech, said that she was a BJP supporter. But she had work so couldn't make it to the sabha preceding the rally, earlier.
"They say some 'Naaru' has come", says Bagdi, when asked who she's come to see. "Some leader from Delhi", she adds. "I wanted to see the helicopter, but couldn't get there on time."
The Yatra, which is being flagged off from five different zones in West Bengal, was first inaugurated by Nadda from Nabadwip in the Nadia district on 6 February. Over a span of about 25 days, the 'Rath', a saffron air-conditioned bus, is slated to traverse all 294 constituencies in the state ahead of the elections in April-May.
While three of these yatras were flagged off by Nadda in Nadia, Birbhum and Jhargram districts, Home Minister Amit Shah is slated to flag off its North Bengal leg from Cooch Behar on 11 February. The extravaganza, sources say, is slated to end in Kolkata, with a sabha by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
'Hindi Bujhi Na'
The Birbhum district of Bengal has an interesting demography with a tribal population of 22 percent and a Muslim population of 37 percent. In terms of languages, an overwhelming 92 percent of the population speaks Bengali, while 6 percent speak Santhali and only about 1 percent speak Hindi.
Archana Bagdi, though, understood no Hindi at all.
"I'm not understanding what is being said. I think I'll just head back to work now", she said.
While at the sabha in Tarapith, a holy place for Hindus on account of being one of the 51 shakti piths of Goddess Sati, The Quint observed many like Bagdi who did not understand Hindi or were unfamiliar with the "imported" Delhi aka "national" leaders of the party.
As Nadda's speech continued, a man from the rally was leaving with a live-sized flex of the party's national secretary, Arvind Menon. When asked who the man in the poster was, the man said he had no idea.
As he left, Bijoli Bagdi (36) and Unnati Bagdi (32) stood at the far end of the rally grounds, right next to the exit, in rapt attention.
Both of them did not understand Hindi, but unlike Archana, as "responsible" party workers, they knew who Nadda was.
Both also belonged to Birbhum and had travelled from a panchayat two hours away.
"We are with the BJP since 2015. In the 2018 panchayat elections, we fielded two candidates from our panchayat. The Trinamool Congress (TMC) men beat us up so much that they finally had to withdraw their nomination", said Bijoli.
"Moreover, they were all Muslim men", added Unnati.
A little away, 23-year-old Radha Maal, stood with her fourteen-month-old, Ronny.
"I'm not understanding a word. I don't understand Hindi at all", she says. "I only know the chants like 'Jai Shri Ram'".
She's, however, a BJP supporter and laughs that Ronny will vote for the BJP too because the Trinamool "beat us up too much".
Radha didn't know Nadda either but when asked who in the BJP she knows, "Dilip (Ghosh) Da", came the answer.
Ghosh, President of the Bengal BJP, was sharing stage with Nadda, as were leaders like Babul Supriyo, Mukul Roy and the party's recent star acquisition from the Trinamool, Rajib Banerjee.
However, they fought for space, amongst a battery of non-Bengali "star campaigners". This included Madhya Pradesh minister Narottam Mishra, who many journalists in the state as well as the Bengal BJP, confess to have never heard of before the election campaign.
In a ground which was half-full at maximum capacity, Ghosh and Roy’s speeches managed to hold some kind of audience, but crowds started leaving in large numbers as the Hindi speeches by BJP’s Bengal minder Kailash Vijayvargiya, and then Nadda, started.
— Ishadrita Lahiri (@ishadrita) February 9, 2021
According to reports, Nadda's jan sabha in Jhargram, where he flew to flag off another leg of the Poriborton Yatra on the same day, saw even scarcer crowds.
After flagging off the Yatra, the BJP chief was scheduled to attend a jan sabha with adivasis, as per his itinerary circulated by the party.
However, he did not make a speech at the programme, allegedly due to very low turn out.
While the BJP says that Nadda was not scheduled to speak at the event, reporters on the ground say that both at the sabha preceding the rally and the adivasi event afterwards, crowds remained thin, becoming even thinner as he took the dias. Here, too, Nadda was speaking in Hindi, in an area that was alien to the locals.
"Outsiders Are Welcome, But We Are Boss"
Keeping with what has now become a tradition in all big BJP events in Bengal, there was a "joining" at the Tarapith rally too.
As Krishna Prasad, a social worker from Asansol, took the party flag from the galaxy of leaders present on stage, his "supporter" Sudip Prasad (30), clapped the loudest from the front row.
In his conversation with The Quint, Sudip alleges that the ruling Trinamool Congress has caused many roadblocks in Krishna's social work.
"During lockdown they did not do any work and wouldn't let Dada work either. They are also causing a lot of communal problems in our area", says Sudip.
"I'm glad Dada has joined the BJP. The party is doing very well in Asansol", he adds.
Unnati and Bijoli, however, did not seem very happy with the recent trend of defections from the TMC to the BJP.
“Everyone is welcome in the party. But if they’re expecting that they will come here and run the show, they are mistaken. We will be the ones in-charge, we will be responsible for the election. They can come and work under us”, says Unnati.
"They are goondas. They have tortured us for so many years. It is one thing if they want to join us for elections, but we can't work with them", she adds.
Pradip Bagdi, who claims to be a BJP supporter since 1991, agrees with them.
"I couldn't vote in the panchayat elections. BJP ensured that we got to vote during Lok Sabha. My son studied engineering from Barasat. When I approached the local authorities in TMC for a job after his degree, they asked me for 10 lakh rupees", says Pradip, 46.
"How can I accept that those people who'd rather render my son jobless, than put aside politics, are now part of the organisation I love so dearly?", he asks.
While his son has now landed a cushy job in Gujarat, Nilmoni who sat alone in one corner of the field, hoped that attending such rallies would help someone in her family get a job too.
When asked if she's a BJP supporter, Nilmoni refuses to give a direct answer.
"They are all good", she says. "Now tell me, where are they serving the food?"
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