One of the first and most obvious question a reporter attending a rally named ‘No Vote to BJP’ would be, why shouldn’t one vote for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)? To which, Maufun Hussain from Halida replied, “Give me one reason why we should vote for the BJP.”
This was the sentiment that echoed loud at Kolkata’s Ramlila Maidan on 10 March, as hundreds of people attended the rally. People from across various professions and political spectrums in West Bengal marched from Ramlila Maidan in Entally to Elite Cinema Hall in Dharmatala, to protest against the BJP and RSS who they termed a “fascist party”.
The movement, which gained steam among the millennials through social media, comes just as the 2021 West Bengal elections are right around the corner.
When asked about the rally, Dipankar Bhattacharya, the general secretary of the CPI(M-L) termed it as a “sensitisation” campaign to “awaken the masses” in Bengal, who “don’t know what it’s like to be under BJP rule”.
What Is the ‘No Vote to BJP’ Campaign?
‘No Vote to BJP’ is a campaign formulated by a forum called ‘Bengal Against Fascist RSS-BJP’ consisting of people associated with various mass and social movements with the intention of “defeating the BJP not only electorally but also on the streets”.
Born at a meeting on 4 January, its members have been campaigning across various constituencies in Bengal with the intention of ‘spreading awareness against the BJP’ and requesting people not to vote for them. They have even set up committees in over 15 districts.
Kushal Debnath, one of the conveners of the forum said that they are only asking the people to not vote for the BJP. They are not pointing towards any party to vote for.
"“We are not telling people who to vote for. Other parties might be flawed but they are not as bad as the BJP. Let the people decide.”" - Kushal Debnath, Convener
They have been visiting the various towns in the state, distributing pamphlets and using vans and autorickshaws – attached with microphones – to speak about ‘love jihad’, the lynching of Muslims, the plight of migrant workers during the lockdown, and the CAA-NRC-NPR.
This rally, they said is a culmination of all their previous campaigns on the ground and on social media. This rally was also meant to mark the road forward for the forum.
Sujato Bhadra, another convenor, told The Quint that they oppose the idea of a ‘Hindu rashtra’ and are fighting to ‘restore democracy’.
"In a ‘single-engine government’, India has become ‘partly free’. In a ‘double engine government’, India will not be free at all. " - Sujato Bhadra, Convener Kisaan Unions Support the Campaign
One of the biggest highlights of the rally was the presence of farmer leaders from Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, and Rajasthan, who had come to show their solidarity with the movement.
Leaders from Samyukta Kisan Morcha and the Bharatiya Kisan Union had travelled all the way from Singhu border to attend the rally.
Suresh Koth, a farmer leader from Haryana who was protesting at Singhu border, said that they were protesting outside Delhi’s borders to talk to the government, but PM Modi and Amit Shah were in Bengal. So they came to Bengal.
He further added that more leaders will come and be a part of movements in Bengal in order to appeal to the farmers and labourers here not to vote for the BJP.
It must be noted that the Samyukta Kisan Morcha has already said that their leaders would visit Bengal and Assam starting 12 March, to appeal to the voters for the same.
Different Walks of Life, Different Problems
From slum-dwellers to artistes to party workers, the rally saw all kinds of people who were united with the same war cry, but were protesting against different problems.
Being symbolic of the issues each group wanted to highlight, different slogans were heard from different sections of the rally. While some sloganeered against unemployment, others spoke out against the Citizenship Amendment Act.
Jhunu Ghosh, who was evicted from a slum located under Tala bridge (which is being renovated), wanted a decent place to live for her family. Biswajit, another slum-dweller from Ultadanga’s Basanti colony was scared that if the BJP comes to power, “they might evict them and construct hotels and high rises” in the slums.
Biswajit further added that, the BJP is a party “who work only for the rich and if they come to power, the poor will be completely ignored.” Tarapada Bauli from Bankura came to protest against the present condition of the poor, which has further been affected due to inflation.
For artistes like Lakkhan and Bideshi Mahato, who came all the way from Purulia, it was about more benefits and opportunities for performing artistes. He has been an avid supporter of Mamata Banerjee and says that he will continue to vote for her.
He hopes that the state government and the centre both help performing artistes.
While most of the attendees came to protest against the BJP, they were a handful who also hoped to express their concerns about the TMC government.
Although the forum is not associated with any political party, the rally did see attendance from political parties. Sulkuni Shikari from Howrah, a TMC worker came to attend the rally with no particular intention. When asked why they were attending the rally, they said that they were told about a meeting, and that’s what they were attending.
Similarly, Binoni Mahato (not affiliated with any political party) had come from Purulia along with several other attendees, on buses that were arranged for them by the organisers.
When asked why some of the attendees were less aware about the event, Suman Sengupta, one of the convenors said that the organisers had talked to everyone before they were brought to the event.
The Road Ahead
Sengupta says that this rally also marks the road ahead for the campaign as they plan to expand their reach to other states too.
They started with West Bengal because “Bengal is an important state in the history of India” and they don’t want a party that doesn’t “understand and appreciate” the culture of Bengal to rule over it.
While they have garnered the attention of not only BJP Bengal president Dilip Ghosh but also Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, the organisers claimed that they have received threats over the telephone, “not only from people affiliated to the BJP but also from the CPI(M).”
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