TMC stokes Bengali pride calls BJP 'outsiders', BJP hits back

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(Combining related stories, additional inputs) Kolkata, Nov 20 (PTI) Stoking Bengali pride, the ruling Trinamool Congress Friday sought to project the upcoming West Bengal assembly elections as a battle between the 'outsiders' and the people of the state, drawing a sharp reaction from the BJP.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee during the day, said some people visit the state before elections and leave making tall promises, but she stays by the side of people throughout the year.

A minister in her cabinet, Bratya Basu, was more direct in his attack, where he accused the saffron party of being 'anti-Bengali' and engaging 'non-Bengali outsiders to dictate terms' to the people of the state, The BJP was quick to refute the charges as 'baseless' and 'sign of the TMC's frustration fearing defeat'.

Inaugurating a Chhath puja in the city, Banerjee said her government does not believe in only delivering speeches during polls.

Without naming central BJP leaders who visited West Bengal in the recent past, Banerjee said, 'There are some people who come to the state only before and during elections.

They deliver long speeches and then leave soon afterwards.

Unlike them, we stay with the public throughout the year, in every situation.' Basu, while addressing a press conference here, said the BJP was 'anti--Bengali', and that was the reason the party, which is in power at the Centre since 2014, has not appointed any Bengali as its Union Cabinet minister.

There is no cabinet berth for the West Bengal in Narendra Modi's 2.0 government. There are two Ministers of State (MoS) from Bengal Babul Supriyo and Debasree Chaudhuri.

'Outsiders who do not know Rabindranath Tagore are dictating terms to the people of the state.We had seen how violence perpetrated by them led to the desecration of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar's bust (during May 2019 Lok Sabha polls campaign),' Basu commented.

Noting that the people of the state would never accept the dominion of 'non-Bengali outsiders', Basu said, 'History has shown any such attempt has never succeeded. This time, too, there will be no exception.' Basu, while talking about the BJP leaders deputed by the central leadership for Assembly polls, said Bengalis are being targeted and outsiders being sent to the state to do so.

'They want to control us with the help of outsiders. Do we have to keep our heads down? Is this misery the fate of Bengalis?' he questioned.

Rejecting the allegations, the BJP leadership said it would like to know if political strategist Prashant Kishor, appointed by the TMC to strengthen its poll prospects, is a 'Bengali or non-Bengali'.

'Our central leaders had come here to assist us and not to dictate terms. The TMC has been talking about outsiders... I want to ask the party whether Prashant Kishor is an insider.

The TMC knows it will lose the assembly polls, that is why it has resorted to such tactics,' BJP state president Dilip Ghosh said.

BJP national general secretary and in-charge of Bengal, Kailash Vijayvargiya had earlier said such comments reflect the frustration of the TMC over the growth of the saffron party in the state.

'Such comments reflect the anger and frustration of the TMC and its leadership. It is laughable that people from other parts of the country are not welcome in the state, but Bangladeshi intruders are welcomed with open arms as they are the vote-bank of the TMC,' he said.

Narratives themed around 'Bengali pride' and 'natives versus outsiders' are slowly gaining momentum, with various outfits raising the pitch for reservation for domicile Bengalis in jobs and education in the state, where, until a few years ago, cultural sub-nationalism was an alien concept.

Subsequently, organizations such as Bangla Pokkho, Jatiyo Bangla Sammelan and Bangla Sanskriti Mancha emerged, accusing the BJP of trying to 'impose Hindi and 'north Indian culture' on Bengal'.

'BJP is the biggest threat to the Bengali culture and the Bengali identity. They don't believe in capabilities of their Bengali leaders, and that is why they are importing leaders from other states,' Kaushik Maiti, senior leader, Bangla Pokkho, said.

After having a limited presence in the politically polarised state for decades, the BJP has emerged as the main rival of the ruling Trinamool Congress by winning 18 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal in the 2019 general elections.

With the BJP's strength increasing in the state in the last few years, party leaders have exuded confidence that it will be able to end Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's 10-year rule in the 2021 assembly elections.

Elections to the 294-member West Bengal Assembly are due in April-May next year. PTI PNT SNS SNS