The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s attempted foray into West Bengal’s urban centres, including state capital Kolkata, involves two key messages to the bhadralok (gentleman) class: that they too are impacted by the “prevalent lawlessness”, and may have to bear the brunt of infiltration through borders in the foreseeable future, just like less-privileged residents in rural areas have.
Bengal’s urban areas have traditionally been with chief minister Mamata Banerjee, but in the ongoing elections Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party is making an all-out attempt to sway urban voters by also stressing that they are not immune to the “ills brought about by the Trinamool Congress government”, and that they no longer need to compromise with Banerjee as their CM because the BJP is there as an alternative.
On Tuesday, News18 attended home minister Amit Shah’s rally in Bidhannagar constituency that covers the posh Salt Lake City area of Kolkata, and BJP president JP Nadda’s “Intellectuals’ Meet” in Rajarhat New Town, another upscale locality, to witness their messaging to urban voters. Over the last week, the BJP has also plastered Kolkata with PM Modi’s hoardings.
Both these seats poll on Saturday, in the fifth round of the eight-phase elections. “The day is not far when the problem of infiltration (from the borders) will enter Kolkata too. Other parties cannot stop this as they see in it their vote banks. Only the BJP can stop it,” Shah said in Bidhannagar.
In New Town, Nadda said intellectual pursuits and discussions had ceased in Bengal. “Where the thought process stops, development of society ceases. You have been subjugated. So you are not able to give your best. We want to bring a rule of law to Bengal; it will be helpful to all,” Nadda said. He added that the “administration in Bengal was politicised and police are criminalised”.
BJP’s Refined Urban strategy
A number of intellectuals’ meeting and street rallies have been launched by the BJP in cities to appeal to urban voters, who were perceived to be averse to right-wing ideology in the state ruled by the Left for 34 years. The urban bhadrlok class, considered a progressive voter base, had been with the Left for a long time. A large section of them switched over to the TMC in 2011 and remained critical of the BJP’s right-wing politics.
“This is the time to remove this government lock, stock and barrel, and give a chance to the good and well-meaning people in the BJP. I know the problems people like doctors, lawyers and teachers are facing. When lawlessness comes, everyone faces trouble. Politics is a very important weapon for change. If the right people are there in power, change will happen,” Nadda said, seeking to strike a chord.
The BJP’s pet issue of “cut money (commission)” does not resonate as much in urban areas as it does in rural seats. But by raising issues such as lawlessness and infiltration, the BJP is trying to tap into the anxiety perceived to be prevalent among a section of these voters. Also, the BJP’s appeal has been loud and clear: that people don’t have to compromise anymore on the CM’s post if they don’t like Banerjee, and that there is an alternative in the BJP.
Shah, for example, raised in his Tuesday speech development- and welfare-focused issues such as a Rs 22,000-crore infrastructure fund for urban areas of Kolkata and North 24-Parganas, implementation of the 7th Pay Commission for employees, and setting up a new commission for teachers’ wages.
However, challenges for the BJP remain in urban centres. On most occasions, whoever has won the seats in Kolkata has also conquered the state. All 11 seats in Kolkata district were won by the TMC in 2016. But the BJP is confident, after getting leads in three of these assembly segments in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The BJP expects a close fight in three more seats in Kolkata district this time. The party could win 50% of the seats in Kolkata district, a senior BJP leader told News18. The BJP’s urban faces such as Swapan Dasgupta are accompanying Shah in campaigns for such seats.
Nadda stressed on Tuesday before intellectuals that his father was a professor and vice-chancellor, and made a case that “culturally, spiritually and socially, Bengal has a name which has to be reinstated by bringing in real change”. He said he felt very proud of being a “Bengali son-in-law” and mostly spoke in English. “The whole country looks at Bengal with an aura and a respect. But in last 30-40 years, people started migrating and deserting, something strange has happened here,” Nadda said.
The BJP, under Modi’s leadership, is leaving no stone unturned to woo urban voters. May 2 will answer if the 20% urban voters of the state chose to shift to the BJP to some degree.