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Lok Sabha polls: Chronic political violence in West Bengal allows Modi, Shah to craft narrative against Mamata, TMC

The BJP, which has been looking for a stronger footprint in West Bengal in this Lok Sabha election, has maneuvered the salvos aimed at it by West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and her party Trinamool Congress (TMC) to its advantage and thereby create a nationwide narrative to corner the latter. The violence following BJP president Amit Shah’s roadshow in Kolkata on Tuesday indicates the intolerance and divisive politics of Mamata and the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC).

Shah, speaking at a press conference in New Delhi today said, “BJP has been contesting in all states, but there have been no incidents of violence elsewhere. It shows that the TMC is behind violence and not the BJP.”

During the violence, the statue of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, the 19th Century philosopher, reformer and a national icon of the Bengal Renaissance was desecrated. The TMC squarely blamed it on the BJP. The statue was inside a hall at Vidyasagar College and TV footage purportedly shows that the premises was occupied by TMC workers. The BJP workers, on the other hand, were on the street.

 Lok Sabha polls: Chronic political violence in West Bengal allows Modi, Shah to craft narrative against Mamata, TMC

File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah. PTI

Who broke the statue?

Shah questioned, “Who had the key? Who opened that room inside the college building to vandalise the statue? It wasn’t possible for the BJP workers to do it as they were outside the college gate and police force was in between them.” Had the BJP workers gone inside, they would have been thrashed to a pulp by the TMC workers.

Most important is that any party that has been trying to establish its foothold in Bengal, wouldn’t risk damaging the statue of a Bengali icon like Vidyasagar, Swami Vivekananda or Rabindranath Tagore, as they hold sentimental value in the hearts of all Bengalis, whether living in Bengal or outside. Bengal has always been a hotbed of political violence. But over the last decade, political violence in the state has reached entirely new heights.

After sending BJP worker Priyanka Sharma to judicial custody (who later got bail) for posting a meme of the chief minister on Facebook, the Kolkata Police picked up and detained Delhi BJP spokesperson Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga at 3 am today.

On 4 May, Mamata jumped out of her car at Chandrakona in Midnapore district and shouted at a group of people who waved BJP flags at her convoy and chanted ‘jai shri Ram’.

Contrast this to a similar incident that occurred in Indore on 14 May, when a handful of BJP supporters shouted ‘Modi, Modi’ as Congress general secretary Priyanaka Gandhi Vadra’s convoy was passing through the street. Priyanaka got down and shook hands with BJP supporters, smiling all the while. She said, “You are right in your place, I’m right in mine. All the best to you.” This politics of intolerance and violence has given Bengal a bad name, and the BJP has been desperately trying to leverage this to its advantage.

BJP’s strategy

After yesterday’s violent incident, BJP — which has taken the TMC head on this election — has astutely chalked out its strategy with eyes on the last phase of polling in nine constituencies. The objective is to use the anti-BJP activities of TMC to its advantage and corner Mamata and her government. Till yesterday, Shah who was planning on visiting Varanasi today, and holding a press conference thereafter, changed his decision early morning. He instead held a press conference at BJP headquarters in New Delhi and spoke on the violence in Bengal.

Simultaneously, to create a nationwide narrative, senior BJP leaders, including Union ministers, staged a silent dharna at Jantar Mantar today. The posters and banners with the words ‘Save Bengal’ at the venue highlighted the incident. Modi, who had a rally at Diamond Harbour in Kolkata this afternoon, from where Mamata’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee, the sitting MP is contesting as TMC candidate, spoke with News18 India before leaving for Bengal.

Prior to Diamond Harbour, Modi addressed a public meeting at Hasnabad in West Bengal. The prime minister raised three important points. First, the TMC’s fear is not the BJP or the Congress or the Left; it’s the people of Bengal. “It’s fight against West Bengal government, TMC and the hooligans under TMC’s patronage versus the people of Bengal. Mamataji is worried that the voters of Bengal will uproot her for adopting anti-democratic means in the state,” said Modi.

Second, he said TMC has consistently been attacking the BJP, as it’s only the latter that has taken Mamata and her party head on. Third, taking an indirect jibe at ‘intellectuals of Luteyens Delhi and elsewhere’, he said there’s a section of ‘neutral’ people who didn’t instigate the violence in Bengal, but didn’t utter a word against it.

In a way, the prime minister attacked the indirect supporters of Mamata and those who have been opposing Modi and the BJP. Before having his rallies in Bengal, Modi created a base on which he could launch a fierce attack on Mamata and TMC in his bid to win over the Bengal voters. Tuesday’s incident has given BJP an opportunity to amplify the narrative that ‘Bengal is burning and needs to be saved’ across India.

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Updated Date: May 15, 2019 22:05:22 IST