A portion of the tent erected for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's rally in Midnapore in West Bengal collapsed while the programme was going on, injuring at least 22 people. This could have been embarrassing for the BJP, and the issue might have resonated in the Monsoon Session of Parliament, which begins on Wednesday. The Congress and the TMC could have used it to blunt the BJP's criticism of Rahul Gandhi for his alleged remark about Congress a 'Muslim party.'
However, with some smart thinking and prompt action, Modi turned this potential public outreach disaster into an incident which showed himself and his party providing a healing touch.
On Monday, as soon as Modi took the microphone, he asked people climbing iron poles supporting the tent to come down. He was polite, but his tone was firm. He kept repeating his appeal and waited until things were under broadly control. Although there was some chaos in the pandal — with the crowd trying to move ahead to catch a glimpse of Modi — it was not causing any major disorder. In the next few minutes, the situation stabilised and Modi began his speech in his trademark style, exhorting people to chant 'Vande Mataram' and 'Bharat Mata ki Jai.'
However, the size of the crowd was bigger than what the ground could accommodate. After a while, a portion of the tent collapsed.
Modi paused for a while and gave some instructions to the SPG personnel, asking them to press into service doctors and an ambulance which accompanied his cavalcade. Then, he held his nerve and continued to speak. Some party workers, too, were mobilised to provide a helping hand in the transportation of the injured persons to the district hospital.
In the rally at Midnapore, Modi focused on the recent measure that the central government had taken to raise the minimum support prices of 14 crops. He also hit out at the Trinamool Congress' 'syndicate.' He alleged that although the TMC spoke of 'ma, mati and manush,' its syndicate indulged in extortion, exploitation and murders of political rivals.
The BJP leadership had been pleasantly surprised by the size of the crowd at the venue, and on the roads leading up to it. SS Ahluwalia, a minister who was coming from Kolkata to Midnapore by car, had to leave his vehicle at least 15 kilometres ahead of the venue. For the rest of the distance, he rode pillion on a party worker's two-wheeler.
After the accident, Modi visited the district hospital where the injured persons were taken, and spent time meeting and talking to each of the victims, as well as the doctors. This became a major talking point, not just in the region, but also in national media. Other BJP leaders, including Union ministers, followed him to the hospital.
The fact that Modi gave personal attention to the injured persons would help to ensure that they get good healthcare services. It may help the BJP gain strength in the state, where it is engaged in a battle against the Trinamool Congress.
The accident at Midnapore brought back memories of Modi's October 2013 Hunkar rally in Patna. Modi was then the BJP's prime ministerial candidate, and by holding that rally in Patna, he was attempting to give a boost to his party's campaign well ahead of the election date. On that day, a series of bomb blasts took place both inside and outside the venue, and six people were killed. Modi continued with his speech even after the blasts took place. By doing so, he averted a potential stampede. After the rally, he had left, but three days later, he returned to Bihar, visited the houses of all the victims and promised support to the kin of the deceased. That gesture went a long way towards positioning Modi and the BJP in Bihar.
In August 2016, in Gujarat's Jamnagar, Modi had spotted a Doordarshan cameraman standing in a riverbed. He waved at him, asking him to immediately leave the spot, as the Aji dam's gates were about to be opened. The cameraman's life was saved.
West Bengal is one of the key states on the BJP’s agenda. Party president Amit Shah was recently in Purulia. The saffron party has virtually emerged as the second biggest party in the state, although its strength has not yet been reflected in numbers in Parliament and the state Assembly. This time round, the BJP has high hopes from the state, as also from neighbouring Odisha.
One must note the BJP's strategy for the day. Immediately after Modi finished his speech, the party roped in Union minister Prakash Javadekar at a press conference in Delhi to take on the Congress over Rahul Gandhi's alleged statement during his meeting with Muslim intellectuals. While Modi did not say anything about the Congress in his rally at Midnapore, his party picked up the issue in less than hour of his speech. This is indicative of the thought that the BJP might have given to the issue.
On Saturday, Modi in Azamgarh questioned if the Congress is a party only of Muslim men, and does not care about Muslim women.
Although the Congress is a diminished force in West Bengal, it is still a force. The tag of being a 'party only of Muslim men' could hurt it in the state, and also elsewhere. The TMC has been an ally of the Congress during both the UPA regimes.
At present, although the Congress and TMC are not allies in the strictest sense of the term, they are friendly parties. A loss for the Congress will not result in a gain for the TMC.
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Updated Date: Jul 16, 2018 19:46:34 IST