A tragedy marred Narendra Modi's Kisan Kalyan rally (farmer's welfare rally) in West Bengal on Monday but the mishap — which thankfully didn't result in any loss of lives but left a considerable number of people injured — also brought to the fore a few reasons behind the prime minister's popularity. The meeting and Modi's line of attack against Mamata Banerjee also gave insights into the way the battle in 2019 may shape up.
The accident unfolded when one part of the tent — upheld by steel and bamboo structures to shelter the crowd from rain — collapsed ostensibly due to a combination of heavy downpour and crowd movement. "The number of people swelled so much that several persons climbed the rods to get a view of the dais and the leaders, triggering the collapse," a local attendee was quoted as saying by Hindustan Times.
A portion of the tent in PM Narendra Modi’s rally in Midnapore collapsed during his speech today. PM instructed the SPG personnel to look after the people and attend to any injured. #WestBengal pic.twitter.com/s938Q5lgM1
— ANI (@ANI) July 16, 2018
The prime minister, who was in the middle of his speech, was heard asking those who had clambered up the tent to immediately get down. He directed the crowd to retain composure and reportedly pressed his PSG, personal medical staff and his ambulance into service. He later visited the hospital where the injured were admitted, interacted with them and had a chat with the doctors.
#WATCH PM Narendra Modi tears up while talking to one of the injured people in hospital. Several were injured after a portion of a tent collapsed during PM's rally in Midnapore earlier today. #WestBengal pic.twitter.com/04AOX9CJri
— ANI (@ANI) July 16, 2018
Even as the Trinamool Congress blamed the organisers, Modi was quick to take command of the situation that could have gotten grimmer and towards the end of his speech, saluted the crowd for holding their own and showing discipline amid chaos. The punch line came soon after.
"Today, I witnessed a new form of courage among the people of Bengal," he said. "Can one imagine that amid such a huge rally, one-third of the tent caves in, people jump in to take the injured to the hospital and yet the rest of the rally carries on peacefully, with discipline and resolve? It is difficult to find such disciplined behavior elsewhere."
"I come from Gujarat," said the prime minister. "I cannot imagine that even after such an accident, people would stay on to listen to my speech with such love, peace and discipline. And look at the people! The pandal has collapsed and yet they are not ready to budge. This shows their courage and conviction."
"Didi, take a look at the crowd's attitude, their discipline and their courage. If nature cannot bend them, do you think your oppression will?" said the prime minister to thunderous applause.
Modi's communication skill found was at full display. He managed to turn an adverse incident that could have cast a shadow on BJP's outreach program into a show of resolve, and segued it to BJP's strong showing in Midnapore and Purulia — the junglemahal belt in south Bengal where the BJP has done well despite the heavy hand of TMC's oppressive machinery.
The prime minister's 'farmer's welfare rally' — part of BJP's pan-national outreach initiative to tell farmers how they stand to benefit from Centre's move to double the minimum support price (MSP) — comes close on heels of similar meetings in Punjab (Wednesday) and Uttar Pradesh (Sunday). His Monday's speech could be divided into two parts.
In part one, he explained how the "steep hike" in MSP for 14 crops and schemes such as TOP (tomato, onion and potato) would help the farmers and expanded on the "beej se bazaar tak (from seeds to marketing) four-pronged strategy aimed at doubling their income. It involves minimising cost of inputs, limiting transportation damage, digital marketing and better pricing.
"Ours is a farmer friendly government," he said. "Farmers kept on demanding the right MSPs for their crops, they kept protesting for it but the previous governments completely ignored it since long. Our government took the historic decision to give farmers one-and-a-half times more than what they invested."
In the second part of his speech, he targeted TMC's "corruption" and politics of "votebank, appeasement, threat, intimidation and murder".
Modi and BJP president Amit Shah had chosen the venue carefully. The BJP's performance in the formerly Maoist-dominated areas in the state has become a cause of concern for the ruling party and a dose of adrenalin for the saffron unit.
"In these areas (former naxalite regions of Purulia, Jhargram, west Midnapore and Bankura) we have won about 30 percent panchayat samiti seats and about 35 percent gram panchayat seats that are far higher than our share in the state as a whole," BJP state president Dilip Ghosh was quoted as saying in a Hindustan Times report after the May 2018 panchayat polls.
The newspaper also reported how BJP's inroads into the Maoist belt has left the TMC worried. It quoted Banabihari Roy, Trinamool Lalgarh block president, as saying: "Corruption of local leaders was one of the reasons for a section of the voters going against us."
Mamata is aware that a small opening is all that BJP needs to spread its wings, given the RSS grassroot structure that provides BJP with the bulwark. The BJP won 644 of the 1,944 gram panchayat seats in Purulia, and 329 of the 806 seats in Jhargram and capitalised on rampant corruption among the lower-rung TMC leaders whose errant ways have bred dissent among the tribal population.
Quick to take note, the Bengal chief minister has cracked the whip to remove a bunch of non-performers, warn party members against infighting, complacency and has even met some members of the tribal population to gauge their mood, but the nervousness in the ruling party is evident.
It was a soft spot for Modi to hit on as he belted out jibe-after-jibe on "syndicated corruption" in the state that has kept the people poor.
Modi picked up the murder of BJP's Dalit workers (in the Maoist belt) and claimed that had it not been for the TMC's vendetta politics and "rule by violence", BJP's performance would have been even better in panchayat polls. Slamming TMC's "syndicate culture" that has permeated through every facet of everyday life — from "college admission to building of roads, hospitals, or even spending of allocated funds given by the Centre" — Modi said that this corrupted framework is maintained through oppressive tactics that has no faith in democracy, rule of law or electoral process.
"I salute the people," he said, "for attending the rally and showing their resolve". The change from Left Front rule to TMC took 34 years, but the next change won't take so long, he said. "It is just a matter of months". TMC has apparently unleashed its own "fact vs fake" narrative following Modi's meeting, and plans to hold a counter-rally soon at the same venue. The 2019 battle is here.
Firstpost is now on WhatsApp. For the latest analysis, commentary and news updates, sign up for our WhatsApp services. Just go to Firstpost.com/Whatsapp and hit the Subscribe button.
Updated Date: Jul 16, 2018 19:07:20 IST