In Varanasi on last Friday to file his nomination, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed party workers, and among other things curiously chose to talk about West Bengal. The comments constituted a scathing attack on the Trinamool Congress government, the substance of which was the accusation that Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) workers were being so brutally attacked that not only were they unable to function politically, but did not even enjoy a secure life.
‘BJP activists are being hanged from posts and villagers are made to see their plight. BJP activists in Bengal don’t have the security of cooking back home,’ Modi said (The Times of India, 27 April). There was more stuff along these melodramatic lines.
The comment about BJP activists being strung up was, one presumes, made with reference to one such activist being found hanging from a tree in Purulia district a week ago. But Modi’s remarks were a farrago of complete lies. BJP activists do not live in fear of their lives in West Bengal, and they are for the most part free to pursue their political activities. The party would not have enjoyed such a spectacular rise had that not been the case.
There is indeed a problem of political violence, but BJP workers contribute to that in no small measure. Their capacity to fight is quite unabridged. There is, of course, the fact that BJP activists and workers have actually contributed more than substantially to violence in Bengal by trying to communalise the state and by instigating Hindus against Muslims. What security of life political workers of other parties enjoy in states ruled by the BJP is quite another question.
The principal question, however, is why the prime minister chose to bring up the question of political violence in Bengal in Varanasi, after having filed his nomination there. The point is moot and the answer is not overly complicated.
The BJP’s rise in the state has been spectacular, mainly through the migration of cadres, leaders and the support base of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) to it. Sections of the top leadership of the CPI-M have aided and abetted this migration hoping that by so doing they will achieve their primary objective of defeating the Trinamool Congress. But that is another story.
Despite this, the BJP doesn’t really stand a chance of achieving much in West Bengal. The results of the panchayat elections and a host of by-elections have proved that conclusively. The Trinamool Congress has been increasing its vote share in the state continuously. The BJP is in second place, but it is so far behind the ruling party that this fact is not particularly germane.
Modi’s comments must be seen in this context. It sounds like a desperate before-the-fact justification of another desperately inadequate performance.
The problem for the BJP leadership is that it hopes to offset some of the big-time losses it is bound to suffer in the northern heartland with major gains in the east – mainly Bengal and Orissa. That is why BJP president Amit Shah and the state leadership keep making the outlandish claim that the party will win over 20 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal.
That is surely not going to happen because the BJP doesn’t have the kind of leaders it takes to propel the party to such a position. All that it has is a huge war chest, much of it acquired through the corrupt phenomenon known as ‘crony capitalism’.
Some observers, some of mainstream leftist persuasion, are predicting that the BJP will win something in the region of 10 seats. That is a pipe dream. Sober observers are putting that figure somewhere between zero and five. Two or three seems a realistic estimate.
In other words, Modi and his party will have to look elsewhere to offset the losses they are bound to suffer.