Amit Shah rally in Kolkata starts with a bang, ends with a whimper
That he failed to enthuse most party supporters was apparent from lack of spontaneity from audience in repeating slogans
Union Home Minister Amit Shah came, saw and maintained the status quo.
When he rose to address a mammoth rally at around 2 pm on Wednesday at Kolkata’s Esplanade area, expectations were high among BJP workers and supporters.
The party had to fight a legal battle to hold the event at the busy central Kolkata locality, the place where the Trinamool Congress organises its annual Shaheed Divas (Martyrs’ Day) rally on July 21.
After the Calcutta High Court on Friday dismissed the objection of the Kolkata police to give the nod for the rally at the venue, the stage was set for rebooting the party that has been continuously shrinking in the state since its defeat in the 2021 Assembly elections-- battling infighting and defections.
Shah’s meeting was billed as a much-needed 'revitalizer' that would set the tone for the BJP’s campaign in the state for the 2024 elections.
“It’s going to be a historic event. Amit Shahji will herald a saffron tsunami in the state and set the tone for our election campaign ahead of the Lok Sabha elections,” state BJP president Sukanta Majumdar told media persons ahead of the rally.
Speaking ahead of Amit Shah, when two former BJP state presidents tried to reach out to Muslims, who constitute around 27.1 percent of the state’s population, many thought the BJP was finally coming to terms with the political reality of Bengal.
That the BJP, with its radical Hindutva politics, would not be able to cut much political ice in the state was evident from its performance in the last Assembly elections. According to the CSDS-Lokniti post-poll analysis, around 8 out of 10 Muslims voted for the TMC in the 2021 polls.
A section of the BJP state leaders has been reportedly trying to convince the party about this angle, party insiders say.
This pragmatism was reflected in the addresses of former BJP state presidents Rahul Sinha and Dilip Ghosh. Both of them appealed to Muslim communities not to be swayed by the false promises of the TMC.
Sinha alleged that chief minister and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee only pretends to be a minority benefactor whereas her party-led government did nothing to uplift the community.
Ghosh claimed that it was the Modi government with its policy of “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas” that had been working for the welfare of the minorities unlike the so-called secular parties, who kept the community “poor and backwards.”
Their minority outreach was in line with the central BJP’s earlier directive to the state unit to reach out to the Muslim intellectuals, religious leaders, social workers and professionals to remove the community’s misconception about the party, a BJP leader told The Federal after the rally.
Shah, however, in his speech toed the old line in a clear message to the “reformists” that the party would not give up its avowed Hindutva policy.
He accused the state government of indulging in appeasement politics and being soft towards the infiltrators (from across Bangladesh), in what is seen as a repeat of old salvos.
“These are the same issues the BJP raised ahead of the Assembly elections in the state only to be rebuffed by the people of the state,” said TMC spokesperson Jay Prakash Majumdar.
It seems his (Amit Shah) target was the national audience and not the electorates of Bengal, who have rejected the BJP’s communal planks in successive elections since 2021, said political commentator and author Amal Sarkar.
“Amit Shah was perhaps also cautious not to be seen as softening towards the minorities a day before the polling in Telangana, where the BJP played the religious polarisation card to the hilt,” Sarkar added.
Many BJP leaders The Federal spoke to also expressed their disappointment over Shah’s 'passive' comment on the implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act.
The Matua community, who till recently had been the BJP’s support base in the state, is gradually shifting their allegiance from the party for its failing to honour the 2019 promise of granting the migrant members of the community Indian citizenship under the CAA.
The BJP-led central government has been dragging its feet from framing the rules for the implementation of the law enacted in the parliament in December 2019. The home ministry has so far taken extension eight times to frame the rules.
In his earlier addresses in the state, Shah had said the delay was due to COVID. He had been assuring that the act would be soon implemented and nobody would be able to stop it.
He reiterated the same promise on Wednesday.
“Tell me can there be a development in the state where there is unabated infiltration? This is why (to help infiltrators) Mamata Banerjee is opposing CAA... But the CAA is the law of the country, and no one can stop it. We will implement it,” Shah told the rally.
Union minister of state for home affairs Ajay Kumar Mishra, during his recent visit to the state, claimed that the CAA rules would be framed by March next year.
“After the junior home minister’s assurance, we expected that Amit Shaji would announce a definite time-frame for framing rules so that the law can be finally implemented. But we are disappointed to hear the same old promise,” said Sudip Kamilya, a BJP supporter who had come to the rally from Matua stronghold of Bangaon.
That the Shah failed to enthuse the most party supporters in the rally was apparent from the lack of spontaneity from the audience in repeating the slogans after the party leaders.
At the end of the Shah’s speech when the moderator of the rally urged the audience to switch on the torch of their mobile phones as a salutation to the Union home ministry, only a handful responded.
In his brief 23-minute speech, Shah attacked the TMC government over alleged corruption, nepotism, political violence and stalling development by misutilising central funds.
Drop boxes were kept at the rally venue so the people denied access to various central schemes could lodge their complaints with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The drop boxes were aimed at countering the TMC’s stepped-up campaign over what Mamata Banerjee is claiming the Centre’s apathy towards the state.
Alleging irregularities, the Centre has stopped funds for various centrally sponsored schemes, including MGNREGA and PMAY, in the state. The TMC has made it a political issue alleging that the Centre is depriving the state of its due. The party sent 50,000 letters to Shah on Wednesday seeking release of funds.
Dismissing the TMC claim, Shah in his address claimed that the incumbent Modi government released more money to Bengal than the previous UPA government that the TMC had supported.
It is to be seen whether the people of the state would be convinced.
Shah’s presence also failed to address the infighting in the Bengal BJP. The party’s national secretary Anupam Hazra, the sole representative from West Bengal in the party’s national committee, alleged that he was not even invited at the rally.
Hazra is known to be critical of the party’s present leadership, and vocal for the need to change the party’s Hindutva line in the state.