The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) kickstarted a booth-expansion drive in West Bengal on Sunday as the saffron party’s Mission East – after election victories in North East – is now focused on West Bengal, Bihar and Odisha.
The three eastern states account for 103 Lok Sabha seats. More importantly, of the 160 “difficult” Lok Sabha constituencies the BJP is eyeing to win this time, more than 50 are from the three states, sources in the party said.
They were explaining the BJP’s special focus on the triumvirate states.
The BJP raised the number of “difficult seats” to 160 in December last year from its earlier estimate of 144 following its split with the Janata Dal (United).
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West Bengal and Bihar also make up 17 minority-dominated parliamentary constituencies that are among the 60 earmarked for special attention by the BJP, the sources added.
“There are 106 Lok Sabha constituencies having 30 per cent or more minority population. Of them, the party has decided to focus on 60, including 13 in West Bengal. The target is to enrol at least 5,000 new members in these constituencies,” said a leader of BJP Minority Morcha in Bengal.
The BJP is quite confident of winning the large majority of 25 seats in the Northeast and repeating its 2019 performance in Jharkhand where it had won 12 of the 14 seats in alliance with the All Jharkhand Students Union Party (AJSUP).
The confidence is further bolstered by the results of the just-concluded assembly elections in Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura and Ramgarh assembly by-election in Jharkhand.
The BJP, on its own, crossed the majority mark in Tripura to return to power for a second term. It could hold on to its position in Meghalaya and Nagaland to be a part of the government in the two states dominated by the BJP’s regional partners.
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The BJP-backed AJSUP wrested the Ramgharh seat from Congress.
In the BJP’s scheme of things, the three states remain the vulnerable spot. It will be difficult to retain the tally of 43 seats it had won from the three states in 2019, as per the party’s own internal assessment.
It has constantly been losing ground in West Bengal from its high of 2019 when it had bagged 18 seats. The slide continued in the recently held by-elections to the Sagardighi Assembly constituency where the BJP slipped into third position, losing around 10 per cent votes.
The split with JD (U) and the caste-based census that the Bihar government initiated has raised the BJP’s concern in the state.
The BJP does not appear very comfortable in Odisha either, as the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) is on a roll there. Only last year, it had swept the rural as well as urban civic polls taking control of Zila Parishad in all 30 districts and 95 of 108 municipalities.
Not to be bogged down by downsides, the BJP has set in motion “special plans” for the three states.
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The plan begins with strategies to strengthen booth-level organisations. All the senior office bearers of the state units, MLAs and MPs have been asked to fan out to get feedback from the party’s booth-level workers, and listen to their grievances and suggestions.
A booth-wise list of beneficiaries of central government schemes such as Prime Minister Awas Yojana and PM Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana has been prepared, the sources said.
Party leaders will personally meet the beneficiaries to apprise them about the schemes run by the Centre so that the state government does not take credit.
The West Bengal government changed the name of some Centrally-sponsored schemes on the ground that even the state contributes money to these welfare programmes.
The booth-level outreach drive will try to ensure that the Narendra Modi government gets the entire credit for the schemes.
The leaders will constantly give feedback to the three-member committee comprising Sunil Bansal, Vinod Tawde and Tarun Chugh. The committee was formed this month for the party’s election strategy outreach.
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The drive will also include booths in 13 minority-dominated Lok Sabha constituencies in Bengal and four in Bihar.
The West Bengal constituencies are Murshidabad, Jangipur, Baharampur, Raiganj, Malda (South), Malda (North), Birbhum, Krsihnanagar, Basirhat, Jadavpur, Diamond Harbour, Mathurapur and Jaynagar.
Baharampur, a stronghold of state Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, has the highest concentration of Muslim vote at 64 per cent, followed by Jangipur at 60 per cent and Murshidabad at 59 per cent.
The Bihar constituencies are Kishanganj, Katihar, Araria and Purnia. Kishanganj has 67 per cent Muslim votes, the highest in Bihar.
Besides, frequent visits by central ministers under the ‘Lok Sabha Pravas’ programme, announcement of mega projects and several meetings of Prime Minister Narendra Modi are parts of the grand plan for the three states.
Interestingly, even as the BJP has decided to woo minority voters, particularly the women and backward sections, the groups and individuals close to the party will keep the communal pot boiling to polarise voters.
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“The Kashmir Files” director Vivek Agnihotri’s claim on Sunday that there are 300 to 400 “Mini Kashmirs” in Bengal is part of that ploy.
He was speaking at a seminar in Kolkata on “India’s Heritage: From Kashmir to Bengal.” Actor Anupam Kher, known for being close to BJP, and BJP leader Swapan Dasgupta were also present.
The seminar was organised by a nascent organisation called Khola Hawa. The organisation works to present the views of sympathisers of BJP’s ultra-nationalist ideas before the people of Bengal.
In the run-up to the elections, more such programmes are likely to be organised by the groups that are part of the BJP’s larger eco-system with the sole intention of creating communal tension.
Agnihotri said he is planning to make a movie that will focus on the 1946 communal riots in Bengal.