With a round of Lok Sabha elections over in West Bengal, the BJP appears upbeat, hoping to make big gains from a state where it has been traditionally weak. The BJP’s confidence stems from the hard work it has done in the state for years, supported by other rightwing Hindutva groups in both urban, rural and tribal areas.
“I can now say with some degree of certainty that we are giving the Trinamool a good fight in all the 42 seats in the state. The question is not whether we have made inroads in this part or that part of the state.
“We are everywhere, from Darjeeling in the north to Bongaon in the south,” state BJP Secretary Ritesh Tiwari told IANS.
According to another state party office-bearer, in 20 of the seats the fight is so intense that “anything may happen”.
“In only six seats – three in Murshidabad district, two in Malda, and one in North Dinajpur, there are several contestants. In the remaining 36 seats, it is a straight fight between the Trinamool Congress and the BJP,” said the office-bearer.
The claims paint a scenario that was unthinkable in the state three years back when the last Assembly polls were held.
But this is no out-of-the-blue phenomenon.
“We have toiled hard for years. Soon after the 2016 polls, select trained cadres were sent to areas like Jangalmahal or the border regions which had the potential for making a difference to the BJP’s prospects in the state.
“After detailed analysis of results, a list of 20-22 high-priority seats was prepared where the focus was on strengthening booth-level organisations. But it is true that the results derived were not the same everywhere,” said a middle-level BJP worker who did not want to be named.
Meanwhile, other Sangh Parivar outfits worked on Hindu society-focused programmes. The steady increase in Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh shakhas – the smallest RSS unit where daily activities are held – is a case in point.
According to the Sangh’s south Bengal Prachar Pramukh Biplob Roy, the number of shakhas in the state stands at close to 2,000. The figure was 902 in 2013, 1,240 in 2014 and over 1,800 in April 2017.
Another RSS constituent, the Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram, which focuses on the welfare activities of Scheduled Tribes in remote areas, has been working for decades in Jangalmahal, the forested stretches of western districts like Paschim Medinipur, Jhargram, Purulia, Bankura and parts of Birbhum. It has constructed a hostel for tribal students in Mallarpur of Birbhum district.
“The Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram has been working in the state since 1972-73. It has a lot of influence in Purulia, Bankura and Jhargram,” Roy told IANS.
“The Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram has admitted students to schools for over 25 years. Many former students are now our active members. They are helping us in increasing our footprint. The number of Saraswati Sishu Mandirs in the state has grown to 325,” he said,
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad has organised 700 processions involving more than 40 lakh people across the state to celebrate Ram Navami on a grand scale over three days since April 13. Last year, the VHP held 1,000 rallies in West Bengal to celebrate Janmashtami.
“In Bengal, a major problem is the government’s appeasement politics targeting the minority vote bank. We are there to protect the Hindu religion,” VHP Bengal unit spokesman Sourish Mukherjee told IANS.
Having set up its units in all the districts and most of the blocks in the state, the VHP now has 40,000 members, same as the Bajrang Dal, while Durga Vahini, its youth wing for girls, has over 20,000 members, Mukherjee said.
Like the Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram, the VHP’s focus area is also Jangalmahal and border areas, which also form part of the BJP’s plan for the state.
State BJP President Dilip Ghosh said there was no Hindu-Muslim polarization in Bengal even though the Trinamool Congress was attempting to “mislead” the minority community through a vicious communal campaign that painted his party as “anti-Muslim”.
“But the plan did not succeed. We have Muslim candidates. Lots of Muslims, among them intellectuals from the community, are campaigning for us,” Ghosh told IANS.
He said there was, however, polarization in favour of his party on issues like corruption, violence and lawlessness in the state. “This would spell doom for the Trinamool Congress.”
The BJP is confident that even if it loses seats in Uttar Pradesh or in north India, the results in West Bengal would give it a boost.