As Amit Shah latches on to 'refugees vs infiltrators' plank to oust TMC in West Bengal, state braces for vicious poll battle - LiveNow24x7: Latest News, breaking news, 24/7 news,live news

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Tuesday, 3 March 2020

As Amit Shah latches on to 'refugees vs infiltrators' plank to oust TMC in West Bengal, state braces for vicious poll battle

The West Bengal Assembly election is over a year away, but it promises to be a keenly-fought battle between a doughty Trinamool Congress seeking to defend its fortress and a resurgent Bharatiya Janata Party, which has tasted some success in the state during the Lok Sabha election.

Home Minister Amit Shah set the ball rolling for his party with a rally in Kolkata on Sunday, where he launched the campaign of Aar Noi Annay (no more injustice). During the rally, Shah made repeated references to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), accusing TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee of hurting the interests of refugees, and of caring only for "infiltrators."

However, on Sunday, it was not just Shah's rally that made the news, but also what happened in the lead-up to it — a group of BJP supporters raised chants of "Desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maaro saalon ko." This call for shooting "traitors" had been made only recently ahead of the Delhi election, and had led to Union minister Anurag Thakur being banned from the campaign for three days.

File images of Mamata Banerjee and Amit Shah. News18

The reappearance of the slogan is a sign of things to come — it indicates that the West Bengal election campaign is likely to be a highly vitriolic and divisive one. The state's sordid history of election-related violence only adds to the apprehensions in this regard.

High stakes in Bengal

Although the BJP scored a thumping win in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, its record in Assembly poll battles has been underwhelming, to say the least. Before the parliamentary polls, it lost the three states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh to the Congress. It failed to form a government in Maharashtra, and barely managed to scrape through in Haryana. More recently, it was decisively defeated in Jharkhand and Delhi.

However, the saffron party's performance in West Bengal in the 2019 Lok Sabha election will give it some hope. The party bagged as many as 18 out of 42 seats in the state, increasing its tally by 16 seats since the 2014 election.

On the other hand, the TMC would be enthused by the recent trend of voters snubbing the BJP in state-level contests despite reposing faith in it for the Lok Sabha election. Crucially, the lack of a credible face haunts the saffron party in Bengal, much like in Delhi.

Banerjee on Monday launched ''Banglar Gorbo Mamata'' (Bengal's pride Mamata), a public outreach campaign to connect with more than 2.5 crore people and get the party battle-ready. Like the "Didi Ke Bolo" (tell Didi) campaign, the new programme is also a brainchild of poll strategist Prashant Kishor and his team- I-PAC.

History of political violence

Violence has been endemic to West Bengal's political landscape for a long time. As this article by Ajaz Ashraf in Firstpost notes, the advent of the Left in the late 1970s led to large-scale land redistribution. However, by the 1990s, rural life came under strain due to fragmented land holdings and rising input costs for agriculture. "Violence and vengeance became favoured methods of village-level leaders to retain or seek control over funds and acquire or maintain social status," the article recalls.

More recently, the panchayat polls in the state in May 2018 had also seen much bloodshed. At least six people were killed and 43 injured in widespread violence, leading the Union home ministry to seek a report from the state government. At the time, BJP leader Dilip Ghosh had said that the TMC had turned the polls into a farce. In response, the TMC's Derek O'Brien pointed to the state's history of violence and said:

Given this background, the possibility of the Assembly polls being marred by violence is not a far-fetched one.

With inputs from PTI

March 03, 2020 at 12:58PM

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