New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has dispatched the architect of its 2018 Tripura victory to Kolkata, as it looks to tap West Bengal’s 42 Lok Sabha seats to make up for losses expected from the Hindi heartland. His brief: To take on Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress.
Sunil Deodhar, a former RSS pracharak from Maharashtra, was credited with helping the BJP form its maiden government in Tripura, unseating a Left government that had held office for 25 years.
Deodhar has been moved to Kolkata from Andhra Pradesh, where he serves as the BJP’s state co-in-charge. The Lok Sabha and assembly elections for Andhra Pradesh, where the BJP was in alliance with the TDP until last year, was concluded last month.
Elections to Bengal, where polling is often marked by violence, are being held in all the seven phases, four of which have already taken place.
Deodhar has been given charge of nine seats that are going to the polls in the last phase, and he has specifically been asked to focus on three: North Kolkata, South Kolkata and Jadavpur, all of which were won by the Trinamool Congress in 2014.
According to sources, these are the seats where the Trinamool still has an edge. The plan is to start building a framework the party can capitalise on in the assembly elections two years down the line.
Speaking to ThePrint, Deodhar said these three seats were the “life source” of the TMC. “If we are able to wrest these seats from the TMC, it will be rendered weak in the state,” he added.
Asked whether it was too ambitious a target, given that he had only arrived in Kolkata a few days ago, Deodhar appeared optimistic. “There is a time constraint to duplicate the strategy used in Tripura. But we have seen how we fared in panchayat polls. We are hopeful,” he added.
In the 2018 panchayat polls, which witnessed widespread violence that resulted in multiple killings, the BJP had emerged as the second-biggest player — if a distant second — amid a TMC sweep.
The four phases of polling in Bengal so far have been accompanied by reports of violence, including clashes between workers of different parties: One person was killed in clashes that erupted during the third phase of polling.
The BJP says it is taking a leaf out of the TMC’s book to curb poll-related violence against its cadres, for which it blames Mamata Banerjee’s party: It is asking cadres to go silent on their voting preference.
“When the TMC fought the Left in the state, Mamata Banerjee gave a slogan – Chup chaap phool chhaap (Silently, press the flower button, TMC’s symbol),” Deodhar told ThePrint.
“We have also asked people to go and silently press the lotus flower button on EVMs. In addition to this, the deployment of central forces at all polling booths in the last leg of polls will ensure lower influence of the state machinery,” added Deodhar.
‘Even TMC voters are upset’
Talking to ThePrint, he listed four factors that he says define the electoral battle between the BJP and the TMC.
The first is the alleged violence committed by the TMC during last year’s panchayat polls. “Even TMC voters are upset as they feel that their party did not trust them and, thus, did not allow them to vote in the panchayat polls,” he said.
The second factor, according to him, is Banerjee’s promotion of her nephew, MP Abhishek Banerjee, in politics. “Even TMC leaders are in touch [with us] and claiming they will help us,” claimed Deodhar.
The third, he said, was that the BJP is now a recognisable opposition in the state. “In 2014, the opposition’s vote got divided between the Congress, the Left and the BJP,” he added. “This time, people know who the real opponent is,” said the BJP leader.
The fourth factor, according to him, is united opposition to poll violence. “Polling agents of all parties have been warned against those of the TMC,” he added.
Though the BJP has noticeably been on the upswing in Bengal, several challenges remain.
According to sources in the party, the BJP lacks adequate organisation in the targeted seats.
“Neeche tak sangathan nahi hai yahan (we do not have strong cadres in the grassroots). Those who are supporting us are poor and have been under constant threat from the TMC,” said a senior party leader from the state. “Plus, these are general elections and not assembly polls. The state is still with the TMC. So, post-poll violence is a reality in this state,” the leader added.
To motivate the cadres, organise them, ensure effective distribution of campaign material, hold corner meetings in every mandal, and organise a big roadshow for BJP president Amit Shah are among the tasks Deodhar has cut out for himself.
“The show must go on,” he told ThePrint. “People are reaching out to the Bharatiya Janata party.”
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