Kolkata/Lucknow: West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee’s arrival in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh to campaign for Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP) is being described by the latter as support from a national face for “the larger cause of saamajik badlaav (social change)”.
The SP needs all hands on deck in the Hindi heartland, which will witness the biggest electoral battle in the seven-phase assembly polls starting 10 February. The TMC, meanwhile, says Mamata’s presence in Uttar Pradesh will help turn up the heat on the BJP, and send the message that it can be defeated here as well, as it was “defeated in West Bengal in the 2021 assembly polls”.
The ruling BJP has already unleashed a number of star campaigners, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, who are rooting for sitting chief minister Yogi Adityanath and raining barbs on the SP.
The Trinamool Congress (TMC) chairperson arrived in Lucknow Monday evening to extend her support to the primary Opposition party in the state. She is slated to reach the SP office at 11 am Tuesday, and hold a media interaction with Akhilesh.
“I want Akhilesh Yadav, Samajwadi Party to win in UP. I want BJP to lose. I am not fighting assembly polls in UP, but morally stand with Akhilesh,” she had told reporters at the Kolkata airport before leaving for Lucknow.
She also expressed disappointment in the lack of Opposition unity: “If the Opposition had fought together, it would have been good. We tried, but we didn’t hear back. Akhilesh is fighting with all his might, all communities should support him.”
Last week, Mamata had announced that the TMC will contest the 2024 parliamentary elections from Uttar Pradesh, adding that her party will not contest the upcoming assembly polls in the state, but support the SP.
Mamata’s addition to the UP campaign has drawn a sharp reaction from the BJP, with Union minister Smriti Irani accusing Mamata of insulting the state’s people.
Facing a vociferous attack by the BJP’s star campaigners led by the PM himself — who had made a poll pitch of “Nakli samajwad (fake socialism, a barb at the SP)” versus “gareeb ka sarkaar (government of the poor, aimed at the BJP)” to voters during a virtual rally last week — the SP has emerged as the arch rival of the ruling party in UP.
Attacking Mamata’s campaign for Akhilesh, Irani said “this is the plight of the SP that people have to be called to tell the people of UP that they offer their support”.
“But he should ask those with whom he will do a press conference, how much they have humiliated the public of UP,” the Amethi MP said in a rally at Jewar.
“Mamataji said in Bengal during elections that she has an objection to the people of UP. She had levelled allegations of anarchy upon them. Residents of UP who wear saffron, put tilak or like the paan of Banaras… she openly insulted them for their culture, traditions and their food habits. Today, I want to ask Akhilesh — what happened that he wants their support now? Aisi kya majboori hai ki Akhilesh ko ab Mamata zaroori hai? (what compelled Akhilesh to give such importance to Mamata)?” she asked.
However, it is Yogi Adityanath’s “garmi nikal denge (will cool off their ‘heat’)” remark, made last month, which the SP now appears to be attempting to counter with Mamata’s visit.
While referring to the SP as “Tamanchavadi (those with pistols) party”, the CM had tweeted last month that his government will take out the heat that is being displayed by SP candidates after 10 March.
कैराना से तमंचावादी पार्टी का प्रत्याशी धमकी दे रहा है, यानी गर्मी अभी शांत नहीं हुई है!
10 मार्च के बाद गर्मी शांत हो जाएगी…
— Yogi Adityanath (@myogiadityanath) January 29, 2022
“Yogi keh rahe hain dikha denge, toh dekh lenge (Yogi is saying he will show us, so we will also see),” SP spokesperson Rajeev Rai told ThePrint.
Rai described Mamata as a “big leader” on the national level who has her own charm. “Mamata Banerjee fought a tough fight against the BJP in Bengal, where the attack was led by the biggest BJP leaders including the PM and others. She has shown that any party that tends to portray itself as a big force can be defeated,” he said.
Asked whether Mamata’s visit was also an attempt to woo the Bengali population in UP, which stood at 2,41,007 in the 2011 Census, SP spokesperson Uday Veer Singh said it should not be equated only on those lines.
“Mamata ji’s visit should not only be equated as an appeal to the Bengali population but for the larger cause of samaajik badlaav (social change) in democracy,” he told ThePrint.
In Pilibhit and several districts of western UP, the Bengali population includes several immigrants who came and settled after the formation of Bangladesh, while a few families came over for the purpose of livelihood.
PM Modi’s Lok Sabha constituency Varanasi too has a sizeable population of Bengalis in some neighbourhoods, including Dashashwamedh Ghat, Sonarpura and ‘Bangali Tola’. The Bengali population in the area is led by the Brahmin community and mostly constitutes traditional BJP supporters.
The party also hopes to cash in on Didi’s appeal to woo voters in eastern UP’s Purvanchal region, whose relatives are settled in West Bengal, to vote in its favour. SP spokesperson Rajeev Rai said a lot of labourers and migrants from UP work in West Bengal, and Mamata’s support to Akhilesh will help win them over.
‘Defeated BJP in Bengal, it can happen in UP too’
According to the TMC, the visit will carry the message that if the BJP can be defeated in West Bengal, it can lose in Uttar Pradesh as well.
“With Mamata Banerjee in UP, the BJP will feel the heat, they will be challenged on their own turf and they know this election will not be a walkover for them. The TMC is a strong party, it has defeated the BJP in West Bengal. When the TMC supports the SP, the message that would be sent out is that the BJP can be defeated in UP as well. Her visit will be a big boost for Akhilesh Yadav,” Lalitesh Pati Tripathi, former Congress MLA from UP’s Mirzapur who is now in the TMC, told ThePrint.
Tripathi was referring to the BJP losing to the TMC in last year’s West Bengal assembly polls despite a mega campaign featuring its most prominent leaders. While the TMC won a third consecutive term, the BJP made deeper inroads in the state.
The party feels that Mamata has “mass appeal”, added Tripathi. However, the TMC is currently taking it step by step and not jumping the gun for 2024. Their focus now remains the UP elections.
“The Congress is a marginal force in Uttar Pradesh, they have refused to put up a united Opposition fight. But the Trinamool believes that wherever the Opposition party is strong to take on the BJP, all others should unite. Hence, with Akhilesh Yadav being a strong force in UP, the TMC finds it important to stand by the SP. This election will be the second biggest after what the country witnessed in Bengal,” Tripathi said.
A meeting between Mamata and two-three delegations comprising eminent personalities from various walks of life was also scheduled during her visit to UP, but the West Bengal CM herself requested that this interaction be postponed so she can dedicate more time to the same, said TMC sources. A similar meeting had taken place in Mumbai last December during her visit.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)