The Home Minister’s ‘Banglar Jana Samabesh’ comes at a time when people are increasingly being attracted by PM Modi’s vision and conviction of turning West Bengal into a lead state.
If reactions, estimates and responses are to be believed, Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s mega virtual rally, “Banglar Jana Samabesh”, on 9 June, had a resounding and resonating impact on the ground in West Bengal. More than three crore people have already connected with him through the virtual rally and the images and content of it have percolated to the interiors of the state. Visuals of villagers huddling around a phone in far-flung and remote areas of the state, listening to Shah delineate a vision for the resurgence of West Bengal, have been widely circulating giving an idea of its deep-rooted impact. For the first time in decades, the listeners could not be intimidated, coerced into retreating, or prevented from attending a political rally. What had been the political norm in West Bengal, till not so long ago, has been broken by Shah’s virtual outreach. Shah mentioned it as much, when he said that in the past the Trinamool Congress and its leaders would leave no stone unturned to prevent the BJP from holding rallies, but now, a virtual outreach has challenged and rendered that undemocratic habit ineffective.
From the days of Left rule to the days of the TMC’s dominance and even till not so long ago, during the campaign for the 2019 general elections, it was evident that the political space in West Bengal had been lumpenised with revenge politics and the politics of intimidation, violence and area-control being the order of the day. While the politics of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have effectively crossed beyond such negativities, largely because of the current political dispensations in the state, with either a BJP government in the saddle or with a government in which the BJP is the principal constituent, West Bengal’s politics continues to remain violent and intolerant. It was a political culture that the Left Front had patronised and promoted in its three decades in power and it is a culture by which the current TMC regime thrives and sustains itself.
Shah’s virtual rally has effectively challenged that culture and that entrenched political mindset and has per-haps, for the first time, given the people of the state a level-playing field. It has given them a space to connect, to ideate and to assert their political preferences by pushing them to formulate, unencumbered, a political choice. Can every mobile set be snatched away, can each smartphone be smashed, and can viewers be prevented from listening to leaders through such a mode? Shah’s “Banglar Jana Samabesh” rally indicated that those days were now being left behind in West Bengal. As days go by, the feedback is that the recording of his speech is reaching out to more people across the state, generating discussion in the proverbial tea shops that thickly dot West Bengal.
The virtual “Jan Samvad” series has also shown how the BJP is capable of continuously adapting itself to change and adopts newer technology so that its tradition of samvad (dialogue) remains unimpeded. Every year, since the last six years of the Modi government, the BJP has been holding its samvad. Every year the party has been doing it, engaging with people, placing before them its government’s achievements and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s report card.
This year was no exception; the pandemic cannot hold back the country’s democratic spirit, aspirations and process. This process’s — and spirit’s — re- silience is seen in the manner in which the political out- reach, a legitimate and necessary democratic activity, can go on unimpeded. The response to Shah’s virtual rally in West Bengal also demonstrated the people’s spirit of political resilience.
Shah struck a chord with the people. His emotions are easily seen when he speaks of West Bengal. In all his public meetings in the state, he has connected to the people and has left behind a trail of animated discussion. His public oration on Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, in 2018 in Kolkata, for instance, had seen public discussion — with people arguing over it, writing on it — even a month after he had delivered that public talk.
This time, Shah spoke to the people of West Bengal of a new hope. He was matter of fact, lucid and described what ails the state. He spoke of the need to free West Bengal from the shackles of “syndicatism”, of political violence, of collapsing public order, of degenerating social and industrial infrastructure.
His emphasis on how the politics of isolation and false political narrative of deprivation in the state has affected the ordinary people, has, it appears, percolated into the urban middle class and the rural hinterlands of the state.
Why is Mamata Banerjee standing in between the farmers of the state and the Modi government’s attempt to ensure that the farmers of West Bengal also become beneficiaries of the PM Kisan Samman Nidhi? Why is Mamata Banerjee, preventing the implementation of the Ayushman Bharat scheme in the state and depriving the rural poor from being benefited by this scheme of free healthcare? Why is Mamata Banerjee trying to prevent the return of migrant workers from West Bengal to their homes, why did she insult them by terming the trains, in which they are travelling back home, as “Corona Expresses”, Shah, asked? These are questions that had already started gaining momentum and when he spoke, the indictment of the Mamata Banerjee dispensation was severe, people connected to it.
Shah also provided an account of the Modi government’s contribution for West Bengal in the last six years. The fact that the PMJDY accounts in the state have been credited with Rs 500 during these lockdown months is now making people realise that these 40 long years of the politics of deprivation has, in effect, left them marginalised and deprived. Referring to the PMJDY, Mamata Banerjee had derided it as being a petty amount for which people were queuing up! For the people of West Bengal, that remark reeked of arrogance from a leader who was seen to be increasingly getting sucked into the vortex of nepotism. The brazen manner in which Banerjee’s nephew, Abhishek Banerjee, calls the shots in the party and the state administration, has begun irritating people at large, and has, for quite some time now, given rise to resentment within the TMC itself. West Bengal does not take kindly to the politics of nepotism.
Shah also listed how BJP- ruled states had started altering their governance records and of West Bengal too can be transformed provided the degenerative political dispensation in the state could be rejected. He placed before the people examples they could compare.
Meanwhile, Mamata Banerjee’s politics of confrontation, of holding back the state, of promoting rampant factionalism, of pilferage and non-performance continues. The TMC’s rank and file comes across as confused, fatigued and in disarray. There is depletion in the rank of the takers of their version of West Ben- gal. Amit Shah’s “Banglar Jana Samabesh”, therefore, comes at a time when people of the state are increasingly being attracted by PM Modi’s vision and conviction of turning West Bengal into a lead state. His vision is gaining adherents; it has reached the grassroots from where Bengal has witnessed change, each time in its tortuous political march.
The writer is director, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, New Delhi.