The LS election 2019 would be a path breaking one. This is clear from the manner in which opposition parties of widely contradictory ideologies have joined hands with the single minded mission of ‘Modi Hatao.’ Such a scene has rarely been witnessed in India. The electoral contest in West Bengal may be of critical importance for both TMC and the BJP. TMC, though technically a national, but actually a ‘one state’ party and it has to maximise seats here to support Mamata’s claim to the PM post, in the unlikely event of a hung parliament. It has coined a series of interesting slogans including those that sound death knell of BJP in the state and the country: ‘BJP Bharat Chhodo’, ‘Do Hazar Unnis, BJP Finis’ (sic). Its chief has been repeatedly comparing Modi government with ‘expired medicine’, and confidently claiming her party would score 42/42 seats.
On the other hand, the BJP has been working hard and cultivated a good support base. This reflects in its candidates coming to the second position in most elections and by-elections at various levels in recent times, ahead of both CPM and Congress. The party has a lot of stake too, as it is aiming to improve its seats in eastern India (West Bengal in particular) to make up for some anticipated losses in Hindi heartland.
While TMC is well-entrenched in the State and confident about what strategies to adopt, BJP seems to be less sure. By drawing analogy of a football match, a leading local TV political analyst said that BJP may have control of ball over a wide area of the field, but won’t be able to score goals. Here are suggestions for a 10 point strategy that may help it give a very tough competition to the ruling TMC. At the same time, if this can fetch electoral success, their implementation would do a lot of good to the people of the state.
1. The party should field at least two heavy weight central ministers with universally proven track record from the state, including one from Kolkata. In this regard, two names that can evoke resonance in voters’ mind cutting across party ideologies are Nitin Gadkari and Piyush Goyal. Both are performers par excellence and amiable and therefore can draw voters. Their candidature per se can bring in unexpected level of energy into BJP’s election campaign in the whole state. If need be, they can contest from their home states as well. Both have fair chance of winning in West Bengal in which case they need to retain these seats and carry forward their party’s long-term agenda. Although, not strictly comparable, Modi’s candidature from Varanasi in 2014 had impacted the election scenario in both UP as well as neighbouring Bihar in BJP’s favour in an unprecedented manner.
2. The party has to direct its campaign style to give it a presidential form. The TMC had asked for votes in the name of its supreme leader in 2016. The BJP has to make it a Modi vs. Mamata issue to reduce importance of other issues and factors, with regard to which its rival, being the ruling party with state wide organisational presence, have been influencing public perception, many times without factual basis, over last few years.
3. The party can legitimately claim a role in the matter of cleaning of Ganga water, which was neglected for nearly seven decades. Despite the impact of communist ideology, the holy River strikes a deep chord in Bengali heart arousing love and reverence. If the water in Prayag Raj has already been cleaned to the extent of 30% as Nitin Gadkari claimed recently, the quality of the Ganga water in West Bengal must look at least 10% cleaner. The BJP does not appear to be aware of the potential of this issue. Further, the party can as well guarantee that it would install the similar technology e.g., STP in the state to ensure the river water is restored to its pristine purity within a time frame, given the co-operation by the state government;
4. With regard to illegal migrants issue, the party can take a ‘Assam government’ like position in the state with firmness. This would mean perfect equality between Hindus and Muslims hailing from the West Bengal, but not accepting the illegal Muslim migrants from Bangladesh in the state. The party also needs to define a time frame for its action plan in this regard. It also needs to pledge its resolve about implementation of Citizenship (Amendment) Bill that would benefit large numbers of Hindu refugees.
5. A large percentage of West Bengal’s urban population are either salaried persons or pensioners and they belong to low or middle income category. They were very favourably impacted by the IT exemptions up to Rs 5 lakh in this year’s central budget. The BJP may benefit if this matter is kept in constant focus going into the poll;
6. The people of West Bengal value salaried jobs in formal sector more than any than anything else. The BJP has to plan at least opening up of six big industries or PSU units in six districts of the state within a specified time limit. This may include re-opening of any closed unit as well.
7. Despite doing some development work the ruling TMC has antagonised a large section of state’s population, especially the ‘Bhadrloks’, by what its rivals call as ‘Syndicate Raj’ and the culture of ‘Bomb Making’. These are real issues and people are fed up with them. The BJP needs to make a categorical promise that it would ensure the end of these activities within a specified time limit, by adopting whatever steps necessary for that purpose;
8. The BJP needs to recognise that people of West Bengal are generally emotional and they are passionate about the game of football. Bengalis also have a natural talent in this game. Unfortunately, the local players have been losing their place to those hired from other countries. The party needs to plan at least six large size well equipped football academies in at least three districts with residential facilities and provision for foreign coaches from European or South American countries. Additionally, there needs to be facility for deputing them abroad through ‘exchange’ programs. The party has taken some momentous initiatives with regard to ‘sports’ in the northeast and that has worked to the mutual advantage of that area and itself. It is likely that West Bengal would also respond to such a gesture, which is close to the heart of its people. At present, the ruling party has been extending monetary grants to local clubs in more than one ways. These are not always spent productively. The scheme of football club would make much more electoral sense.
9. The BJP has to think about constructing an ultra-modern new sea port in the 24 Parganas with public-private partnership that would have ‘state of the art’ loading, unloading facilities and comprehensive rail and road linkages with rest of India. At the same time it would be the foremost ‘port’ of India connecting with entire southeast and east Asia. Bristling of commercial activities in that zone can also keep vigil on and prevent infiltration of illegal migrants from Bangladesh into the state. This would be an important collateral benefit. If it can quickly take a policy decision on this issue, it would serve as an excellent plank of election campaign.
10. Last but not the least, the party needs to arrange for extensive training programmes for its spokespersons attending TV debates. Bengal is the birthplace of its founder and that should have brought the party and the state naturally close to each other. It is true that in the State, which was essentially the fruit of Syamaprasad’s crusade, political usurpers have been maligning his image over decades. The task of the party is to correct history and put things in perspective. Today, majority of the states and the central government are following Syamaprasad’s ideology.
In the process the party has achieved milestones in various walks of national life. Viewed from these perspectives the party spokespersons need not be unduly aggressive. They have so much to talk about the performance of their government at the Centre. They can silence their rivals from other parties by citing cool facts. Simultaneously such strategy can help the party to generate confidence and win hearts of many ‘swing’ voters.