By A Special Correspondent
With Kolkata and its surrounding areas going to the polls in the last phase of the general elections on 19th May, the war of words between the Trinamool Congress and the BJP has intensified. After BJP president Amit Shah’s chopper was not allowed to land at a private field in Baruipur in South 24 Paraganas district bordering the city, he will now conduct a roadshow through the heart of Kolkata. The show will begin at the iconic Shahid Minar in Central Kolkata and end at Swami Vivekananda’s home in North Kolkata.
Although the BJP does not have much chance in the city as it has been won over by the TMC through the distribution of patronage (auto and other unions) and largesse (money to clubs and doles to maulvis of mosques), urban voters do have more affinity towards the saffron party. In any case, the BJP in Bengal is woefully short of infrastructure and workers in the state to immediately challenge TMC’s hegemony. Its only attempt this time is to increase its vote share to a level from where it can pose a serious challenge to Mamata Banerjee in 2021.
But for that to happen, either Banerjee will have to be discredited or a leader matching her charisma will have to emerge from the BJP ranks. In trying to achieve the former, the BJP has been trying to portray the chief minister as a Muslim-lover in its attempt to consolidate the Hindu vote. It has also been trying to show that there has been no development in the state due to her intransigence (remember Modi referring to her as speed breaker didi in every rally). The saffron party is charging her with nepotism by saying that her one-point agenda is to do everything to keep the hot seat ready for her nephew, Abhishek Banerjee. Now, Amit Shah is saying that Bengal is kangaal (bankrupt) alluding to the fact that Banerjee has squandered money without bringing any development.
Mamata, on her part, has responded to every criticism with her usual combative style. She has called Modi the “greatest danger” for the country. She even refused to reply to his calls during Cyclone Fani and later said she did not do so as she does not consider him to be prime minister anymore. She also said that she is “ashamed” to call Modi the prime minister. She has accused Modi of trying to run the state during the elections. She said that he should receive the “tight slap” of democracy by being voted out of power. She has been one opposition leader who has hurled fire and brimstone at the BJP in general and Modi in particular.
With opinion polls predicting that the BJP is likely to double its vote share from 16 to 32% and increase the number of seats from 2 to anywhere between 6 to 12, the state is poised on the threshold of political upheaval. There has already been sporadic violence in the first six phases. Citizens in Kolkata and surrounding areas are keeping their fingers crossed. The presence of a huge of Central force might yet prevent miscreants of both parties from starting something major on the day of the polls. But the undercurrent is one of fear and the city is on the edge.