BJP’s election manifesto for West Bengal focuses on women, promises to implement CAA, and counters Trinamool’s schemes with its own

Published : March 22, 2021 17:57 IST

The cover of the BJP's Bengal election manifesto

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) election manifesto for the Assembly election in West Bengal, released, on March 21, appears like an attempt to counter Trinamool’s election strategy and manifesto. At a time when Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has been concentrating on winning the support of women voters with a slew of announcements in her party’s manifesto, the saffron party too has focussed a good deal on trying to woo women voters.

Calling its manifesto a ‘Sankalp Patra’ (promised document), the BJP promised 33 per cent reservation for women in government jobs, free health care for all women including “out of pocket expenses and advanced treatments”, free public transport for all women, increase in widow pension from Rs.1,000 to Rs.3,000, and free education for all girl students “from KG to PG”. Launching the manifesto, Union Home Minister Amit Shah announced that if the BJP comes to power in the State, it will launch the Balika-Alo Yojana, under which a bond of Rs.50,000 will be issued to each family of the ST, SC, OBC and economically weaker sections on the birth of a girl child. The scheme will also ensure periodic financial assistance for the girl’s education – Rs.3,000 once she goes to class six, Rs.5,000 when she gets to class nine, Rs.7,000 when she is in class 11, and again Rs.7,000 in class 12. After attaining the age of 18 years, unmarried girls who have completed education up to class 12 will be given Rs.2 lakh. Another scheme, Ghore Lokshi Yojana, will provide financial aid of Rs.1 lakh to girls above the age of 18 years from the SC, ST, OBC and economically weaker sections of society at the time of their marriage. The BJP has also pledged to launch Mission Atmonirbhor Mohila with a corpus of Rs.5,000 crore to “help women become economically independent”.

Three days earlier, on March 18, Trinamool announced in its election manifesto that it would increase its payment from Rs.6,000 an acre a year to Rs.10,000 an acre a year to 68.38 lakh small and marginal farmers under the Krishak Bandhu Scheme. The BJP in its manifesto announced that it would implement the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Sammann Nidhi (PM KISSAN) with increased financial assistance of Rs.10,000 a year to 75 lakh farmers. Under the PM KISSAN, farmers get a minimum support of Rs.6,000 per year. The manifesto has also promised to pay Rs 18,000 to 75 lakh farmers as three years’ arrears since the scheme has not been implemented in the State. Landless farmers and sharecroppers have been assured Rs.4,000 a year and a fund of Rs.5,000 crore will be set up to ensure that farmers get the right price for their produce.

Like the Trinamool, the BJP has promised to include Mahisyas, Tili and other Hindu communities in the list of Other Backward Classes (OBC). The saffron party also announced that if it comes to power, it will implement the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) in the first Cabinet meeting and also launch the Mukhyomantri Sharanarthi Kalyan Scheme, by which it will provide DBT (Direct Benefit Transfer) of Rs.10,000 a year to each refugee family for five years along with other support. The manifesto also promises a stipend of Rs.3,000 to Matua Dalapatis (group heads). The Matuas, a Hindu community which had migrated from Bangladesh, are an important factor in at least 40 Assembly seats in Bengal. Though they had supported the BJP in the Lok Sabha election, of late they have been unhappy with the Centre dragging its feet in implementing the CAA.

Taking a few more pages from the Trinamool’s policies and promises, the BJP has decided to establish a Purohit Welfare Board and provide an honorarium of Rs.3,000 a month to Hindu priests. In September 2020, Mamata, in an effort to win back Hindu votes she was losing to the BJP, announced an honorarium of Rs.1,000 a month to Hindu priests and offered to build houses under the Bangla Avaash Yojana for those without houses of their own. Further, if Mamata announced 75 crore subsidised meals at Rs 5 a meal through 2,500 ‘Maa’ canteens across 50 cities in the State, the BJP pledged to set up ‘Annapurna’ canteens to provide subsidised cooked food at Rs.5 a meal three times a day.

In an obvious attempt to counter the Trinamool’s main attack against the BJP – that it is a party of outsiders and that its culture is alien to that of West Bengal – the BJP made a large number of announcements in the field of culture as well. It has promised to set up two international prizes – the Tagore Prize “on the lines of the Nobel Prize”, and the Satyajit Ray Award “on the lines of Oscar” to “recognize global excellence”. The party also plans to set up a Sonar Bangla Fund of Rs.11,000 crore to make West Bengal “the cultural capital of India”, and also establish a Gurudev Centre for Cultural Excellence in all State capitals to promote Bengali culture.”

Biswanath Chakraborty, psephologist and teacher of political science at Rabindra Bharati University, pointed out that both manifestos resemble a competition in populist politics. “Going against the trend of new liberal economic policies, the Trinamool and the BJP are encouraging even greater dependence on the State government,” he said. The Trinamool accused the BJP of “copying” its manifesto. Senior party leader and Lok Sabha MP Sougata Roy said, “The cash benefits promised by the BJP are all false. This Bechu babu (one who sells everything) is copying Trinamool’s schemes…. We heard about several promises being made for women. If they had been so keen on this why weren’t these schemes implemented in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka?”

One interesting aspect in the BJP’s manifesto is its claim to curb corruption in the State. It has promised to launch an anti-corruption helpline under the Chief Minister’s Office “to tackle syndicate, tolabaazi and cut money”; it has pledged to set up Special Task Forces to curb various crimes, including communal violence, job recruitment scams, fake currency, narcotics and arms dealing. The saffron party also plans to set up a Special Task Force to look into the alleged corruption during the disbursement of relief following the Aila, Bulbul and Amphan cyclones. Said Biswanath Chakraborty: “For the first in the history of West Bengal election a political party has given a complete road map to deal with the corruption in the State, which is a structural problem created by Trinamool and which affects the everyday life of the common people.”