Although the Lok Sabha election is still approximately a year away, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, during his two-day tour of West Bengal, sounded the bugle for it. He urged the people of the State to give the BJP more than 35 seats to ensure Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s return to power for a third consecutive term. Shah addressed a rally in Birbhum district on April 14, where he also criticised Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her nephew, Lok Sabha MP Abhishek Banerjee, stating that the BJP was the only alternative to the Trinamool in Bengal. Shah’s visit comes ahead of the crucial panchayat elections, which are expected to be announced in the next few weeks.
Shah pointed out that in the 2021 Assembly election, the BJP had won 77 out of the 294 seats and secured 38 per cent of the votes. At the rally, he said, “Today I have come to ask the people of Bengal to complete what they have left unfinished. In the 2024 election, give the BJP more than 35 seats from Bengal and make Modiji the Prime Minister. I ask you, will you give BJP more than 35 seats? Will you make Modiji the Prime Minister again?”
In the last Lok Sabha election, the saffron party stunned the State and the rest of the country by winning 18 of the 42 seats in Bengal and securing 40 per cent of the votes. The result propelled BJP—which was never a major political force in the state until then—as the main opposition to the ruling Trinamool Congress. However, it could not keep up the momentum, and two years later Trinamool returned to power with a massive mandate, and the BJP remained a distant second.
Launching a scathing attack on the Trinamool government on several fronts, Amit Shah’s main target was Mamata Banerjee and Abhishek Banerjee, the all-India general secretary of Trinamool, who is widely considered to be the heir apparent to the party leadership. “Didi (Mamata Banerjee) does not work for the poor. Her only goal is to make her nephew Chief Minister,” said Shah.
Pointing at the multi-crore recruitment scam in the education department, which landed several Trinamool leaders, including former education minister Partha Chatterjee, behind bars, Shah said: “Mamata didi, you and your nephew do what you can, but this fight against corruption is not about to stop.” He alleged that the Centre would send rice for the poor, and Mamata Banerjee would take credit for it by pasting her own picture on the packets. He also took the opportunity to list the Central schemes that are in operation in West Bengal.
Referring to the recent communal flare-up during the celebration of Ram Navami in West Bengal, the Union Home Minister stated: “There were attacks on Ram Navami rallies in Howrah and Rishra. I want to ask, should Ram Navami rallies be allowed to take place in Bengal? How can we not have Ram Navami processions in Bengal? But Trinamool Congress’s politics of appeasement has emboldened them. Let me assure you that once you give Modiji 35 seats and set up a BJP government, no one will have the guts to attack a Ram Navami rally.”
Localised violence during Ram Navami celebrations has become almost a regular annual occurrence in West Bengal over the last six years. Video footage of this year’s rallies also showed armed Hindutva activists from outside West Bengal taking part in the processions.
Shah also raised the issues of illegal infiltration, cow smuggling, and the law and order situation in the State, claiming that the BJP government in Assam had put an end to illegal infiltration and cow smuggling. “Give us 35 seats in the 2024 election, and in 2025 itself the Mamata Banerjee government will fall. If you allow the lotus to bloom once in Bengal, there will be no attacks on Ram Navami processions, no terror, no cattle smuggling, no illegal infiltration,” he said.
Shah also criticised the State government heavily for the prevalence of political violence in West Bengal, alleging that under “Didi’s rule,” the State has become a centre for bomb manufacturing. “Recently, the NIA [National Investigation Agency] recovered more than 80,000 detonators and 27,000 kg of ammonium nitrate in Birbhum. If the NIA had not recovered this, then nobody can say how many lives would have been lost,” said Shah.
Trinamool ridicules Shah’s comments
Reacting to Amit Shah’s allegation of Mamata Banerjee trying to promote her nephew as the next Chief Minister, Trinamool spokesperson Kunal Ghosh said: “The Home Minister is talking about nepotism, with Adhikari Private Ltd on stage.” Ghosh was referring to BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari, who was sharing the dais with Shah. Adhikari’s father and brother are both Trinamool MPs. Suvendu himself, until December 2020, was a Trinamool Minister. The Adhikari family at that time was considered one of the most influential political families in the State. Ghosh also alleged that during the Ram Navami procession, it was a BJP activist who was seen “dancing with a revolver in his hand”.