In recent years the BJP has been able to optimize its reach to embrace quite a few States, including those of Northeast India, thereby debilitating other parties like the Congress and the Left. A number of former strongmen have been made to bite the dust; if others, like Naveen Patnaik of Odisha or Nitish Kumar of Bihar have succeeded in clinging on to the gaddi, it has been because they compromised with the saffron party. One thorn in the flesh of the BJP has, of course, been Mamata Banerjee, the firebrand Chief Minister of Bengal, who has become a vocal critic of the NDA, occasionally overshadowing the likes of Rahul Gandhi. At one point of time the possibility that the BJP could even envisage getting a toehold in Bengal, let alone aspire to capturing power in the State, had been remote. It may be noted that Bengal had earlier been governed by the Congress, the Left Front and Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress (TMC) respectively. It may also be noted that the anti-incumbency factor had been primarily responsible for the political changes in the State, with the TMC in 2011 supplanting the longest ruling Left Front dispensation in India. Banerjee’s rise had also simultaneously witnessed the virtual obliteration of the Congress and the Left, but now, if the BJP is to be believed, the anti-incumbency factor is catching up with her.
And the saffron party is readying itself to step into the vacuum that it perceives has been created in Bengal politics! Not surprisingly, the slogan-loving party has coined ‘Asol poriborton (real change)’ to be the catchphrase of its campaign. It has thrown every resource at its command to try and dislodge the TMC, setting for itself the ambitious goal of bagging more than 200 Assembly seats out of 294. Its heavyweights, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, have made repeated visits to Bengal inaugurating projects and making promises, while party president JP Nadda has busied himself with undertaking rath-yatras in a quest for poriborton. There is no gainsaying that the BJP juggernaut is extremely well oiled and the party is meticulous in planning its election strategy. For instance, in keeping up with the times, the party has built a strong social media wing in Bengal comprising of 40,000 WhatsApp groups, which has launched an aggressive blitz. It has also encouraged defections from TMC, which is not surprising, given that it does not have a recognizable leadership of its own in the State. However, unlike the States in the Northeast, the saffron party might find Bengal a harder nut to crack. This is borne out by latest surveys which indicate that though it might win more seats than before, Bengal may not be the new pasture on which the BJP will be able to graze!