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Modi makes it a presidential contest with Mamata in Bengal

Amitabh Tiwari
·Columnist
·4-min read

Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched a frontal attack on West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and the Trinamool Congress government at a rally in Hooghly on Monday.

He was in Bengal to inaugurate a slew of developmental projects ahead of the crucial assembly polls due in April - May of this year. The Hooghly Lok Sabha seat was won by the Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2019 general elections. It has 18 Assembly seats.

The party believes PM Modi’s rallies will give a boost to the fortunes of the party in the district as well as in South Bengal which is the stronghold of TMC.

“The people of Bengal have made up their mind to usher in asol poriborton. The BJP will give Bengal a government that will ensure development of all but appeasement of none,” he asserted.

Continuing with where Union Home Minister and BJP stalwart Amit Shah left, Modi sharpened BJP’s attack on the TMC on three key planks - corruption, dynasty politics and minority appeasement.

To neutralise TMC’s attack on BJP of being ‘outsiders’ and not knowing anything about the rich culture/heritage of Bengal, Modi targeted Mamata for insulting the Bengali pride and neglecting the legacy of Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, the man who conceived and wrote ‘Vande Matram’.

Amid chants of 'khela hobe, khela hobe’, people’s fenzy to see Modi was in full swing at the rally. Many supporters were wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the word ‘Modipara’ and the map of Bengal.

The BJP’s Modipara (or Modi’s locality) campaign is gaining popularity in the poll-bound state. The app establishes the Bengali connection from the word go. The mission of the campaign is to show that the BJP is not an ‘outsider’ and cash in on Modi’s popularity.

As state elections become more and more Presidential style in nature, BJP needs the Modi jadoo (magic) to work in its favour. The party’s biggest challenge is that it doesn’t have a chief ministerial face to take on Mamata. Most state leaders don’t have state-wide appeal and poached leaders, such as Suvendu Adhikari, cannot be announced as the face as it will stoke rebellion in the party.

In the period 2014 to 2019, the BJP formed governments in 9 states where it was in the opposition. In most of these states the party didn’t declare its chief ministerial candidate.

The party turned these battles into a Modi versus the incumbent chief minister fight, positioning him as the harbinger of change and growth under whose guardianship the state would prosper.

Modi was literally the chief ministerial candidate of the BJP in these state polls. The Modi factor was very high at over 40% in these polls, meaning two out of every five voted for the BJP because of him. The Modi factor propelled the BJP and its allies to victory in these states.

The BJP is clearly making Bengal a Modi versus Mamata battle. On the other hand, TMC also is seeking votes in the name of Didi. Her personal popularity levels are much higher than the state government.

As per ABP-C Voter survey, Mamata’s net approval rating is 53%, while that of TMC government is just 44%, indicating that her personal popularity is the main reason why TMC seems to be managing to hold onto its ground. The net approval rating of the prime minister is at 50% as per the survey.

The satisfaction level with the TMC government is very low at 38%, while with Mamata it is very high at 75%. Modi’s popularity rating is at 74%.

Both the main contenders prefer a presidential-style contest, although for different reasons. While TMC prefers a leadership contest to negate the anti-incumbency against its MLAs, the BJP prefers it due to the lack of leaders of Mamata’s charisma in its ranks.

Since the BJP doesn’t even have leaders to put up in all 294 seats, it fancies a personality contest with Narendra Modi and Amit Shah at the helm against Mamata Banerjee.

The double engine ki sarkar narrative and the fact that people of the state may want a friendly government in the state to tide over the challenging times of the pandemic is what BJP is banking on.

Will Modi deliver again and pull the BJP to a victory in Bengal? Or will he fail, like in Delhi (2015/20) and Bihar (2015), when he faced tough opponents like Arvind Kejriwal and Nitish Kumar, respectively? Only time will tell.

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