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Modi’s Bengal Rally: Mellow On Mamata, Massive On Crowd

Despite the size, which undoubtedly matters, whether Modi will be able to consolidate it in votes remains a mystery for now.

The Bhartiya Janata Party has no presence in West Bengal. It has been able to get only one MP, Jaswant Singh in 2009, from the state and it is completely absent in the 294-member legislative assembly of the state. For a party with such bleak record it is a difficult task to gain even listeners for a small gathering.

But Narendra Modi was able to fill the Brigade Ground to its limit. The last it had happened was on January 30 when state chief minister Mamata Banerjee had held a rally in the ground and had turned it into a visible sea of bobbing heads.

But does it mean that Modi as popular as Mamata in West Bengal? Does it mean BJP’s non-existential days are over?

Modi tried his best to woo the Bengali crowd by breaking into Bangla and reminding them of their pride. The poster behind him had pictures of Tagore, Subhas Bose, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Swami Vivekananda and Shyama Prasad Mukherjee. When he started praising Pranab Mukherjee and showed remorse for his aborted political ambitions due to Congress, that he was not chosen as prime minister after Indira Gandhi’s assassination, and that Sonia Gandhi chose Manmohan Singh over Pranab-da in 2004, the crowd must have felt hurt by Congress for it was so surreal at the moment.

He may have questioned Mamata on the ‘pariborton’ that she promised Bengalis, but he did not put his hand deep into state’s affairs. From the contentious issue of land acquisition which had put CPI(M) in a spot to Mamata’s stir against UPA’s price hike, Modi did not touch any of the topics that Bengal obsesses about. He did not mention the Nano project as he was aware that Mamata’s pro-agriculture stand won him that project and he was yet not ready to fight on those grounds.

Perhaps he was aware that tearing into a massive crowd that was still pro-TMC despite being governed by whims and fancies of didi was like putting hand in a beehive. It is worth noting that an opinion poll conducted by CSDS for the Lokniti-IBN poll tracker had suggested that even compared to last year, a greater percentage of people approve of the present Trinamool Congress government in West Bengal.

But the only fact that Modi can find solace in, and which was manifested in the crowd, is that eighteen percent of the respondents believed that Narendra Modi was a better Prime Ministerial candidate than Mamata, who got eleven percent votes.

And so, all he asked for looking at the 42 lok sabha seats in the state was to put him at the centre because Bengal’s pride Mamata-di is in state and Pranab-da is there on top anyway.

This may make one think that Modi’s speech was enough to get BJP some dramatic result in general elections from the state. But there is another face of the story.

Mamata enjoys big Muslim support. She has gone out of her way to deliver sops for Muslims in the state. She banned Taslima Nasreen in West Bengal and book releases in the state have seen many violent turns. Despite that her popularity has seen sharp rise because of the Muslim support in the state and elsewhere. Whereas Modi is seen as an anti-Muslim face although he has worked hard to gain their support in his state.

The crowd that filled the Brigade Ground in Mamata’s rally was mostly Bengali, but Modi’s rally had diversity in it. It had non-Bengalis in large numbers – mostly businessmen – who wanted to listen to his development agenda.

Despite the size, which undoubtedly matters, whether Modi will be able to consolidate it in votes remains a mystery for now.

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