Sharpening its campaign with the West Bengal assembly election drawing closer, the Bharatiya Janata Party – a principal challenger to the ruling Trinamool Congress – is all set to mobilise public support. BJP national president JP Nadda, who arrived in the city on Friday night, launched the party's 'Rath Yatra' on Saturday.
News agency PTI quoted sources as saying Nadda is scheduled to kick off the 'Parivartan Yatra' from Nabadwip in Nadia district, the birthplace of 15th century saint Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Union Home Minister Amit Shah is also likely to inaugurate two of the five proposed yatras later this month.
Nadda slammed West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for depriving farmers of the state of the PM Kisan scheme benefits to satisfy her ego. He also wondered why she loses her cool over "Jai Shri Ram" slogans.
Nadda, while attending the final round of the month-long "Krishak Suraksha Abhiyan" of the party, said people of the state have made up their mind to bid "namaste and tata" to Banerjee and her party after the assembly polls. "What Mamata di did with farmers of Bengal by depriving them of PM Kisan Scheme benefits was an injustice. She did not allow the implementation of the welfare programme in the state to satisfy her ego.
"Now after realising that the farmers themselves have allowed the scheme she has said she would implement it. The 70 lakh farmers for the last two years have been deprived of annual aid of Rs 6,000," Nadda said. The BJP chief also had lunch with the farmers on the open ground as part of the "Krishak Suraksha Saha-Bhoj" at Sahapur village in Malda. He had 'kichdi' and 'sabji' on the menu. "When I was coming here I was greeted with Jai Shri Ram slogans. But I don't understand why Mamata didi gets angry after hearing it," he said while referring to the January 23 incident at Victoria Memorial Hall in Kolkata.
Amid chants of "Jai Shri Ram", the BJP president held a road show in Malda in election-bound West Bengal.In the afternoon, he will launch the Rath Yatra', also named as 'Parivartan Yatra' from Nabadwip. Standing atop a decorated lorry with state BJP chief Dilip Ghosh and others, he showered jubilant supporters with marigold petals and waved to enthusiastic crowds that gathered along the 1 km stretch between Foara More and Guru Rabindranath Tagore's statue.
People watched the procession from rooftops and balconies and were seen shooting videos with their mobile phones. The streets were lined with BJP's flags and buntings as the cavalcade inched its way through the narrow and crowded streets.
Waving party flags, BJP supporters shouted "Jai Shri Ram", "Narendra Modi Zindabad" and "J P Nadda Zindabad".
Several senior BJP leaders are scheduled to arrive in West Bengal during the month-long campaign, set to start from Nadia on Saturday. The party intends to launch similar yatras from Coochbehar, Kakdwip in South 24 Parganas, Jhargram and Tarapith in Birbhum between February 6 and 11. The state government has asked the BJP to seek permission from local district administrations before embarking on the yatra.
Rath Yatra and Centre-state Tussle
According to a report in The Wire, back in 2019, just a month before the Lok Sabha election, BJP had planned a similar Rath Yatra in Bengal. The state government had then denied permission, saying that such a rally could invite law and order problems. The saffron party filed a petition at the Calcutta high court and a single-judge bench ruled in its favour. But later, a division bench of the high court set aside the earlier judgment by a single-judge bench.
BJP appealed to the Supreme Court, but the apex court upheld the division bench order. A Supreme Court bench led by then Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi said, "Fear of violence by the state government was not unfounded."
The report quoted veteran TMC MP Saugata Roy as saying that he was wary of attaching much importance to the BJP's Rath Yatra. "They (BJP) always mixed religion with politics, this is nothing new. They are desperate as they know that they are going to be losing in the election. Let them do their communal politics, people of Bengal will never fall for it," Roy said. But poll watchers feel that the rallies will give BJP what it wants – visibility, the report added.
State minister Bratya Basu was quoted as saying: "The Rath Yatra is essentially a religious carnival based out of the ideology of 15th century saint Chaitanya. But BJP doesn't follow Chaitanya's concept of inclusion and unity and practice the contrary. This is nothing but a politically motivated programme and their only aim is to polarise and divide Bengal." In 1990, LK Advani had launched a Rath Yatra from Somnath to Ayodhya to stir up support for the demand of the construction of a Ram temple at the spot where the Babri Masjid stood.
BJP's Rath Yatra Plan
While the first rath yatra will be launched on February 6 from Nabadwip and will culminate at Barrackpore, the next two will be launched on February 8 from Cooch Behar in north Bengal and Kakdwip in south Bengal. The last two will be launched on February 9 from Jhargram and Tarapith in south Bengal.
"Along with each rath yatra, multiple padyatras will be organised to bolster the campaign ahead of the assembly elections and boost the morale of the party workers and supporters. It will be a mega outreach programme," a senior party leader was quoted as saying by Hindustan Times.
Elections can be held in March-April this year and the poll dates can be announced any time in February, according to officials in the poll panel.