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3-min read

'Silently Vote for The Flower': The Slogan that Might Decide Election Outcome in West Bengal

While the BJP has been urging voters to vote ‘silently’, to keep their allegiances to themselves, the ruling Trinamool Congress has been silently intimidating villages that voted for the BJP during panchayat polls, claim villagers.

Aniruddha Ghosal | News18.com@aniruddhg1

Updated:May 1, 2019, 7:50 PM IST
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'Silently Vote for The Flower': The Slogan that Might Decide Election Outcome in West Bengal
Separate posters of west bengal minister mamata banerjee and PM near Thakurnagar.

Kolkata: Amid the blaring loudspeakers, vitriolic speeches and graffiti clamouring for space on West Bengal’s walls, it might just be silence that will decide the eventual outcome.

Since her first electoral victory in 1984, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee would write and rewrite opposition politics in the state. “Vitriol and tenacity, matched with an acute understanding of her party’s own weaknesses when faced with a behemoth,” described one leader in her election management committee.

As the state goes to polls again in 2019, things are different. In power, it is Banerjee who is fending off an ascending BJP, armed with her own playbook. Nowhere is that more apparent than in their use of Banerjee’s iconic slogan against the CPI(M): “Chup chap, phoole chap. (Quietly vote for the flower).”

There are two flowers on the walls of Bengal and also two kinds of silence. The BJP’s lotus, albeit more prominent than ever before, still finds less space than the Trinamool Congress’s ‘ghas phool’ (grass flower). But that means little, admit both TMC and BJP leaders. While the BJP has been urging voters to vote ‘silently’, to keep their allegiances to themselves - the Trinamool has been silently intimidating villages that voted for the BJP during panchayat polls, alleged villagers.

Chandra Nath Bose, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s grandnephew, knows a thing or two about taking on Banerjee. He contested against her from the Bhowanipore seat and lost by a margin of nearly 40,000 votes. Now, contesting from the South Kolkata seat, Bose filed his nomination along with supporters who were wearing “industrial standard safety helmets”.

“Bengal is in the mood for change,” he said, adding that helmets were necessary because of Trinamool’s “reign of terror”.

The symbolism of saffron helmets isn’t without reason. The polls in Bengal have been characteristically bloody in 2019. In the last phase at Birbhum, at least nine persons were injured.

“The TMC is resorting to every method known to try and subvert a free and fair election,” said Shishir Bajoria, BJP leader and member of the party’s election management committee.

The best antidote, the BJP said, for such “shantrash” (terror) was the one engineered by Mamata Banerjee in the 1990s.

“We have told our voters to not come for our meetings. To not support us openly. Any visible support will face a crackdown. Fear begets more fear and that is dangerous in the long run,” said a senior BJP leader, working at Birbhum, adding with a grin, “Chup chap, phoole chhap.”

The message, first coined by the Trinamool in the 1990s when the BJP was its ally, is being used in addition to a newer arsenal: the party’s prowess across social media. With official and ‘unofficial’ pages that disseminate anti-Trinamool rhetoric, a BJP source explained, “The TMC has a better organisation on the ground, much the way the CPI(M) was during its reign. But with our social media, we are directly able to reach out to voters and explain the issues to them. This, we hope, will be able to make up for our organisational weakness on the day of the elections.”

An engineer-turned-BJP IT cell official added, “The issue is of trying to convert the subterranean support into votes.”

At Purulia, the battle between the two silences resonates deeply. The seat - once a Maoist stronghold, dominated electorally by the Forward Bloc and now a BJP focus area - saw the BJP winning 644 of the 1,944 gram panchayat seats. At Balarampur block, where a BJP youth wing worker, whose father is a gram panchayat member, was found hanging last month, former panchayat member Dinobondhu Mahato (62) had told News18, “We are all exhausted with the TMC. We supported the Left and voted them out in favour of the TMC in 2011 because we believed things would change. And they did, briefly. Now it is exactly the same.”

Things have changed since the death of Sishupal Sahish, whose body was found hanging from a tree there. His father, Yadav Sahish, alleged that the TMC had threatened the 23-year-old for campaigning for the BJP hours before he died and pinned the blame on TMC - a charge that the ruling party denied. The police, meanwhile, said that the death was being investigated and that they were waiting for the autopsy report.

Back at Balarampur block, villagers have taken the message to heart. Silence dominates since the death, Mahato told News18, adding, “We all know what we are going to do. We are just not telling anyone.”

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