On the day of Amit Shah’s arrival in Kolkata on Wednesday evening, West Bengal BJP once again demonstrated it was in full battle mode, skirmishing with the police at Central Avenue in the heart of the city. The police were trying to control a march by the BJP to the Mahatma Gandhi statue.
It is a shot in the arm for Bengal BJP that Mr Shah is taking charge of the party’s poll preparedness; BJP leaders have confirmed he will be leading the party in next year’s state election.
Mr Shah stayed overnight in Kolkata on Wednesday. Today, his first stop is Bankura town, where he will hold an organisational meeting for the party in the key Jangalmahal area, which is dominated by the tribal population and was once overrun by Maoists.
Mr Shah will lunch with a tribal family at Bankura. In Kolkata on Friday, he will share a meal at a Matua home. The Matua community, originally from erstwhile East Pakistan, wants citizenship under the new Citizenship Amendment Act. They voted BJP in 2019 and their young Matua MP, Santanu Thakur, has been lately complaining about the delay in the implementation of the Act.
By lunching with a Matua family, Mr Shah assuages that grievance and puts CAA firmly on Bengal’s electoral map.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had opposed the bill furiously. Even on Wednesday, she distributed ‘pattas‘ or land rights to some members of the community, clearly in a bid to woo them.
“Everybody knows these are all political stunts. Mr Shah had lunched with a Dalit family before and even with an Adivasi family in 2016. I do not think there is any special significance in his visit except that it may help some BJP leaders to raise the demand for Article 356 in Bengal,” Trinamool MP Sougata Roy said.
“Even on that issue, BJP is a house divided. Dilip Ghosh, the state chief, is against imposition of Article 356. Others want it. Amit Shah is possibly coming to unite the local BJP,” he added.
Joy Prakash Majumdar, BJP Bengal vice president, said: “Bengal has made up its mind. No more Mamata Banerjee. Amit Shah’s Bengal visit will have a blueprint for the fight”.
On the Matuas’ growing resentment, Mr Majumdar said, “The CAA has been passed. It is a law but because of Covid, there has been a delay in framing rules. The Matuas want rules and citizenship. The MP has rightly voiced concern. It will surely be addressed”.
Last week, there was some reported turmoil in the BJP when the organising secretary, Subrata Chattopadhyay, was replaced by Amitava Chakravarty. Mr Chattopadhyay was known to be close to Dilip Ghosh. His removal had led to rumours about Mr Ghosh’s wings being clipped.
Mr Ghosh and Mr Chattopadhyay were viewed as favouring the old guard in the party and sidelining the newly arrived former Trinamool leaders.
Trinamool’s Sougata Roy suspects Mr Shah is flying down to firefight. JP Nadda was scheduled to come on November 6 and 7. That plan was cancelled, and Mr Shah confirmed.
“BJP is fighting with a handicap it has no Chief Minister face. In Bihar they had Nitish Kumar not a popular face if you ask me. But here they have none. Those who can be faces are fighting amongst each other,” he said.
The BJP denies any such rift in the party. “Our party is not like Trinamool. It doesn’t do anything whimsically. The change was long planned and methodical,” sources said.
“This comment shows their desperation and their despair. The Trinamool Congress is already smelling their defeat in the air and that’s why they are raising such questions. Who is the chief ministerial candidate – they don’t have to worry about it,” Mr Majumdar said.