BJP may have found the gaffe it needed. In the run-up to the General Election, the video of Mamata Banerjee getting out of her car and giving chase to 2-3 BJP workers who uttered Jai Shri Ram became viral in West Bengal. The words “Jai Shri Ram” became a rallying cry for dissenters all across the state, just what BJP would have liked.
More significantly, the matter transcended usual political gossip and passed into political consciousness, becoming fodder for memes, Whatsapp humour. Even little kids were making Tik Tok videos on the theme of “Mausi” Mamata getting angry with “Jai Shri Ram.”
That’s how you know something has really really seeped into public consciousness. In retrospect, it is stunning that a politician like Mamata would lose her cool so badly. But BJP made her pay for it, big time.
On the citizenship issue, the BJP was slightly on the backfoot at first, with many Bengali Hindu voters having apprehensions about their own documents. But these problems were completely flushed out by CAA. In fact, by making a huge issue out of it, the opposition sort of did BJP’s homework for them. Effectively, TMC advertised to every Bengali Hindu that BJP has ensured no Hindu has anything to fear.
But BJP needed something crisp and clear from Mamata Banerjee that they could use against her. And she might have just given them what they were looking for. This clarification is of no use now.
She said what she said. The comment is viral all across the state. She can try damage control, but in a state used to hardline politics, such things rarely help. The very fact that Mamata is issuing clarifications shows that she knows that a big mistake has just been made.
It is for BJP to latch on to this comment and make sure she pays a heavy political price. When you look into her original comments, they are bad. Really bad. She said that a Bangladeshi living in India should be able to vote for CM and PM. That’s basically giving away our sovereignty to foreigners. It is up to BJP to make sure that nobody forgets this line for the next one and half year.
Everyone knows that Bengal 2021 is the biggest Assembly election test that Modi sarkar will face in its second term. Win here and you take out the cherished citadel of Indian liberalism. It will hurt the ecosystem at a deep psychological level that cannot be captured by data. Imagine how badly Tripura hurt them. Now take that and raise it to a power of 100.
It seems that Amit Shah will be running the Bengal campaign directly from this point.
The optics of that is not great, especially because Bengal, unlike Uttar Pradesh, does have a strong undercurrent of sub-nationalism. But honestly, what other option did the BJP have? Did the Bengal BJP really have a leader who could match Mamata Banerjee directly in a personality contest?
It had to be turned into a Didi vs Modi contest. While Mamata will play the outsider vs insider card, I think Modi has definitively crossed the threshold and embraced as own by the Bengalis. The thing about Bengali regionalism is that its ego can be easily satisfied. A bit more talk about the love of Sandesh and Rasogolla, mentions of Rabindranath and Subhas Bose, with lines sprinkled here and there in Bengali, will do the trick.
This is where Didi’s gaffe helps even more. Because it creates an obvious and biting counter to Didi’s jibes. How can you say that a foreigner from Bangladesh is your own but India’s Prime Minister is not? Shame!
And Amit Shah has hit Didi exactly where it hurts.
In West Bengal at least, wealth is a political liability. Even more when so many people feel like you haven’t earned it. The rise of Bengal’s Rajkumar (who shares my name) has definitely not gone unnoticed. Unlike Mamata, her nephew has no CV of political struggle, simply a history of wealth and entitlement.
Naturally, BJP wants to put a whole lot of focus on this prince who nobody likes but everybody has to tolerate. By doing this, Shah is also fishing for a counter jibe from Abhishek, which will draw him into a direct battle with Modi. A self-made man like PM Modi vs the entitled prince is a one-way contest in West Bengal.
From this point onwards, it is all about the Battle Royale in West Bengal. Bihar will be a nice rest stop to have, a prize to pick up along the way. It is for Shah to map out a campaign that will drive Mamata Banerjee crazy. When taunted, she is prone to making gaffes that go viral. This is a fantastic weakness to have in an opponent. She has already made a big one. BJP has to target one gaffe per month to be extracted from her, all the way till May 2021.