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En route to the burning ground?

13 March, 2021 14:23:31
En route to the burning ground?

About a week ago, last Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the principal speaker at the BJP’s Brigade rally in Kolkata, and began his speech with a slight inaccuracy, declaring that this was the biggest gathering he had ever addressed. Evidently, the elections are a powerful motivator. Because in recent times, his own party’s drumbeaters have been telling the world that the gathering held in honour of Donald Trump at Ahmedabad was the biggest ever, or some such thing. Not to forget the similarly large gathering to witness the unveiling of Sardar Patel’s statue at the Narmada Project, apparently

But as we say, this is election season, so Modi set aside those minor glitches to declare a figure for the Brigade rally that would make even a statue laugh. Whatever else they may or may not be able to do, the people of Bengal have traditionally proved themselves adept at filling up the Brigade Parade Ground, without any help from anyone. They themselves decide which leader is worth coming all the way to the ground for. That list would certainly include the likes of Jyoti Basu, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, or Mamata Banerjee.

As of now, no Hindutvavadi heavyweight has made it to that list. Which is why Modi & Co. still need to hark back seven decades to dredge up Shyamaprasad Mukherjee. Ironically, he himself never underwent the ‘Brigade test’ to determine his popularity. 

The electoral buzz of the BJP must still rely on cries of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and references to Gujarat, since those who represent the party in Bengal are all what may be described as sudden pop-ups. They do not even come close to the consistency of leaders like Atal Behari Vajpayee, Lal Krishna Advani, Haripada Bharati, or Vishnukant Shastri. In large measure, this is because the BJP itself ruined its opportunity to form a viable state leadership post the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Having set out to shop for groceries, it is now full of birds who have escaped the Trinamool Congress (TMC) cage, all of them apparently overflowing with a desire to render public service, as they claim. 

However, they would do well to look around at the rest of the country before making this claim. The very formation of the BJP in Tripura was a result of the actions of Mukul Roy, once the Trinamool’s second in command. Today, the party faces a near existential crisis in the state. Similarly, Madhya Pradesh Congress deserter Jyotiraditya Scindia no longer finds a place in the headlines. The erstwhile prince seems well on his way to pauperhood.  

As of now, no Hindutvavadi heavyweight has made it to that list. Which is why Modi & Co. still need to hark back seven decades to dredge up Shyamaprasad Mukherjee. Ironically, he himself never underwent the ‘Brigade test’ to determine his popularity.

These dedicated public servants should perhaps have examined the BJP with a little more care as well. In 2014 itself, Modi had promised to reduce petrol and diesel prices to Rs 40 per litre. We all know where the prices stand today. The saga of cooking gas is even more searing. If all of this reflects administrative failure, the party’s internal failures are no less. Rahul Sinha would testify to that in Bengal. Last week, T.S. Rawat, chief minister of the BJP-ruled Uttarakhand, resigned from his post. Rawat enjoyed an absolute majority in the Vidhan Sabha, and his state is up for Assembly elections next year, but not even he could ward off internal feuds. 

At the Brigade rally, the former caged birds of the TMC should have gained an inkling of what lies in store for them. Without exception, they lined up and stood there like wooden dolls. No Mukul, no Subhendu, was invited to speak. Because Modi had by then found a new star, whose name is Mithun Chakraborty, who has himself found his fourth home, having done the Naxal-CPIM-TMC round. Standing on the podium, he pleased the crowd with his legendary line from one of his films, “Maarbo ekhane, laash porbe shoshane.” The closest, but very inadequate, English equivalent would be, ‘I hit here, and the body drops dead at the burning ground’. Whatever the translation, the line would surely appeal to Modi, given the burning grounds for minorities that he and Amit Shah created in Gujarat in 2002.

Mithun’s closing line, however, raised a few concerns: “Ami jaat gokhro...ek chhobole chhobi (I’m a true cobra, one strike is enough to turn you into a photograph)”. The people of Bengal, and of the entire nation, have been subject to a series of continuous strikes by Modi already. How much venom Mithun can spout is now open to question.

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