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PM Modi meets Bengal MPs to form strategy for state polls

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi is interacting with Lok Sabha MPs from West Bengal for comprehensive feedback on the party’s organisational set-up and issues that could shape the campaign ahead of next year’s assembly elections. According to people aware of the matter, this is also being done after the PM received an internal note mentioning a disconnect between the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) state leaders and its workers on the ground.

The lack of a coordinated effort between the party cadre and local leadership was identified as a key reason for setbacks that the BJP faced in recent assembly polls in Jharkhand and Delhi, and the people cited above said that the party leadership has moved in swiftly to take stock of the challenges in West Bengal, where the electoral battle with the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress is expected to be fierce.

According to two members who participated in such one-on-one meetings with the PM this week, Modi listened to the concerns put forth by the elected representatives, asked questions about specific regions, and said that the party should contest the polls keeping in mind that their work is “for the nation”.

“He had lots of questions to ask — about the assembly sectors that comprise one Lok Sabha constituency, the strength and weaknesses of the party and the Opposition, and the areas that need attention. He listened to the issues that people on the ground face in the wake of Banerjee’s politics and her appeasement for illegal immigrants,” said an MP who met the PM.

The MP added that he raised the issue of women’s safety in the state. “Owing to the illegal immigrants in the state, crime against women has gone up,” said the MP.

The BJP, which has been trying to increase its footprint in West Bengal, has identified an organisational revamp as a core focus area, according to a person aware of the details.

While the party increased its tally in the Lok Sabha from two to 14 in 2019, emerging as the principal Opposition in a states that sends 42 MPs to the Lok Sabha, it has set its eyes wresting power in the 2021 assembly elections.

In the 2016 polls, the BJP managed to win just three seats in the 294-member assembly, while the TMC won 211 seats, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) 26, and the Congress 44.

While leaders such as Shiv Prakash, Arvind Menon, Kailash Vijavargiah have been leading the charge on the ground, Union minister Amit Shah gave an indication of the party’s ambitious drive to take on the Trinamool Congress in the 2021 assembly polls with his pro-Citizenship (Amendment) Act rally in the state on March 1, when he launched the “Aar Noi Annay (no more injustice)” campaign.

At the rally, Shah accused opposition parties, including West Bengal’s ruling Trinamool Congress, of spreading misinformation on CAA, assuring minorities that the legislation will not take away their citizenship.

“They are trying to create panic among the minority, saying that our Muslim brothers and sisters will lose citizenship. From this rally in Kolkata, I assure all minorities in Bengal that CAA will not take away your citizenship. This law is for granting citizenship, not for taking it away,” he said. Milind Awad of the Jawaharlal Nehru University said the BJP’s election strategy in West Bengal will be largely based on Pro-hindutava. “The BJP is invoking Hindutava tendencies while responding to largely the Left-led politics of secularism and cultivating anti-political sentiments while responding to the TMC in the West Bengal,” he said.

Senior Trinamool Congress leader and minister of state for parliamentary affairs Tapas Roy said “If he [ Modi] has to meet BJP MPs to ask questions on law and order etc it means he had not been keeping track at all.”

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