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‘Outsiders’ still the mainstay for BJP in Bhabanipur bypoll

bjp bengal

Ashok Chatterjee

Kolkata (The Hawk): Despite the central Bharatiya Janata Party leaders being termed ‘bohiragoto’ (outsider) by the Trinamool Congress, the saffron party seems to have learnt no lessons.

Political observers have opined that clubbing the BJP touring leaders as ‘outsiders’ damaged the reputation of the central party to a large extent in the last assembly election. The Trinamool Congress (TMC) had called out the BJP leaders from outside the state, who had come to canvas for party candidates and said that these leaders do not understand the ethos and culture of Bengalis and Bengal. It made a deep impact in the minds of the voters.

Cut to the by-election, a few months later in September. At the Bhabanipur constituency, where the chief minister of the state, Mamata Banerjee is a candidate and opposing her is BJP’s Priyanka Tibrewal, one can see a plethora of central leaders (outsiders to TMC) campaigning for the young firebrand saffron party leader.  

Union ministers Smriti Irani and Hardeep Singh Puri, BJP national spokesperson Sambit Patra and central leader Manoj Tiwari were all seen asking votes from the Bhabanipur electorate in the last few days.

Of course, one name which was also in the list of star campaigners for the BJP, Babul Supriyo, defected recently to the Trinamool Congress. He was the only name in the list who was a star and hailed from Bengal.  

Earlier, during the assembly polls, we saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah making multiple trips to the state to woo voters. The Prime Minister even punctuated his speeches heavily with Bengali terminologies and sentences to make a mark in the minds and hearts of the voters.

The list also included Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath and many central cabinet ministers.

But, countering TMC's claim, while campaigning for Priyanka, Union minister Smriti Irani could be heard saying that Bhabanipur houses people from the Gujaratis, Punjabis, Marwaris and Bengali community.

“Bhabanipur has been the house of several non-Bengali people for ages and still the TMC chief claims that they are outsiders. My mom is also a Bengali but for Mamata didi even I am an outsider. After the vote is over, the TMC chief will not even recognise the Bengalis here,” alleged the Irani.

During her earlier campaign stint in Bengal Irani had spoken in Bengali at her public rallies and proved that she too is a ‘daughter of the soil’.

Bhojpuri film actor-turned-politician Manoj Tiwari, who has been camping in Bhabanipur for the last two days said on Sunday that he too belongs to Kolkata. Recalling his association with Bengal, Tiwari said, “It is unfortunate that Didi calls anyone who comes here an outsider. We Indians take pride in knowing different languages and cultures. But it is unfortunate that Mamata Banerjee divides people on the basis of language. I’ve lived in Salt Lake, near Labony, for many years. I used to take one of the few state government buses available then, S-23, to commute. I learnt Bengali then.” He even spoke in the vernacular haltingly to prove his point. 

To rub in the difference between an ‘outsider’ and ‘ghorer meye’ (neighbourhood girl) Mamata Banerjee has been repeatedly chanting slokas and puja mantras in Bengali apart from reading verses from Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s poems. The stark difference of a Bengali and non-Bengali leader has been aptly highlighted by her.

But the saffron camp was also quick to counter her on the ‘bohiragoto’ front after Trinamool’s chief strategist Prashant Kishor’s name featured in Bhabanipur voter list. The BJP questioned how a person, who does not belong to Bengal, could feature in the list of voters in Bhabanipur.

Poll analysts say BJP central faces are more popular and so they are utilised during the polls.

“Those state leaders, who are prominent, including leader of opposition Suvendu Adikari, are also campaigning side by side with celebrities like Smriti Irani and Manoj Tiwari. But it is the celebrities, who are made to look like “outsiders’,” said an analyst.

Will the ‘outsider’ factor work this time in Bhabanipur, which is also termed mini-India due to its cosmopolitan nomenclature, we will have to wait till October 3 to know.