Churabhandar, February 7: Prime Minister Narendra Modi will address yet another public rally in West Bengal on Friday, giving a fresh thrust to the BJP's campaign blitzkrieg ahead of the Lok Sabha polls amid escalating tensions with TMC chief Mamata Banerjee.
The rally, Modi's third in the state in a week, comes three days after Banerjee called off her sit-in protest against "politically motivated" attempts by the CBI to question Kolkata police chief Rajeev Kumar in the Saradha chit fund scam case in which several top TMC leaders are allegedly involved. CBI Vs Kolkata Police: West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee Backs Commissioner Rajiv Kumar, Accuses BJP of Torturing WB.
Dramatically raising the stakes for the Lok Sabha polls, Banerjee became a rallying point for 23 anti-BJP parties who threw their weight behind her as she sat on dharna for 46 hours against the Modi government's attempts to "stifle the spirit of Constitution and federalism".
Modi, according to BJP sources, will use the platform in Jalpaiguri district, close to Bangladesh border, to give a "befitting" reply to Banerjee's accusations while trying to galvanise the party cadre for the elections.
"Apart from message to party cadre, we are hopeful that Modiji would also give a befitting reply to the TMC's unconstitutional dharna," a senior BJP leader said.
The BJP had won just two of the state's 42 seats in the last Lok Sabha polls, but party chief Amit Shah has set an ambitious target of 23 this time. Having achieved an almost impossible feat of winning with its allies 73 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh in 2014 and 31 of the 40 in Bihar, the general feeling in the party is that repeating the performance will be a daunting task.
The saffron party is, therefore, making determined efforts to claim greater political space in states like West Bengal, Odisha and Kerala, where it has been a marginal player. The three states together account for 83 Lok Sabha constituencies.
Modi, while addressing a rally in Durgapur last week, had branded the Banerjee government as "extortionist" which was run by a "corrupt syndicate", and called for its ouster.
Banerjee, who has emerged as an important cog in the opposition's pursuit to forge a broad-based anti-BJP coalition for the polls, had mustered a galaxy of top leaders including TDP supremo and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, his Karnataka counterpart H D Kumaraswamy, and Congress's Mallikarjun Kharge at her rally in Kolkata last month.
Samajwadi party president and former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, RJD's Tejashwi Yadav, Farooq Abdullah of the National Conference, DMK chief M K Stalin, stormy Patidar quota leader Hardik Patel and fire-spitting Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani were also in attendance.
Given the demography of the rally venue close to the Bangladesh border with significant presence of refugees from the neighbouring country, Modi is also likely to touch upon the Citizenship (amendment) Bill that seeks to grant Indian citizenship to non-Muslim minorities of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who fled religious persecution.
Besides Jalpaiguri, quite a large number of Bangladeshi refugees have made North and South 24 Parganas districts and Malda their home. The Bill that is facing stiff opposition from Banerjee and most opposition parties, says state BJP president Dilip Ghosh, will be a major poll plank for the saffron party in the Lok Sabha elections.
Like in case of other top leaders of the BJP, the party faced difficulty in finding a venue for Modi's rally in Jalpaiguri. After its failure to secure permission for the event at Jalpaiguri government college and a ground adjoining the Sports Authority of India complex, it was forced to organise it on farm land rented by the party some 20 odd kms away from Jalpaiguri town.
BJP's state general secretary Raju Banerjee alleged that local TMC leaders were warning bus operators against allowing their vehicles to carry saffron party supporters to the rally ground.
"They (TMC workers) are also holding demonstrations and dharnas against the rally and keeping a watch on people who are likely to attend the rally (in order to threaten them))," Banerjee claimed.
TMC MLA Sourav Chakraborty, however, dismissed the allegations as "baseless".
The BJP has virtually bombarded West Bengal before the announcement of the elections with several of its top leaders including Amit Shah, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and the party's "Hindutva" mascot Yogi Adityanath and former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan holding rallies.
In an apparent reflection of soaring tension between the BJP and TMC, a 'chopper politics' is also being played out. The BJP has alleged that Shah, Union Minister Smriti Irani, Adityanath, Chouhan and Arjun Munda, a former chief minister of Jharkhand, are among those who were denied permission to land their helicopters for addressing rallies. Some of them cancelled the events while others decided to travel by road to reach the venue.