KOLKATA: Prime Minister Narendra Modi will launch his poll campaign in Bengal today with two mega rallies – the first in north Bengal’s Siliguri and then at the historic Brigade Parade Ground in the heart of Kolkata.
The BJP is hoping for an audience of eight lakh at the Brigade Parade ground, where the opposition’s Mahagathbandhan was born with a rally organised by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in January.
The fight is over the state’s 42 seats, of which the BJP is targeting more than 20. The BJP, which practically had no footprint in the state, has made inroads, with its vote share ticking steadily upwards. But so has the Trinamool’s, with the CPM and Congress losing supporters.
Not one to back down from a fight, the Chief Minister has tweaked her campaign schedule so she could have the last word in today’s verbal contest.
The campaign of Trinamool Congress, which was to be officially launched on April 4, has been brought forward by a day. The Chief Minister was expected to launch her poll campaign in Cooch Behar in North Bengal on Thursday. Instead, the rally will now be held today.
The venue, roughly 170 km from Siliguri, remains unchanged. The timing, though, has been coordinated so that Ms Banerjee can begin as soon as PM Modi finishes his address in Kolkata. Sources said the change in her schedule was a tactical decision to get in the last word.
On paper, though, the TMC contends it is not about the “first word or the last word”.
“It is not about the first word or last with Mamata Banerjee, it is about conviction,” said senior Trinamool leader Derek O’Brien. “Nobody has tweaked any programme. This is an election season. She is our star campaigner by far and she is in demand,” he said.
But the BJP – one of whose leaders took to the Hooghly river to campaign for the Prime Minister – is laughing at the Chief Minister’s so-called tactics.
“Whether Mamata Banerjee speaks before the Prime minister or after, it won’t work… She is worried that people will hear Modi and become his fans,” said senior BJP leader Rahul Sinha.
“Mamata Banerjee is trying to give sanjivani to her party. But it probably needs saline….They are going, like Congress, into intensive care,” said state BJP chief Dilip Ghosh. “Both the PM and the CM will be in north Bengal, but who would go to her programme? They will come to listen to the PM,” he added.
The Trinamool is talking in terms of numbers. “Trinamool and the other parties are 50-60 seats ahead of the BJP and the NDA, irrespective of what helium balloon is being pumped up with billions of dollars,” said Derek O’Brien.