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BJP vote share spurts, eye on civic poll

Calcutta, May 16: A fringe political force in Bengal for over a decade made its presence felt in the state today as the BJP bagged over 17.3 per cent votes and won two Lok Sabha seats.

The BJP’s best-ever performance in the state came on the back of the Narendra Modi wave and coincided with RSS chief Mohanrao Bhagwat’s visit to Bengal.

“This is our best-ever performance. We want to build from here,” Bengal BJP president Rahul Sinha said this afternoon after the poll results were announced.

Within hours of Sinha’s news conference, Bhagwat landed in Calcutta and held a meeting at the state RSS headquarters in north Calcutta. He then left for Raiganj to inaugurate a 20-day camp for newly recruited RSS volunteers.

The timing of the camp is significant as it indicates that the RSS, which already has increased its network in the state and has over 60,000 volunteers, is on an expansion drive.

“The RSS network helped the BJP during its Lok Sabha poll campaign. Now with Modiji as the Prime Minister, we will try to expand our activities in the state,” said RSS state chief Atul Kumar Biswas.

Sinha thanked the RSS network and the Modi wave.

In 1999, the BJP had two seats in Bengal. Tapan Sikdar and Satyabrata Mukherjee had won the Dum Dum and Krishnagar seats, respectively. But the party’s vote share was about 6.5 per cent.

Not only has the BJP’s vote share gone up sharply this time, the party has come second in three Lok Sabha seats — Calcutta South, Calcutta North and Malda South. In Calcutta South, BJP nominee Tathagata Roy’s vote share was 24.81 per cent. The party bagged 28.45 per cent votes in Calcutta North and 34.84 per cent in Malda South.

Roy got a lead over Trinamul’s Subrata Bakshi in Bhowanipore, one of the seven Assembly segments of Calcutta South. The Bhowanipore Assembly seat is represented by Mamata Banerjee.

The BJP’s emergence as the second-best party in the two Calcutta seats could have a bearing on next year’s elections to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation.

“More than 50 per cent of voters in Calcutta are Hindi-speaking and they are traditional BJP supporters. We will surely be a key player in the civic polls,” said a state BJP vice-president.

Now, the BJP has only three councillors — from Jorasanko and Burrabazar — in the civic body.

BJP sources said the Lok Sabha poll performance would boost the party’s preparations for the 2016 Assembly polls. The BJP is eyeing at least 50 to 60 Assembly seats, the sources said. The BJP had one MLA in the Assembly in the early nineties but since then it has not had any representative.

“Our good performance in the Lok Sabha polls will be a stepping stone for building the organisation before the 2016 Assembly polls,” said the state BJP vice-president.

Besides the three seats where the party emerged second, the BJP has also performed well in Krishnagar (26.39 per cent votes), Bongaon (22.49 per cent votes), Howrah (22.16 per cent votes), Serampore (22.66 per cent votes) and Birbhum (18.47 per cent votes).

State BJP leaders said functionaries overseeing the organisation in the Lok Sabha seats where the party performed well would be told to reach out to people to increase mass contact and try to fill the vacuum left behind by the CPM.

“Against this backdrop, BJP will emerge as a viable alternative to the ruling Trinamul in the 2016 polls,” said a state BJP general secretary.

The BJP had bagged around 6.5 per cent votes in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, which dropped to 4.5 per cent in the 2011 Assembly polls and 3.5 per cent in last year’s panchayat elections.

“The Modi wave might not be there during the next Assembly polls. We can compensate for that only if we have a strong organisational network. That’s what we will try to do,” a BJP leader said.