In a public meeting that was supposed to offer concrete directions to party workers and a road map for the upcoming 2024 general elections, the BJP’s perceived second-in-command Amit Shah made no mention of the 35 Lok Sabha seat target from the state which he had set for the party’s state unit seven months ago.
“I urge the people of Bengal with folded hands to give as many seats as required to Modiji (in the 2024 elections) so that after attending his swearing-in ceremony he is able to say that he became Prime Minister because of the people of Bengal,” Shah said in his speech at Esplanade in central Calcutta on Wednesday, the exact venue where Mamata Banerjee holds her annual show of strength while observing the July 21 martyrs’ day meeting.
The meeting, the run up to which had been hogging news headlines because of the legal battle between the Trinamul Congress-led Bengal government and the state unit of the BJP for securing police permission, was also projected as the launch pad for the BJP’s preparations for the upcoming polls and inject enthusiasm among grassroots workers to take on the might of the ruling Trinamul. While Shah’s speech, the meeting show stopper, set the tone and tenor of the agenda which the party would follow in its poll campaign, the home minister, surprisingly, avoided reminding the assembly what his target seat number was.
In April this year at the party’s Jan Sampark Samavesh rally in Birbhum, Shah, in the context of violence in Ram Navami rallies in the state, had said: “Give us 35 seats from Bengal in 2024 and there would be no need for the state elections a year later,” suggesting that the Mamata Banerjee government would automatically collapse within a year. The party displayed an impressive 18-seat haul from the state in 2019 out of the 42 Lok Sabha seats that are up for grabs, cementing its position as the principal Opposition party of the state.
While many state-level leaders of the party felt at the time that nearly doubling the target seat number was an expression of confidence that the BJP top brass had from its state unit, the absence of a repeat of that figure much closer to the polls on Wednesday left observers wondering if that so-called "confidence" has dwindled by some notches.
In his barely 23-minute-long speech, Shah was scathing in his attack against Mamata Banerjee, accusing her of failing to deliver on her promise of "parivartan" when she snatched power from a 34-year Left rule back in 2011. “Has there been any change in the politics of appeasement, illegal infiltration, poll violence and corruption?” Shah asked the congregation who responded with a resounding "no".
“If you want to remove the Mamata Banerjee government from power in 2026, then the foundation for that would have to be built in 2024 by reinstating Modiji in power,” the difference in the home minister’s appeal from what he said in Birbhum seven months ago sounded nuanced.
Shah repeated his need to bring back Modi to power four times in his speech but never explained the poll math in the context of Bengal. He promised a two-third majority for his party, though, in the 2026 state polls based on the “improvement” BJP registered in 2021 upping its tally to 77 seats from zero in the previous state polls.
The BJP state president, Sukanta Majumdar, on his part, announced the pledge of the party’s state to “win 35 seats” from Bengal. But that was before Shah had made his speech from the dais.
Shah made it apparent that implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act, fiercely opposed by Banerjee in Bengal, and the issue of corruption would continue to remain the mainstay of his party in combating the political discourse of the Trinamul for the 2024 elections, but it appeared from his speech that the party could be considering taking a relook at its seat target from the state.