Amit Shah sounds the poll bugle for Bengal

Abhishek Law Kolkata | Updated on June 09, 2020

File photo of Union Home Minister Amit Shah   -  THE HINDU

Says Mamata’s Corona Express comment will lead to her exit

After Bihar, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, sounded the poll bugle for West Bengal through a virtual rally.

The ever-combative Shah spent a major part of his speech criticising Mamata Banerjee and her handling of issues like return of migrant labourers. He even raked up contentious legislations like the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the Bengal Chief Minister’s steadfast opposition to it.

The saffron party has witnessed a steady increase in its support-base and has emerged as the principal opposition to the ruling Trinamool Congress. The just-concluded Lok Sabha polls saw the BJP win 18 of the 42 seats in the state, their best-ever performance.

The BJP is now fancying its chances in the 2021 Assembly elections in Bengal and is looking to channelise the growing anger against the state government’s alleged mishandling of several issues as poll planks.

Cornering Mamata on corona-handling

According to Shah, disrespecting migrants will be a major reason for Banerjee’s exit from power.

“Calling the Shramik Special trains ― which were returning migrant labourers to their homes in Bengal ― Corona Express is disrespectful towards them. You insulted these migrant labourers. Let the 2021 polls come, and this Corona Express remark will be a reason for your exit,” the Union Home Minister said, clearly indicating that Mamata Banerjee’s comments will spiral into a major poll plank.

According to Shah, the state sought permission for running only 236 such trains leading to the return of three lakh migrants. This was much lower than the other two most populous states in the country, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, that ran 1,700 and 1,500 trains respectively. Bengal incidentally is the third-most populous state (density-wise) in India.

West Bengal labour department sources, however, say 11 lakh migrant labourers have been taken back.

Incidentally, the West Bengal Chief Minister had initially been extremely hesitant about taking back migrant labourers.

She was also very critical of how the Railways were running the “Shramik Special” trains. Unplanned migrant movement will lead to a spurt in coronavirus cases, Banerjee reasoned. It was in this context that she compared the Shramik Special trains to a ‘Corona Express’ (carriers of Corona). “They are stuffing the Shramik trains full of people. What are they trying to do? Are they running Shramik trains or are they trying to run Corona Express?” she had then remarked.

Over the last 70-odd days, Shah and Banerjee have had bitter exchanges on multiple occasions regarding the State’s handling of Covid-19. The Union Home Minister had time and again maintained that the Bengal Chief Minister was not doing enough, leading to outbursts by the latter.

On May 28, Mamata Banerjee revealed she had told the Union Minister that if he thought her government was failing to tackle the Covid-19 crisis, why did the Centre not try and do it themselves.

“Mamata ji, people of Bengal will make this wish of yours a reality in 2021 when the BJP comes to power. Your failures will not be overlooked by the people,” Shah reiterated, adding that benefits worth ₹11,000 crore were being provided to the people of Bengal. Of this, nearly ₹3,556 crore is in the form of direct benefit transfers (DBT).

Several important schemes like Ayushmaan Bharat and PM Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana ― that would benefit lakhs ― continue to be blocked by the state government, he maintained.

Raking up CAA

The Union Home Minister also raked up the contentious issue of CAA and sought to highlight how this legislation was intended at “granting citizenship” to various “refugee groups” like the Matuas (a Hindu minority religious sect), “Bengali-speaking population from Bangladesh” and the “Namasudras” (a caste cluster).

“Why are you against these people? What is wrong in granting them citizenship? CAA is a huge step forward,” Shah said, adding that steadfast opposition to the legislation will make Banerjee herself a “political refugee”.

The BJP has time and again pitched CAA as a major step towards granting citizenship to political refugees, especially in the bordering districts of Bengal (along the Bangladesh border).

Bengal has witnessed several protests, following the passage of the legislation. The Chief Minister herself has led many such protest marches.

Published on June 09, 2020

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