Up until now, the population of politically conscious West Bengal seemed only to react positively to either the TMC or the Left, rejecting all others. However, Narendra Modi’s recent BJP rally in Kolkata saw a massive turnout, which may be interpreted as the start of something new-a renaissance- in Bengal.

No one expected such a huge turnout for a party like BJP which has little presence in West Bengal. Once a red bastion, it crumbled to the “paribortan” wave of the Trinamool Congress led by fire-brand leader Mamata Banerjee. In the past, people have thronged  to listen to the leaders of the Left and TMC in such huge numbers in this politically conscious state. Such is the passion for politics, that one can well assume that what Bengal does today, rest of the nation will do tomorrow.However, the turnout at Kolkata’s historic Brigade Parade ground, the first outing of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, stunned many political watchers. The turn out in Bengal is, perhaps, the beginning of the renaissance.

mdi rally west bengal Modi in Bengal: A Renaissance in the Making?

BJP supporters gather at the Brigade Parade Grounds during a mass rally organised by BJP in Kolkata on Feb.5, 2014. (Photo: Kuntal Chakrabarty/IANS)

People thronged the rally ground to listen to Modi and cheered especially when he made attempts to connect with the populace in Bangla, their mother tongue. According to some conservative estimates, around 200,000 people were present there and many more were glued to the TV sets while social media kept the people, especially the tech savvy, informed.

Unlike earlier rallies by the BJP in the state, which were mainly attended by the migrant population from North India, February 6th’s rally was different as it had significant participation from the youth and rural population from the state apart from the hill region. Modi, emphatically enthused by the presence of people in such large numbers, said “this crowd will tell the Third Front, in which direction the wind is blowing.” His tongue-in-cheek assertion came at a time when leaders from parties like Left, AIADMK, Janata Dal (United), Biju Janata Dal among others met to revive the Third Front. While Modi had his own pot shot at the Third Front, many wondered whether the numbers would turn into votes and seats for the BJP. The state sends 42 representatives to the Lok Sabha.

WB BJP chief ahead of Modi rally Modi in Bengal: A Renaissance in the Making?

West Bengal BJP chief Rahul Sinha addresses a press conference ahead of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Prime Ministerial candidate and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi`s upcoming Feb 5 rally, in Kolkata on Feb.4, 2014. (Photo: IANS)

According to a news channel survey aired last month, BJP could get 0-2 seats in the state. TMC to wind 20-28 seats. Left Front to garner 7-13 seats and Congress 5-9 seats. In the last Lok Sabha polls, TMC won 19 seats, Left Front 15, INC 6, BJP and Socialist Unity Centre of India won 1 seat each. More than the content of the speech, it was the sheer numbers that captured the imagination of many and turned out to be a cause of worry for the established parties in the state.

There were more questions than answers. Are we going to see something dramatic in the forthcoming general elections? Why did so many people turn up to listen to Modi? Has the Left lost its relevance completely in the state? Are people considering to vote for a regional party in the state and national party in Lok Sabha polls? Did those who turned up simply wanted to first hand experience the Modi-phenomenon before making up their choice?

Elections in the country have always proved beyond doubt that the electorate understands politics much better than the media and politicians. Political parties have tried different combinations to get their arithmatics right – caste, class, regional, linguistics and religous appeal among others. But, once the voters have set their mind on something, all calculations fall apart. Some kind of churning is happening in the national consciousness of the voters. The turn out in Bengal is, perhaps, the beginning of the renaissance.

By R. Suryamurthy

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