PM Modi in Kolkata: Crowd Management, Communal Speeches and a Call for Change

The flavour of most BJP leaders' speeches was open communal polarisation, with use of no end of rhetoric to refer to Muslims.

Kolkata: The rally addressed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Kolkata’s iconic Brigade Parade Grounds, on March 7, failed to draw large crowds, but streamlining of the population present showed a slightly different picture on mainstream television news channels.

The Brigade rally – that had a galaxy of BJP leaders speaking before Modi – saw a fairly modest crowd. Large portions of the field, on both sides of the main stage, remained empty. However, right before Modi’s choppers landed at the nearby Race Course, the crowds swelled marginally.

Last Sunday, the Left-Congress alliance along with the newly floated Indian Secular Front (ISF) organised a rally at the same venue. Political meetings at Brigade Parade Grounds have historically been about the show of strength.

Earlier today, party’s state chief and MP from Kharagpur, Dilip Ghosh claimed that more than “10 lakh people will come and fill the grounds up to the brim.”

The crowds at the Brigade Parade Grounds between 1.30 pm and 1.40 pm. Modi arrived at 2.05 pm. The stage can be seen nearby. Photo: Himadri Ghosh/The Wire

This reporter observed that the saffron party had chalked out a strategy for crowd placement. The large grounds were divided into slots partitioned by bamboo walls. Attendees were mainly packed into the narrow section right in front of the main dais, while most  of the Maidan remained unoccupied. This also gave the impression of a packed crowd to the cameras.

This, however, does not mean that electorally Modi’s party is out of favour. Even in 2019, Modi’s Brigade rally saw an unimpressive crowd, but the party secured 40% of the votes polled.

A mandal president of BJP, who asked not to be named, told The Wire, “Many of our voters will silently vote for BJP. They fear if they openly join BJP and come for Brigade meetings, local TMC leaders and members will attack them. This is a legitimate fear. Our leadership very well knows that we can’t match the crowd of TMC or CPI(M), but that doesn’t mean we will not get votes.”

In spite of the star power on stage, people had come primarily to catch a glimpse of Modi. An added highlight was veteran actor Mithun Chakraborty who ended all speculation and formally joined the BJP shortly before Modi’s arrival at the ground.

Modi with Mithun Chakraborty. Photo: PTI

Chakraborty, popularly known as “Mithun da,” was a noted Naxal sympathiser during his young years. He then transitioned eventually into an ardent supporter of the CPI(M) and was close friend of former Left Front minister, the late Subhas Chakraborty. After the Chakraborty’s demise, Mithun actively campaigned for his wife Ramola Chakraborty in the 2009 bypolls at Belgachhia.

Eventually, Mithun entered Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee’s circle and joined TMC. He was even made the Rajya Sabha MP in 2014. However, within two years, he quit TMC and also resigned from Rajya Sabha. By then, his name had appeared in connection with the Saradha chit fund case.  

After joining BJP on Sunday, Mithun said, “I am proud to be a Bengali. My dream came true today as I will be sharing the stage with the prime minister of the world’s biggest democracy.”

To the delight of the crowd, Mithun also likened himself to a lethal cobra snake.

What the politicians said

The main speaker for Sunday’s meeting was the prime minister himself. At his third public rally for the upcoming assembly elections in Bengal, Modi spoke for a little more than an hour and targeted chief minister Mamata Banerjee repeatedly.

“The people of Bengal had chosen you as ‘Didi’ but then why did you remain the aunt of a nephew? People of Bengal want to ask you this question. Your party (TMC) promised to work for ‘Maa, maati, manush (mother, soil, people).’ But you destroyed the democratic system here. BJP will strengthen this system. We will bring the change to re-establish public belief in government systems, in the police, and the administration.”

Crowds at Modi’s Brigade Parade Rally in Kolkata. Photo: Himadri Ghosh/The Wire

“I have come here to make you believe in ‘ashol poriborton (true change)’. The dream of ‘shonar Bangla (golden Bengal)’ will be fulfilled. I have come here today to assure you of Bengal’s development, to increase investment here, to protect Bengal’s culture and to bring change. I have come here to make you believe that we will work hard for farmers, businessmen a the development of sisters and daughters. We will live every moment to fulfil your dreams,” said Modi.

Former TMC leader who recently joined BJP, Suvendu Adhikari, while addressing the gathering said, “India is emerging as a powerful nation. All states barring Bengal is growing rapidly. We need a double engine government for the development of Bengal.”

Adhikari was one among BJP leaders who were openly communal in their speech.

“Pirzada (cleric) Toha Siddique is campaigning for Trinamool and Pirzada Abbas Siddique is campaigning for Left-Congress alliance. All these parties call BJP a communal force. They are doing the politics of appeasement with an aim to divide Bengal. If they (TMC) come back to power, West Bengal will become Kashmir,” he said, referring to the Left-Congress-ISF confluence.

Also read: Bengal: As Left and Congress Ally With Muslim Cleric’s Party, Will BJP Be the Winner?

Attacking the West Bengal chief minister, whose campaign has the legend ‘Bengal wants its own daughter’, Adhikari said, “No one accepts you as Bengal’s daughter here.”

He added, “You are the ‘phuphu’ (the word for paternal aunt used primarily by Muslims) of infiltrators and the ‘khala’ (the word for maternal aunt used primarily by Muslims) of the Rohingya.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves to the crowd at Brigade Parade Ground in Kolkata, Sunday, March 7, 2021. Photo: PTI

BJP’s national general secretary and  central observer of Bengal Kailash Vijayvargiya said, “Today’s turnout in Brigade is unprecedented. This is historic. Today’s gathering proves BJP is coming to power and Didi is going out of power.

Speaking at the rally, BJP MP from Hooghly, Locket Chatterjee said, “Few days back, some parties (Left and Congress) organised a Brigade rally with Didimoni’s (Mamata’s) help. What was that? Bhaijan’s (a name used for Muslim cleric Abbas Siddique) brigade? Same skull cap-wearing people will again come to attend Didimoni’s Brigade. The TMC government has done no development in the last 10 years. They only terrorised the people of Bengal, no one is safe today in the state.”

What the common people said

Thirty-five-year-old Debobrata Ghosh, who came to attend Modi’s rally from Uttarpara, a town 15 km away in neighbouring Hooghly district, said, “Previously, I used to attend CPI(M)’s Brigade rally. After they lost in 2011, I stopped attending. Now, I am an active BJP member. During Lok Sabha polls also, I came for Modi’s Brigade rally. Today, I didn’t open my store but came here for the rally.”

When asked why he supports BJP, Ghosh said, “I don’t want West Bengal to become West Bangladesh.”

Budheshyam Jana had come from Patashpur in East Medinipur district and believes TMC has “no chance” in this election and will be “badly defeated by the BJP.” Jana said he had been vouching for BJP for the past four years. “Before that, I used to support TMC, but that party has become extraordinarily corrupt,” he said.

BJP supporters at the Brigade Parade Grounds. Photo: Himadri Ghosh/The Wire

Tuhin Manna, 38, who owns a grocery shop in the Kathi market in East Medinipur said, “I used to work for TMC but changed parties during the Lok Sabha election. Mamata is not credible anymore.”

When asked if he thinks Dilip Ghosh is credible, he said, “We don’t work for BJP because of Dilip Ghosh, we do it because of Modi. He works so hard for the country. He will change Bengal for good.”

Forty-seven-year old Shyam Sharma, a trader from north Kolkata said, “TMC has done development but it wasn’t enough. Too much corruption exists in this government. We should give a chance to BJP this time. Modi ji changed Gujarat, it can be compared to Singapore today. He will change Bengal too, he will bring industries and jobs.”

Partha Das, 22, who came from Sandeshkhali in North 24 Parganas district – 62 kilometres away – said, “We are BJP supporters. This time, we will bring in the BJP government here.” When asked about whether issues like the price rise of LPG and petrol worried him, Das said, “Even if gas price becomes Rs 2,000 or petrol price becomes Rs 150, we will vote for BJP.”

Thirty four-year-old Raju Ghorami, a resident of Bhangar of South 24 Parganas said, “Our seat is Muslim dominated, so BJP’s chances are less. But Bhaijan forging alliance with Left and Congress will help us (BJP), as Muslim votes are going to split,” he added.

As is often seen during large rallies, many people said they had no idea why they were asked to be at the parade grounds.