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Wiser from #BiharDebacle, Modi invests in Assam, skirts Bengal

Panini Anand | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:41 IST

Five states are going to polls this year. But if Narendra Modi's proposed schedule is any indication, it isn't hard to guess where the BJP's focus is - Assam.

The prime minister has decided to devote more time and energy to Assam, the state his party is most hopeful of winning. Apparently, the debacles in Delhi and Bihar have forced Modi to rethink his campaign strategy. In both these states, the prime minister over-invested himself in the campaign, only to face crushing defeats.

Read- #ModiInAssam: 5 takeaways from Modi's visit to the state

The lesson learnt? Do not put too much effort in states where the possibility of winning is low. And from among Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry, the BJP fancies its chances in the northeastern state the most.

Modi has already started campaigning in Assam. He has addressed rallies in Kokrajhar and Guwahati, and more public meetings are planned in the next few weeks.

The other four states are still waiting for him to make the first appearance, including West Bengal, a strategic state politically and electorally.

Lost cause?

Sources in the BJP say the prime minister will only address a few rallies in Bengal. "Half a dozen or so rallies," says a party leader from the state.

It's understandable, too, why Modi is ready to bypass a big state like Bengal. His party is "not in good position" there, with a lone MLA in the assembly of 295 members.

What BJP is banking on in Assam - Bangladeshi immigrant issue, anti-incumbency against Tarun Gogoi

"The chances of gaining much in the state aren't high. And the late change in the party's state organisation is hurting us," says another BJP leader from Bengal.

"One organisation secretary was manhandled in Purulia. There was another incident of misbehaviour in Bankura with Dilip Ghose. Even the event of a senior leader from Delhi, Shiv Prakash, was disrupted in Barasad, outside Kolkata. The party's state leadership is unable to protect or fight for its workers," the leader adds.

Another senior BJP leader from the state said that some party workers have joined the Trinamool Congress in past few days and more might do so in the coming days. "This is also a reason which keeps the prime minister away from the state," he says.

Also read: 2015 was a hard year for Modi. Here are 10 challenges he faces in 2016

The BJP has so far held only four rallies in the state, which were addressed by Rajnath Singh, Amit Shah, Smriti Irani and Nitin Gadkari. The turnout at all the rallies was "really worrisome", with none getting more than 10,000 people.

"West Bengal is not a state where you need to pay for people to attend rallies. The BJP has spent lakhs on each rally yet the result have been poor," says the party leader.

The BJP has reportedly also decided not to rely too much on "Brand Modi" in the state. Instead, the party will focus on the failures of the previous and present governments.

High hopes

Assam though is a whole different ball game. To strengthen its hand in the state, the BJP is raking up the issue of "Bangladeshi immigrants" - clearly with an aim to polarise the electorate communally - and banking on the 15 years of anti-incumbency against the Tarun Gogoi regime.

Indeed, on 10 February, BJP chief Amit Shah attacked the ruling Congress for encouraging illegal immigration from Bangladesh "for the sake of votes" and vowed to stop it if his party is voted to power.

Chances of us gaining much in Bengal aren't high. The late change of guard is hurting us: BJP leader

"There are as many as 37 districts in our organisational chart in Assam. The prime minister would be visiting most of them. We're trying to make sure that there is one rally of the prime minister in each of these districts," says a BJP leader from the state.

The party's workers in the state are confident and aggressive and groups of them have fanned out in 60-70 % of polling booths, marshalling voters. The party is hopeful of securing victory in Assam and Modi is not one to miss the chance to take credit for it.

Edited by Mehraj D. Lone

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First published: 16 February 2016, 9:22 IST
 
Panini Anand @paninianand

Senior Assistant Editor at Catch, Panini is a poet, singer, cook, painter, commentator, traveller and photographer who has worked as reporter, producer and editor for organizations including BBC, Outlook and Rajya Sabha TV. An IIMC-New Delhi alumni who comes from Rae Bareli of UP, Panini is fond of the Ghats of Varanasi, Hindustani classical music, Awadhi biryani, Bob Marley and Pink Floyd, political talks and heritage walks. He has closely observed the mainstream national political parties, the Hindi belt politics along with many mass movements and campaigns in last two decades. He has experimented with many mass mediums: theatre, street plays and slum-based tabloids, wallpapers to online, TV, radio, photography and print.

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