New Delhi: The Bengal unit of BJP told its national leadership that they need to shed the Hindi belt image if they want to be taken seriously in the eastern state. But this communication that took place on October 22 in Kolkata, has a background to it.

Immediate trigger

This Durga Puja, many of the BJP and Vishwa Hindu Parishad cadres, who are the backbone of the party in Bengal, were trolled by their counterparts from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Haryana. Their ‘Hindu-ness’ was also questioned. Their crime? Many of them posted photos of having a feast during Durga Puja, which is less about restrictions and more about celebration for Bengalis. Whereas in the northern belt, Navratra is observed during the same period by fasting. 

This culture gap and the subsequent backlash was the immediate trigger for the sudden outburst, told a BJP functionary in the state unit.

NRC played crucial role

But there is also a belief that Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, in spite of allegations of Muslim appeasement and lenient attitude towards Rohingya settlements in the state, has been successful in convincing the people that a National Register of Citizen (NRC) in the state should be shunned, as the purpose is to weed out Bengalis from the state. 

Their fear is not wrong. Many in Bengal see the NRC in Assam as less of an anti-illegal Bangladeshi exercise under the supervision of the Supreme Court, and more of targeted harassment of Bengalis legitimately living the state for decades.

BJP needs to be seen as Bengali

The meeting on October 22 was attended by many leaders of the state unit, Information Technology (IT) Cell heads of Kolkata and other districts and eminent right-leaning personalities. It was also attended by Anirban Ganguly, who is the director of Shyama Prasad Research Foundation and someone Amit Shah trusts. Central leadership was represented by Joint General Secretary (Organisation) Shivprakash and state coordinator Arvind Menon. 

Though the agenda was to discuss the upcoming Rath Yatra in December with three rallies, all to be attended by party president Amit Shah, many attendees complained about the perception of BJP to be seen as a party that doesn’t understand Bengali ethos.

Suggestion to become Bengali

It was suggested, that the way central leadership including Amit Shah addresses the crowd is “like non-Bengalis do”. Most BJP leaders and Ministers use ‘Mitron’ (friends) to address the crowd in rallies. Attendees suggested using a Bengali term ‘Bhai o Bonera’ (brothers and sisters) which is much acceptable in Bengali conversation. 

One gave the reference of home minister Rajnath Singh. Singh, while attending a conclave on North East in Kolkata recently, changed his Twitter handle font to Bengali. It impressed many cadres and created a positive vibe about him in the state.

Not just that, the dress, what leaders are seen to be wearing while campaigning, should also be in tangent with the Bengali culture – the communication was straightforward. BJP headquarter doesn’t serve non-vegetarian food, neither do any of the BJP’s official events have non-veg served. But if the attendees of the meeting are to be believed, they want union leaders of prominence who are non-vegetarian to be clicked eating maach-bhat (fish rice), a staple for every Bengali household.

The Modi kurta may be a hit everywhere in the Hindi heartland and a few BJP leaders of Kolkata wear it, but it has no acceptability in rural Bengal. The areas, mostly the 22 seats Amit Shah has zeroed in on to throw its might in to win the 2019 general election, are mostly in rural Bengal. 

Purulia, the district where BJP has made inroads in the recently concluded panchayat election is also a rural area, adjoining Jharkhand.

Will the BJP pay heed to the advice? Will the BJP wear Bengali clothes and eat like Bengalis while in Bengal? Will a Union minister visiting Bengal next time change his Twitter handle font in Bengali? Only time will tell.

But for now, the communication has been as blunt as possible – behave like Bengalis if you want to win Bengal.