People dressed as Lord Ram and Hanuman, saffron-wearing supporters and chants of “Jai Shri Ram” and “Modi, Modi” filled the streets of Kolkata as BJP president Amit Shah took out a roadshow on Tuesday to campaign for the May 19 last round of voting in Bengal.
“Today is Amit shah’s ‘Save Republic’ rally,” said a man in heavy Hanuman make-up, dancing to “Jai Shri Ram” blaring from a loudspeaker.
The procession started around 4.30 pm from Esplanade in central Kolkata to Swami Vivekananda’s house in north Kolkata. Giant cutouts of Prime Minister Narendra Modi also glided along with the crowds.
Amit Shah, in a pink jacket, waved from the roof of a decorated truck crawling through the crowded road. Saffron balloons and BJP flags lined his route; some 10,000 kg of marigold petals arranged for the event were showered intermittently on supporters. Tableaus of dancers were brought in from various states, said BJP workers.
The spectacle was like nothing ever seen before in the West Bengal capital, remarked seasoned journalists.
The “Jai Shri Ram” chants apparently were a direct challenge to the Chief Minister. A video showing Mamata Banerjee chasing activists who shouted Jai Shri Ram at her passing convoy has been raised repeatedly by the BJP. “I am chanting Jai Shri Ram here and leaving for Kolkata, arrest me if you have guts,” Amit Shah said at 24 Paraganas yesterday. Mamata Banerjee has said: “Our slogan is Jai Hind, not Jai Shri Ram. I will not chant the name of rotten Modi or rotten BJP.”
“Babu (Amit Shah) has done a michil (campaign) in Kolkata, with people from Jharkhand, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh,” Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee jibed at a rally.
Clashes erupted between the supporters of the BJP and Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool near the Calcutta University.
In visuals, activists were seen with sticks in their hands. One report said stones were thrown at Amit Shah’s convoy on Bidhan Sarani. BJP workers allegedly surrounded the building and retaliated.
The BJP alleged that even earlier, its party posters and flags were removed by the Trinamool.
“Mamata ji”s goons and police removed all the posters and flags of our party. They escaped soon after we reached here,” BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya told news agency ANI.
Since the Lok Sabha elections began on April 10, clashes and unseemly sparring between the BJP and Trinamool have marked the campaign in West Bengal.
Workers of two parties have repeatedly clashed with each other on polling days.
West Bengal has 42 Lok Sabha seats. Of these, 31 parliamentary constituencies have already voted. The remaining will vote on May 19, on the last day of the national election. The counting of votes will take place on May 23.
Political attacks have been increasingly acrimonious in the state.
Yesterday Amit Shah, targeting Mamata Banerjee’s government, said she has reduced “Sonar Bangla (Golden Bengal)” to “Kangal Bangla (Beggar Bengal)”. In return, Mamata Banerjee called him a “fathead”. Her party man Derek O’Brien, tweeting with the hashtag “#LowLife”, called him “puke-worthy”.
“He (Amit Shah) is a fat-head. Half-literate. All they know is how to start a riot… I’m willing to lay down my life, but there will no riot under my watch,” said Mamata Banerjee, who had earlier accused Prime Minister and his party of using unparliamentary language and lowering the political discourse.
Amit Shah and PM Modi have held multiple rallies to campaign in Bengal, where the BJP hopes it has made enough inroads to win a significant number of seats in polls.