Bengal is rising in a green storm/Modi save your Delhi/Mamata is charging/Modi you may have to leave Delhi)” —this colloquialised version of Ramdhari Singh Dinkar’s poem Singhasan khaali karo ki janta aati hai is plastered on the walls from South to North Bengal. If wall writings and flags on houses and cars were reliable indicators, then Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee’s claim of “Biyallishe biyallish (42 of 42 seats in Bengal)” is no empty boast. The opposition war cry in the state “Ei Trinamool r na (Trinamool no more)”, once coined by the Left and now appropriated by the BJP, is limited to WhatsApp forwards of a now banned BJP campaign song that was found guilty of slander. But scratch the surface and the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are gaining ground in the state like Indira and Rajiv Gandhi, whose busts still dot the rural landscape in Bengal, once did. 

The photos of Mamata covering her head the traditional Muslim way that were once ubiquitous are now absent and the Chief Minister now recites not just the kalma but also the Durga Mantra at her rallies, while the party office in Bolpur has a Kali temple at the entrance. But the tag of “appeasement” seems to have stuck, and the BJP has been quick to cash in on the Hindu angst over “discrimination”. This change is visible on the ground — in the once uncommon Jai Shri Ram greeting now heard on roads and in markets; in buildings marked ‘Satsang’, not a very familiar concept in rural Bengal; in the Ram Navami celebrations, that were once only concentrated in the Hindi-speaking areas of Howrah. The last two years, the VHP has taken out at least 800-1,000 Ram Navami rallies across Bengal, many of them led by BJP leaders, including state chief Dilip Ghosh.


 In the run-up to the general elections, spread out in Bengal over all the seven phases (April 11 to May 19), except its two Muslim candidates (Humayun Kabir, Murshidabad, and Mafuja Khatun, Jangipur), the rest of the BJP’s 40 candidates have all participated in Ram Navami rallies this year (April 13, 14). In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP had got just two two seats to the Trinamool’s 34. However, even that marked a jump in vote share from 6.47% in 2009 to 17.02%. While in the 2016 Assembly elections, this had fallen to 10.2%, it is really the BJP’s performance in last year’s panchayat elections, despite allegations of Trinamool rigging, 

that is the wind beneath its sails in these Lok Sabha polls. With about 18% votes, the BJP had emerged as the main opposition party, ahead of the Congress and Left. The rise coincides with a series of communal incidents in Bengal since 2016, including the burning of a police station at Kaliachowk; clashes at Ilambazar in Birbhum and Hazinagar in North 24 Parganas; the communal clash in Dhulagarh, Howrah; violence over Durga Puja immersions and Muharram processions in 2017; riots the same year in North 24 Parganas over a Facebook post; and clashes in March 2018 in Asansol surrounding Ram Navami marches.