Since its introduction into service in March 1977- barely 18 days before the first ever coalition government in India was formed- the 12841/2 Howrah- Chennai-Howrah, Coromandel express, has been the most popular train among the passengers travelling on the route.
With its opponents set to come under the Grand Alliance to checkmate the Modi juggernaut in 2019, the Bharatiya Janata Party aims to successfully travel to the Gaddi in Delhi, via the coastal states along the Bay of Bengal joined by the flagship carrier of the Indian Railways.
Originating from Howrah (Kolkata, West Bengal)-India’s Left bastion- turned- the seat of Trinamool Congress (TMC), this spectacularly punctual superfast train, whistles past the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) stronghold Odisha and TDP ruled Andhra Pradesh to its destination, Chennai (in Tamil Nadu)-the citadel of Dravidian parties. Together, these four states account for 127 Lok Sabha seats (WB-42, Odisha-21, AP-25, TN-39).
Whether, the Amit Shah led party will be able to bloom lotus in this stretch, only time will tell. However, its leaders seem to be extremely confident of a rich harvest. “We will score exceptionally well and achieve our target in Odisha and West Bengal. In Andhra Pradesh, the results may go beyond our expectations,” BJP national secretary, Suresh Pujari said. “There is the possibility of forming a viable alliance in Tamil Nadu,” Pujari informed.
It’s widely believed that repeating the 2014 magic in 2019- (UP and Rajasthan in particular) – is going to be difficult for the BJP; hence, a better show in the south-eastern region, would help it compensate the loss. While in WB, Shah has set a target of ‘wining fifty percent of 42 LS seats ‘without fail,’ in Odisha, the target is even bigger: 120 out of 147 assembly seats that roughly translates to 17-18 out of 21 LS seats. Incidentally, the parties ruling both these states are ex-NDA partners; they are hugely popular as well.
In WB, well aware that it must earn the backing of the Muslims in the state, which in the past few elections have voted en masse for the TMC, the saffron party expects to gain from Mahfuza Khatun – CPI (M) and Humayun Kabir (TMC)-who recently jointly the BJP. They are being given key roles in rallying support from among the Muslims. Based on feedback from Muslim women, the party has begun to speak in rallies about the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill 2017, which bans instant divorce.
However, those following politics in the state think that challenging Mamata on her own turf is extremely difficult. “Didi (Mamata) enjoys mass support and has a solid grip on the voters. Moreover TMC has mastered the techniques of the CPI (M),” viewed a former bureaucrat, who has sound understanding of Bengal politics thanks to his over-three-decades stint in WB. “No doubt BJP will improve its tally, but to get 21-22 seats, it would require a miracle,” he added.
Perhaps, that’s why, Shah, has been making repeated trips to WB as well as Odisha. Apart from conducting brain storming sessions with his colleagues, he has assigned the cadres to make booth level visits and inform the people about the benefits doled out under various central schemes. He has also galvanized the party workers. “Surely, we are going to achieve our target here. We have a very strong organization, every member of the party is working very hard,” Odisha BJP President, Basanta Panda, said.
According to veteran journalist and an avid Odisha Politics watcher, Rabi Das, the saffron party is likely to perform much better in 2019. “Over the last four years, BJP has covered a lot of ground, today it’s in a much stronger position. It did so well in the panchayat elections, I think it will fare much better in the general elections,” he reasoned.
Even, some in rival Congress believe that though the ruling BJD is the number one in the state, BJP, because of its grass- roots level presence, is likely to pose a big challenge to the regional party. Requesting anonymity, a state Congress functionary said, “Being in power for 18 years, BJD enjoys a clear advantage, but it’s also facing anti incumbency.” However, he quickly added. “More or less, BJP has achieved its target almost everywhere since 2014. I will not be surprised if it does the same here.”
However, it’s still early days, as they say- even a day is a long time in politics.