Opinion: The Cost Of BJP’s All-Or-Nothing Bengal Campaign

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Amidst charges and counter-charges who is responsible of post-poll violence in West Bengal, senior BJP leader and former Governor Tathagat Roy has disclosed BJP’s worst-kept secret about this election. “It must not be forgotten that a BJP electoral ticket carries with it substantial money for running the election. Or for other purposes!”, he tweeted.

So, how much did each BJP candidate spend – or how much was spent by the party – per head? Since the BJP’s tallest leaders also govern India, an informal right-to-know is rippling through poll-watchers. Rough estimates can leave them gaping, but before we consider these numbers, a statement on Loktantra TV (which is circulating on social media) demands answers:

“Islam waalon ki chitaayen jal rahi hain kya? Unki line lag rahi hain kya shamshaan ke baahar? (Are the bodies burning on funeral pyres those of Muslims? Are the bodies lined outside cremation grounds their’s?”)

To respond to this post, the nation’s top leaders can summon their statisticians in a heartbeat: what is the proportion of ‘Hindu deaths’ in the official number of Covid-19 deaths? Since BJP hardliners claim to protect Hindus, what tally is the social media post pointing toward, and what is its relevance to the West Bengal elections? Consider the Covid-19 deaths in the country in April, which saw the Prime Minister and Home Minister pitch themselves into the Battle of Bengal via about fifty rallies, gridlocked with unmasked Modi devotees. The PM held rallies on April 1, 3, 6, 10, 12, 17 by when the count of Covid-19 daily infection rate had soared to about three lakh per day. On April 23, PM Modi held his last rally virtually via 200 LED screens placed in market towns across 36 constituencies for group viewing. Cabinet Ministers, Chief Ministers, Lok Sabha MPs, Rajya Sabha members and other notables who could have been in the feedback loop on Covid management were instead also campaigning in West Bengal; they abandoned the collapsing health infrastructure in their constituencies.

From April 1 to 23, when the PM and Home Minister were focused on delivering ‘poriborton’ and ‘ab ki baar 200 paar’ in Bengal, the estimated number of Covid-19 fatalities in the country was about 45,000, at an average daily fatality of about 2,000. Of these 45,000 victims of Covid-19, how many were Hindus, as the viral social media post demands to know? A linear projection of 80% share points to the agonising figure of about 36,000 Hindus who died in the 23-day span when the PM’s West Bengal rallies maxed. Most of these victims died prematurely, as did the other 9,000 ‘minority’ citizens, choking for breath in their final hours, thrashing about for oxygen, ICU beds, ventilators, medicines, their relatives grovelling for out-of-stock medicines, missing cylinders, haggling with mercenary ambulance drivers. The Hindu fatalities are being identified separately here because the BJP and its affiliates have appointed themselves passionate protectors of Hindu life and identity. So, with mounting pandemic deaths of Hindus in the face of negligence at the top rungs of leadership, how will the pro-Hindu party rationalise these deaths?

On each ‘rally day’, as thousands of citizens died terrifying deaths, we the survivors got a close-up view of how our leaders go about consolidating power. Top leaders made deeply disfiguring attacks on adversaries and adopted the most communal and polarising template to ‘expose the traitors’, so it gives us licence to ask why, at the peak of a tragic pandemic, did major political adversaries stoke the embers of old religious differences into flames of modern hatreds. Why did campaign leaders sharpen the Hindu-Muslim binary and push the electorate deeper into this hole in India’s heart? Is this the brazen-faced ‘modernity’ promised for Sonar Bangla?

This template posted a bonanza for BJP as its vote-share increased from 10.2 % in 2016 to a massive 38.1% in 2021, and its seats zoomed north from 3 to 77. But the campaign in March and April has unleashed two simultaneous toxicities on the citizens – one, sky-rocketing Covid-19 fatalities, and two, the rebranding of Muslims as the dreaded ‘Other’ in their own country. These toxins are now lodged in our lifeblood.

Cash-rich BJP has caused Governor Tathagat Roy to fire an incendiary salvo about his party’s outlay in the West Bengal elections. Conservative cost estimates of around 100 rallies organised for the BJP’s top guns at Rs 5-10 crore per rally are Rs 500-1,000 crore; lesser netas’ 200+ rallies at about Rs 2 crore per rally would cost an additional Rs 400-500 crore; election funding for booth and voter management and for ‘other purposes’ could add upto Rs 200-300 crore; travel for the Prime Minister, Home Minister, the BJP President and the Delhi brigade, along with orators such as Yogi Adityanath, might have cost a modest Rs 25 crore; and then there are publicity expenses, banners, posters, the logistics of creating a ‘hawa’ on the ground. By these standards, the BJP’s total outgo on the Battle of Bengal could have buzzed past Rs 2,500 crore.

So the BJP could have spent on average Rs 30 crore per victory in the 77 Assembly seats it won. Considering that the BJP is the PM’s and Home Minister’s party, the two top officials of the country leading the fight against the pandemic, here’s a dose of Covid maths: Rs 2,500+ crore would buy 17 crore vaccines at Rs 150 per vaccine, sufficient for a double dose for 8.5 crore Indians. Of course the party has lavished its own corpus of ‘donations’ on the polls, but in the still of the night, when ambulance sirens wail, does the BJP brass wonder if its Bengal mission was worth it? It’s a matter of life and death: your political life, and the death of those you claim as your own, especially at poll time.

(Nalini Singh is a senior TV journalist.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.


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