Prime Minister Narendra Modi has addressed 24 rallies in the four election-bound states and union territory of Puducherry since elections were announced on February 26 (till Saturday, April 3) with a clear focus on West Bengal, which his Bharatiya Janata Party hopes to wrest from the Trinamool Congress, and Assam, while Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra have largely focused on Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Modi has addressed 19 rallies in West Bengal and Assam; the Gandhis, 12.
Interestingly, till April 3, Modi has addressed nine rallies in West Bengal, repeatedly accusing state chief minister Mamata Banerjee for the three Ts Tanasahi (dictatorship), Tolabaji (extortion) and Tushtikaran (appeasement). The Gandhis have been largely absent from the campaign in the eastern state which sends the maximum number of representatives to the Lok Sabha (42) after Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra.
The BJP has pulled out all stops to end the 10-year rule of the Trinamool Congress -- apart from Modi, home minister Amit Shah and party president JP Nadda have made several visits to the state, as have a handful of Union ministers -- while Banerjee is trying to stake claim for third term in the row. In Assam, the BJP has aggressively campaigned to retain power against the seven-party alliance led by the Congress, which ruled the state for 15 years before it was ousted by BJP in 2016.
Modi officially kicked off the BJP's Bengal campaign on February 7 at Haldia in East Midnapore, and has visited the state at least seven times till Saturday address since polls were announced. He has addressed nine rallies including a mega one at the Brigade Parade Ground in the heart of Kolkata. It is likely he will address more with the West Bengal assembly elections being held in eight phases, with the last phase on April 29.
Modi and Shah, who has also visited the state seven times since elections were announced, have given a call for Ashol Poriborton (real transformation) and promised to transform Bengal into Sonar Bangla (Golden Bengal) in five years after coming to power.
"On May 2, Didi'r 'khela shesh hobe, vikas shuru' (her game will be over and development will start)," Modi said at several rallies in a reference to the TMC's "Khela Hobe" (the game is on) election slogan.
Jay Prakash Majumdar, state BJP vice president, said Bengal is important to the BJP from an emotional angle because it is the birthplace of Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, the founder of the party's previous avatar, the Jana Sangh. "And geographically Bengal is currently one of the most important epicentres. The state controls trade and development for the entire northeast and some other eastern states," he added.
Saugata Roy, TMC MP, said the BJP's high octane campaign will have no impact on Bengalis. "They (BJP) feels she (Banerjee) is the only impediment to authoritarian politics. They want to demolish the main pillar of resistance against their wrong politics."
The prime minister also travelled to Bangladesh recently for two days and attended several programmes including a visit to a shrine important to the Matua community, which is influential in some parts of Bengal, an exercise that was criticised by Banerjee alleging they were held with an eye on the polls.
In Assam, Modi visited the state for the sixth time on Saturday; he has so far addressed seven rallies, where he has reminded voters about the development work done by BJP led government and accused rival alliance led by the Congress of being communal. Rahul Gandhi has visited the state three times and addressed eight rallies in which he targeted the BJP for spreading hate in India, and reiterated his party's five guarantees: Five lakh government jobs in five years, steps to scrap the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), free electricity up to 200 units for all households, ₹2,000 for all homemakers, and enhancing the daily wage of all tea garden workers. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra visited Assam four times between March 1 and March 23 and addressed 7 rallies.
In the two southern states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the BJP is considered to be a smaller political player although it is contesting in alliance with ruling AIADMK in Tamil Nadu and has presented itself as an alternate to Congress-led United Democratic Front and CPIM led Left Democratic Front in Kerala. In Puducherry, where the PM had held one rally the party is hoping to win in alliance with the NR Congress of former CM N Rangaswamy.
PM Modi and Shah were in Tamil Nadu for three days each and addressed five rallies each accusing the DMK- led alliance of dynasty politics, corruption and nepotism. Their national political rival, Rahul Gandhi, was in the state for five days holding 12 election-related events speaking about Tamil pride. However, the state election campaign has been dominated by local leaders such as chief minister Edapaddi Palaniswami, his DMK opponent M K Stalin and film star turned politician Kamal Hassan.
Modi has also addressed three rallies in Kerala till Saturday. Gandhi has visited the state thrice, addressing 10 poll-related events, although the party's campaign in the state is led by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.
Political analysts said that from the rallies it is clear that the BJP's focus is West Bengal.
"They (the BJP) have more stakes in West Bengal where they want to form the government and believe to have a chance as TMC is in power for 10 years. However, in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the BJP is only a marginal force," said Chennnai based political commentator R Duraisamy. "BJP is contesting in below 10% of the seats in TN (20 out of 234) and most of those 20 seats are take it or leave seats. They're only preparing the ground for the next elections here by fighting the DMK-led alliance."