As the election season rapidly approaches in West Bengal, the two major contending parties of Trinamool Congress (TMC) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have been constantly trying to ramp up their campaigning strategies in the lead-up to the polls. The latest on part of the latter is a Bella Ciao rendition in Bengali that has been changed to “Pishi Jaao”, literally translating to Aunt (as chief minister Mamata Banerjee is often fondly referred to) must go. And the TMC’s latest slogan doing the rounds has been “Bangla nijer meye kei chaaye”, meaning Bengal only wants its own daughter.
However, there is one other campaign doing the rounds in Bengal, most visibly on social media so far – the ‘No Vote to BJP’ campaign. But what stands out with regard to this particular campaign is that in essence it is purely a people’s campaign, and does not bear any political affiliations.
Formed by a section of mostly anti-BJP individuals and groups in the state, the campaign has been trying to urge the people to not vote for the saffron party in the upcoming polls under any circumstances.
“At present, the people in the state seem to be aligning towards either of the two parties,” said one of the organisers of the campaign, although she preferred to remain anonymous. “One is the TMC and Mamata Didi loyalists, and the other is the emerging BJP supporters who want the party to come to power here, which proves that saffronisation had been at work much earlier than we could realise,” she added.
The campaign which was started solely as a means to stand as an adversary opposing divisive politics propagated by the BJP now has close to 17,000 followers online, according to Shambit Mukherjee, who is currently associated with it.
Although the inception dates back towards the end of last year, it has recently gained momentum in the past week owing to filmmaker Ronny Sen, who is known for directing the critically acclaimed film Cat Sticks, which went on to win the 2019 Slamdance Film Festival award. He was seen to share the campaign video on his Twitter account, leading to the trending hashtag #BengalElections2021 and #NoVotetoBJP on Twitter as well as other social media platforms.
“This is not simply a digital or social media campaign. People from every section, even from the grassroots are also responding to it”, Sen claimed. Despite being quite vocal against the Modi government and the BJP in general in the past, and most notably during the anti-CAA and NRC protests last year, he told Maktoob that he had no further comments to make regarding the campaign publicly.
The video that is seen to feature people belonging to various sections of the society, as well as religions, holding a placard that reads ‘No Vote to BJP’ in bold, has received more than 5,000 views and close to 400 shares on each platform within a week. In addition, they are also seen to be standing in the backdrop of iconic locations in Bengal’s metropolitan capital. For instance, a middle-aged man is seen in front of the historic Shahid Minar, which was built in remembrance of all those who had given their lives for the Indian Independence Struggle in one clip. This is followed by a rickshaw driver, a student, a vegetable vendor, women and even a disabled person featured in front of backdrops like the Writer’s Building, College Street, St. Peter’s Cathedral, among others. Notably, all of the people featured in the video visibly have a look of defiance on their faces, with an instrumental sound of the kashor playing in the background and slowly rising in intensity as the video progresses. It finally concludes with the words ‘No Vote to BJP’ being displayed in a number of other regional languages including Assamese, Urdu and even Mandarin, to mention a few. Evidently, the video has tried to represent the ethnic groups residing in Bengal, which also includes a rapidly disintegrating Chinese and Jewish population. Bearing testament to the culturally diverse population of Bengal, it seemed to be an open message to the contending party that it cannot tear at the state’s secular fabric in the name of its nefarious fascistic Hindutva ideologies.
In addition, members and organisers have also been busy putting up posters in various districts all across the state that clearly read ‘No Vote to BJP’ in all caps, with a subtext saying ‘Bengal against Fascist RSS-BJP’.
According to Jiggyasha Banerjee, a policy researcher at Azim Premji University, any of the other parties may not be the best alternative, but either is still a lesser evil in comparison to the possibility of a government that could actively enforce communalism in the state.
In this context, a student doing his MPhil in international relations at Jadavpur University in Kolkata expressed also similar concerns.
“Time and again, the BJP has been known to create an atmosphere of a very extreme form of nationalism, and of enforcing a dangerous form of religious ideology”, he claimed, adding how he feels that this election in particular is a very important one in a state that has always been a site of harmony and unity.
“It is this very message of unity that the party chooses to threaten, and it should be our choice to exercise our rights, to stand up against it”, he said on the condition of anonymity.