Amid heightened security in the backdrop of the canopy collapse tragedy in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's meeting less than a month back, BJP chief Amit Shah is slated to address his first public rally in the city this year on Saturday, when he is expected to set the tone for his party's political battle against the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC) ahead of the 2019 general elections.
Convened under the banner of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)'s youth wing Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM), the rally has been given a huge build-up by the party, which is fast emerging as the principal challenger to the state's ruling TMC. All prominent state BJP leaders are scheduled to share the dais with Shah.
Political circles are according great significance to the rally -- to be held on Mayo Road in the heart of Kolkata -- in the backdrop of the recent publication of the first complete draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, which has pitted Banerjee in a high decibel war of words with Shah.
The state BJP leaders have already started talking of the need for a similar NRC for Bengal -- a state bordering Bangladesh -- to identify infiltrators, and Shah's speech could give an idea on how and up to what extent the BJP plans to project the issue in the poll campaign.
The BJP President previously came to Bengal on a two-day visit towards June-end. He had then addressed the intellectuals here, besides meeting the families of three slain party workers in Purulia, where he claimed that the BJP would win more than 22 out of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in Bengal next year. The party had bagged two LS seats in 2014.
BJP National Secretary Rahul Sinha said Shah might talk about low employment generation in the state during his address, besides flaying the Mamata Banerjee government for the poor law and order situation and frequent atrocities of the ruling party workers on the BJP activists.
"Employment is a major issue in the state. No one is looking for Banerjee's favours. The people of Bengal do not want rice at the rate of two rupees per kilogram. They want opportunities to earn their livelihood and live a good life. This government has failed to provide that," Sinha told IANS.
The BJYM is hoping to assemble close to four lakh activists and supporters to listen to Shah, and has even changed the direction of the stage from the one originally planned so as to accommodate the large audience on the scenic tree-lined road.
"Till Thursday morning we were expecting a crowd of about three lakhs for the rally and made arrangements accordingly. However, another 80,000 supporters are willing to attend the rally. We can't ask them not to come. So, we have decided to reverse the direction of stage to accommodate more people on the road," Bengal President of BJYM Debjit Sarkar told IANS.
Taking a lesson from the incident of canopy collapse in Modi's rally in Midnapore town last month that left nearly 90 people injured, the organisers as also the city police are leaving no stone unturned to beef up security measures.
The venue is being turned into a fortress, and Sarkar said they would have their own arrangement for crowd management and security apart from the steps taken by the police.
The state BJYM chief said they would deploy 550 volunteers for managing the crowd, and a system would be put in place so that the volunteers are easily identifiable among the general public.
The organisers will be flying multiple drone cameras too to monitor security of the much-awaited rally, irrespective of the city police's permission for the same.
"Kolkata Police has not clarified its stand about our decision to use drone cameras during the rally. However, there is no security caution notice or an act of Kolkata Police that can stop one from flying a drone above the city. So, legally they cannot stop us from using drones," the BJP leader claimed.
Several senior officers of Kolkata Police -- including DC Traffic, Officer in-charge of two police stations, Special Branch, Intelligence Bureau (IB), Central IB, and officials of state Public Works Department (PWD), CRPF and CISF -- held a meeting with the state BJP leaders on Thursday evening to chalk out the security blue print for Saturday's rally and assured them of adequate security, a party insider said.
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