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The many challenges that lie ahead for BJP in Bengal

By Radhika Ramaseshan
July 01, 2019 11:51 IST
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With two years to go before West Bengal elects its next government, the BJP's internal objective is to scale down the Trinamool Congress tally from 211 to 45 seats. This amounts to an annihilation of the TMC while enabling the BJP to win a record 250 seats in the 295-member legislature, reports Radhika Ramaseshan.

IMAGE: A BJP supporter celebrates the party's performance in the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections. The BJP won 18 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats from West Bengal in the general elections. Photograph: Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters

Amit Shah, president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, has yet to pitch his expectations from the West Bengal assembly polls with a “mission something” figure, even after the party netted 18 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats, possibly because a similar tagline of “Mission 150” in Karnataka got a thumbs down when it fell way short of the projected number in the 2018 state elections. 

With two years to go before West Bengal elects its next government, the internal objective is to scale down the Trinamool Congress tally from 211 to 45 seats. This amounts to an annihilation of the TMC while enabling the BJP to win a record 250 seats in the 295-member legislature.


An airy hope? Himanta Biswa Sarma, senior Assam minister who worked closely in West Bengal during the Lok Sabha polls, disagreed. “The (Lok Sabha) election proved that the TMC isn’t invincible. Mamata Banerjee (TMC president and West Bengal chief minister) can be defeated,” he said.

A BJP source added: “We have tasted blood. We are proactively and aggressively working towards a victory. It’s our long overdue aspiration, from Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s and L K Advani’s time.”  

Anirban Ganguly, director of the BJP-aligned Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, who campaigned in town hall meetings, decried the TMC as a “violent party devoid of ideology in a legitimate political framework,” adding that the municipal elections in 2020 could be a test for both parties.

But he conceded that the BJP had several issues to surmount before hoping to decimate Banerjee.

“We have to work hard on the organisation. When Shah started his national tour to identify and appoint vistaraks, his first stop was Naxalbari because he wanted to strengthen our West Bengal organisation that was beset with factionalism,” he said. Vistaraks are meant to be organisational force multipliers, akin to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s pracharaks. Shiv Prakash, BJP joint general secretary (organisation) and old RSS hand, has been tasked with strengthening the party at the grassroots.  

Sunil V Deodhar, BJP national secretary who also worked in West Bengal during the parliamentary polls, said: “We have to boost workers’ morale and make them battle-ready because people are prepared to vote for the BJP. We have to tell people through panna pramukhs (page in charge and the organisation’s nodal contact point with the voters) and polling agents that we are the TMC’s bona fide challenger and that they must not waste their votes on the Left Front and the Congress.”

Vistaraks have been directed to spend time in the villages and, wherever possible, stay with local families.

While strengthening the organisation is a vital aspect of the BJP’s blueprint, the other facet is to try and hollow out its opponents, especially the TMC, by wooing their rank and file and local influencers.

IMAGE: BJP leaders Kailash Vijaivargiya and Mukul Roy with two Trinamool Congress and one CPI-M legislator, who joined the BJP along with 60 councillors from three civic bodies in West Bengal. Photograph: PTI Photo

Mukul Roy, once Banerjee’s closest aide, has been on the job of emptying out the TMC since he joined the BJP. Roy is compared to Assam’s Sarma for his realpolitik skills, but his latest acquisitions have set off resentment in the BJP’s West Bengal unit. Earlier in June, when Monirul Islam, a former TMC legislator from Birbhum district, was inducted into the party with fanfare, the state unit protested, saying he publicly bragged about his “violent” activities in the past.

Though Islam remained with the BJP, Dilip Ghosh, Medinipur MP and state party president, said: “We have decided to scrutinise an aspirant’s antecedents and criminal background, send the data to central leaders and let them take a call.”

Placing Roy’s exertions in a larger perspective, a BJP source said: “He’s doing what Banerjee did to the Communist Party of India-Marxist -- work on the those who did not get the perks and privileges of power. Today, the TMC’s have-nots have thronged the BJP. It’s a short-term advantage but I can’t say if it will be a long-term asset.”

Deodhar said the BJP would not project the regional leadership in the prelude to the state election but “fight in Modi’s name”. “In Tripura (of which he was in charge), nobody looked at the local leadership. It was an anti-CPI-M mandate. Here, too, people want to defeat Banerjee,” he said.

For Sarma, the priorities are to “keep on exposing Banerjee’s misdeeds, particularly her appeasement policy”. He said: “Every leader has the right to love a particular community but no right to hate another community. Banerjee’s government is not for all.” 

He stressed that the BJP would, therefore, do well to dwell on the “Modi narrative”. “It is an India that has no caste and religion but is divided into those who can afford a quality life and those who cannot. The BJP is committed to helping those who cannot aspire to a better life. That should be the West Bengal message because Banerjee has given no development, only appeasement,” he said.

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Radhika Ramaseshan in New Delhi
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