WB: Renewed BJP bid to be a Factor in Bengal Politics, CPIM Also Gaining Ground
Kolkata: The central leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), after concluding that it failed to formulate a sensible political strategy for the 2021 West Bengal Assembly elections, is now trying to rectify its mistakes and restore order in the state unit.
Ground realities have forced the central BJP to tone up the functioning of the state unit – the panchayat elections, due in a matter of months, offer an opportunity to rebuild the organisation at the district and sub-division levels, identify workers who can be potential candidates and involve them in organising meetings.
The second reason for added importance to West Bengal is the 2024 Lok Sabha election. The party had bagged, to the surprise of political quarters and the ruling Trinamool Congress, 18 out of the 42 seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Defection has since reduced the number to 16. In Assembly, desertions have reduced its strength to 70 from 77 seats.
Therefore, for the top brass, which has already tried to assess the anti-incumbency factor in other states, the task is cut out – not only repeat the 2019 show but also improve upon it [In the eastern region, the thrust is also on Odisha, where the party had won eight of the 21 seats in 2019 and the ruling Biju Janata Dal had bagged 13].
After appointing Lok Sabha member Dr Sukanta Majumdar as state BJP president on September 20, 2021, in place of Dilip Ghosh, the high command was not at all active regarding West Bengal. It was for the new state chief to contend with rampant factionalism, indiscipline and desertions. The headquarters recently made senior-level appointments with a proven political track record.
Mangal Pandey of Bihar, who had headed the party's all-India youth wing and the state unit and was also a minister, was made prabhari for West Bengal. Dr Asha Lakra, mayor of Ranchi and a national secretary, has been made a co-minder. Sunil Bansal, a national general secretary with experience in UP politics, has also been made coordinator with responsibility for Odisha and Telangana.
The point to be noted, emphasise senior party sources, is that people well conversant with the eastern region have been given responsibilities. The induction of the Ranchi mayor into the supervisory team "should prove useful" in the Jungle Mahal region, which is in the neighbourhood of Jharkhand and where the BJP was able to establish a fairly strong presence. That base suffered erosion in recent months. TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee has been trying hard to regain the party's lost space.
Asked about the party's shape, Majumdar told NewsClick that, keeping the upcoming panchayat polls in mind, "we have carried out a restructuring of district and mandal outfits, and now we are seeing how we can have a visible booth-level presence. We will try hard to make the party visible in the panchayat polls." [The 2018 panchayat elections had witnessed acts of violence and intimidation by TMC activists; as a result, the Opposition could not put up candidates for thousands of seats. Even the limited Opposition space was encroached upon by TMC].
BJP's oft-repeated claim then of being able to win around 200 seats in the House of 294 members and form its maiden ministry in West Bengal ultimately proved hollow for several reasons, according to political watchers; first, the party was just not in a position to put up candidates in all of 294 seats; secondly, the headquarter management relied heavily on defectors from TMC, and as a result, deserters were put up as candidates in a large number of seats, a good number of artists with little grassroots level experience in politics was also fielded, the Bengalisation attempt by christening Calcutta Port Trust as Syama Prasad Mukherjee Port Trust and invoking some of the much-revered icons came a cropper.
The leadership also had to reckon with some split– original but neglected BJP workers and fresh inductees with added importance. Perhaps, the weakest point in the strategy was to identify and project a face with whom large sections of the electorate could connect.
The last mentioned weakness persists, but the other deficiencies and mistakes will be avoided in the coming battles. The march to Nabanna on September 13, despite the violence and use of filthy language that, as also in the Assembly later, enabled the party to ensure participation by workers and leaders who had become inactive. That's about the only gain at this juncture.
The festive season, precisely the whole of October because of the chief minister's generosity in declaring holidays, will be avoided by the party for political activity. Party leaders and members will utilise the occasion to socialise. From November onwards, the party will organise rallies and protests on issues of relevance to the common people, governance failure of the TMC ministry and, of course, the scams involving ministers and officials, state general secretaries Jagannath Chattopadhyay and Dipak Barman told NewsClick.
BJP is an organisation-based party, and the leadership's emphasis is on the structure. The new arrangement with an experienced coordinator, prabhari and saha-prabhari will provide the much-needed impetus, according to Chattopadhyay.
For a re-start of organised activity, the march to the secretariat has acted as the facilitator, according to Barman.
On the scam issue, Majumdar's observation in The Economic Times on September 22 reads, "The WBSSC scam is a scam similar to what we have witnessed in Haryana." The then Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala had to be behind bars.
"Without Mamata Banerjee's permission, nothing can happen in her party," he added.
He indicated to NewsClick that for the 2024 Lok Sabha battle, BJP would make the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 a big campaign issue, highlighting the importance of citizenship rights for religious minorities from Bangladesh. The Matua community, which migrated to West Bengal from Bangladesh under adverse conditions, is eagerly awaiting the implementation of the CAA. The abnormal delay in the formulation of rules thereunder has remained a sore point with the Matua community members. From what the state party chief and the two general secretaries told this correspondent, it appears BJP wants to be a factor in the panchayat elections in 2023 and a serious contender for a good number of Lok Sabha seats in 2024.
Interestingly, West Bengal politics seems poised for a fighting phase from the first quarter of 2023 for well over a year. The signs are emerging. The Insaf rally (rally for justice) held under the aegis of the CPI-M arms – Democratic Youth Federation of India and Students Federation of India – on September 20 in the city saw large-scale participation that attracted the attention of the general public and sprung a surprise even to the police.
The rally marked the arrival on the political scene, with strong leadership quality, of DYFI state secretary Minakshi Mukherji, who controlled the crowd with remarkable ease. And, as if as a contagious effect, the West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee too is getting active with senior leaders Adhir Ranjan Chaudhury and Pradip Bhattacharya, among others, tasked by the high command to organise state-wide yatra as an extension of Bharat Jodo Yatra.
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