By Barun Das Gupta
The disastrous defeat of the BJP in assembly elections in Bengal has not only demoralized the party workers at all levels but has also intensified factionalism in the organization. The party which dreamed of winning two hundred plus seats and ruling West Bengal is now taking pride in the fact that its strength has risen from three legislators to 77 and that it has now become the only opposition party in the State Assembly. This is for public consumption. But within the party disappointment, anger and jealousy are very much at play.
Even before the elections there were four or five factions in the party, centred round individual leaders whose personal aversion for one another was quite well known within and outside the party. But during the election campaign, prime minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah along with lesser luminaries like party president J. P. Nadda and CM Yogi Adityanath of Uttar Pradesh succeeded, by their high voltage propaganda, in creating an illusion – call it hallucination if you like – that the BJP was going to inflict a crushing defeat on Mamata Banerjee and her party and win hands down.
Many believed in the propaganda and there was an exodus of Trinamool Congress legislators and party functionaries at different levels to the BJP. The defectors had a common theme: they were feeling “suffocated” in the party where there was no scope of working and that the party leadership was not listening to their grievances. The BJP welcomed the defectors with open arms. The State leaders were far from enthusiastic about their entry but the central leaders were happy to find desertions taking place from the TMC. One among the defectors was a prize catch for the party or so the central leaders thought. He was Subhendu Adhikari, a former minister and a trusted lieutenant of Mamata Banerjee.
The Bengal BJP leaders were naturally unhappy. They had worked for the party through hard times when BJP was practically unknown in West Bengal and very few were attracted to the saffron party. They had built up the party in Bengal which had a strong Left tradition.
And now when the party was poised to win a victory, these rank outsiders were thronging the party to take a big slice of the cake. They are now seething with anger against the central leadership but they cannot open their mouth for discipline’s sake and maintain a façade of unity.
After Subhendu defeated Mamata by a narrow margin at Nandigram, his stock rose very high in Delhi. Subhendu said his job was to liaise with the central leaders while the State leaders should look after the party organization. The allusion was to Dilip Ghosh, the president of the Bengal party. Naturally, the old timers of the party were livid with anger seeing what they thought the “impudence” of someone who was a gatecrasher in their view.
At party meetings in the districts and at lower levels, the workers vented their spleen on the leaders. Fisticuffs were freely exchanged, furniture was smashed with gay abandon, party offices were damaged and ransacked gleefully and in some cases leaders were manhandled. The meetings ended in fiasco. In most cases the workers were angry because tickets had been given to the newcomers from Trinamool, ignoring their claims. As things turned out, except five all the defectors who had joined the BJP and fought on its ticket were roundly defeated. Now these turncoats are frantically trying to get back to their old party and declaring their unflinching loyalty to “Didi”. But the TMC has told them to cool their heels at least for six months before any decision is taken about their future.
Meanwhile all the old factions in the State BJP have turned against Subhendu the man from nowhere who is now lording it over them. The bickering within the party goes on. Recently, Tathagata Roy, a former president of the Bengal unit and former governor of Tripura and Meghalaya, contemptuously spoke of a “class eight pass fitter mistry”. He did not name anyone but many thought that the allusion was to Dilip Ghosh, the State party president. But Roy did name Kaliash Vijayvargiya for the latter’s friendship with Mukul Roy, a Trinamool defector to the BJP who has recently come back to the TMC and immediately made vice-president of the party.
Mukul Roy was elected to the State Assembly on a BJP ticket. But on re-joining TMC he neither resigned from the Assembly nor from the BJP. The BJP, on its part, did not suspend or expel him either. Technically, he is still in the BJP. The Speaker recently made him chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. The BJP legislators staged an angry walkout and resigned from the chairmanship of six other assembly committees. The TMC position is that Mukul is still a BJP MLA and is sitting in the opposition bench. Traditionally, the chairman of the PAC should be from the opposition. So, why should the BJP object to his being made PAC chairman? The BJP has demanded that the Speaker of the Assembly disqualify him and Subhendu has hinted that the matter may be taken to court.
So there is confusion all around in the BJP. In November, when the TMC’s six month “cooling the heel” period ends, many who are now in the BJP may re-join the TMC. Some legislators are also expected to desert the BJP and come back to the TMC, further raising its strength in the Assembly where it now has 213 legislators. Seven bye-elections to the Assembly are also due. The Election Commission has assured the TMC that the polls will be held on time. The TMC is expected to win all the seven. More discomfiture seems to be lying in store for the BJP. (IPA Service)