By Tirthankar Mitra
Just as Union home minister, Amit Shah and BJP national president JP Nadda are about to make a brief visit to West Bengal early next week, fissures threaten to turn into cracks in the state BJP unit. While leading lights of Trinamool Congress, the ruling dispensation are making no effort to conceal their glee at the infighting in the principal Opposition outfit in the state, there are little perceptible signs of its troubles coming to an end.
Violence singed new head quarters of the BJP at Salt Lake when a group of dissidents stormed into the party office. Breaking open locked doors and roughing up a few local leaders, the assailants accused them of being in league with Trinamool and sabotaging the prospects of the state saffron unit.
Thereafter, placards stating a call to save the BJP in the state were discernible at its central Kolkata office at Muralidhar Sen Lane. Incidentally, it was this office from which Dr Syama Prasad Mookherjee operated from as the top leader of Bharatiya Jan Sangh during his tenure. This office has significant political and emotional bonds for the party faithful.
The names of BJP leaders like Tarun Chakraborty and Amitava Chakraborty were bandied about. Moreover, visuals of irate supporters stamping on a photograph of state chief Sukanta Majumdar did not portray a picture of intra-party bonhomie.
Shah and Nadda who are scheduled to inaugurate community Durga pujas with themes which will highlight issues close to the hearts of saffron camp supporters may have to do some fire fighting in their own camp during their brief stop overs. What is actually an exercise in public relations and gauging the people’s mood may very well convey a message which is hardly welcome before the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
The seeds of quarrel in the state saffron unit can be traced to the time span when Dilip Ghosh handed over his baton of the state chief to Sukanta Majumdar. Ghosh has been the most successful state BJP chief till date.
Termed a maverick when Ghosh first took up the responsibility as the state chief, he turned the fledgling unit into a formidable Opposition squad when he stepped down. His elevation to the post of national vice-president from the state chief actually reduced his influence in the affairs of the West Bengal politics.
Cut from a different cloth which makes Ghosh a grassroot leader, his successor, Majumdar does not inspire the same confidence among the party activists. But he has his faction all the same. An academic who also dabbles in politics, many activists feel Majumdar more suited to the role of a theoretician rather than a hands on leader which Ghosh was. The fortunes of BJP have been on a downslide in the state since his taking charge. Ever since, Ghosh’s departure, discontent was simmering in the BJP rank and file. Majumdar with his own set of advisers did little to address it.
Having won 18 seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP dreamt to replace TMC government in the 2021 Assembly elections. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union home minister Amit Shah and other leading lights of the party toured the state every other day during the campaign.
Seeking to leave no stone unturned in its quest for victory, the BJP leadership engineered a raft of defections from Trinamool. Even as chief minister and TMC supremo, Mamata Banerjee criss crossed the state on a gammy leg and poured in every iota of charisma in her campaign speeches, it could not prevent a landslide of defections from her party.
The most significant among them being Suvendu Adhikari, state transport minister whose grassroot connect can be stated only next to the party supremo. Adhikari lured a number of TMC leaders to BJP, but after the assembly polls, the about turn of the defectors began and that is still continuing.
Even as Adhikari dug in heels in the saffron camp, he started building his own team. They were his handpicked persons who are beholden to him. Triangular contests are common in electoral battles. But a party, especially one in the Opposition having three factions bitterly opposed to each other only leads to the slackening of its organisational muscles.
With the factions of Ghosh, Majumdar and Adhikari ranged against each other, the party is witnessing intense infighting of which the Salt Lake incident is a burning example. On a wider perspective, the BJP has not won a single electoral battle be it a by-election or a civic poll in Kolkata which is a pointer to its organisational weakness.
Managing to retain all the seats it in 2019 Lok Sabha polls in 2024 appears to be an uphill task for state BJP. But the circumstances could not have been more suitable for it as ruling TMC is reeling under raids of central probe agencies like CBI and ED and party secretary general Partha Chatterjee behind the bars with several other leaders keeping him company.
With 18 Lok Sabha seats in its kitty, and Shah asking the party functionaries to double the figure in the Lok Sabha election next year, state BJP leadership seems to have been caught between a rock and a hard place. If the state leadership takes a rigid stand against the dissidents it could unwittingly trigger a split in the party.
On the other hand, soft pedalling the difference of opinion can end up in handing over the reins of authority to the dissidents. The state BJP leadership at a crossroads. Clearly, the BJP is on a backfoot in West Bengal. Dissensions within the state unit have retarded it’s march to seize the power from Trinamool. Right now, the state saffron unit is engaged in a struggle for existence. Trinamool Rajya Sabha member Dr Santanu Sen said that it is only a matter of time before the state BJP collapses like a house of cards.
Underscoring this contention, state Congress chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury felt that BJP is going the way of any party lacking organisational and ideological base. State BJP spokesman Samik Bhattacharya admitted that the incident at the Salt Lake office is a blot on the image of the party and has been engineered by those who do not subscribe to its ideology.
As things stand now, the state BJP is unlikely to pose a serious challenge to the Trinamool in next year’s Lok Sabha elections. It is to be seen whether the INDIA constituents, Congress and the Left parties can emerge as the main opposition to the Trinamool displacing the BJP. (IPA Service)