Rudra Mandal claimed that the protesters were not genuine BJP workers. “They are all traitors who have joined hands with the TMC (Trinamool Congress) to harm the BJP. They have been expelled from the party for working with the TMC,” he said last Tuesday.
According to Jyotsna Mandi, a TMC MLA and minister, the incident was a result of factionalism within the BJP.
“This is just the beginning. We will see more such cases of infighting in the district as the 2024 Lok Sabha elections approach,” she told the media last Wednesday.
However, Samik Bhattacharya, BJP state spokesperson, does not see this as an “organisational weakness”.
Speaking to ThePrint Saturday, Bhattacharya said the incident that occurred with Sarkar was unprecedented and unfortunate. “We are enquiring into who these workers are. This doesn’t mean there is any organisational weakness. Such things only make the party stronger and we will resolve it,” he added.
This, however, was not an isolated case of discord in the state unit of the BJP. The party has witnessed several instances of infighting, defections of legislators and leaders, and voices of dissent against the party leadership in the past two years. The party’s performance in the panchayat elections and bypolls has also been dismal, raising questions about its future prospects in the state.
In 2019, when the BJP won 18 of 42 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal with a 40 percent vote share, it emerged as a formidable challenger to the ruling TMC, relegating the Congress and the Left to the third position and to the margins in state politics.
In the 2021 assembly elections, the BJP couldn’t dislodge the TMC from power, winning 77 of the 294 seats, but its 38 percent vote share showed that the BJP remained a dominant force.
It has been downhill since then as the BJP is witnessing internecine fights, defections of legislators and leaders, and voices of dissent against the party leadership. Several MLAs have already deserted the party. Former Union minister Babul Supriyo quit the party and resigned from the Lok Sabha to join the TMC.
In the panchayat elections, the BJP won 30.8 percent vote share, but the TMC won 51 percent vote share. Earlier this month, the BJP lost the bypoll in Dhupguri — an assembly seat that had fallen vacant due to the death of the BJP MLA.
The BJP’s performance in Bengal has not met the expectations of the central leadership, according to political analyst Snigdhendu Bhattacharya. He said that the party’s organisational strength was weak and that it lacked booth committees in most of the state.
“BJP’s vote share jumped to 17 percent in 2014, but if the state leaders are to be believed, they don’t have booth committees in 75 percent booths in the state. So, even if we look at the 2019 polls, when the BJP won 40 per cent vote share and 18 seats, it was riding the Modi-wave, but organisationally they remain weak,” he said.
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Blaming the central leadership
The BJP’s poor performance and internal strife have also led to criticism of its leadership, both at the state and central level.
Former governor and BJP leader Tathagata Roy told ThePrint that he has seen the party very closely and picking Kailash Vijayvargiya as the Bengal in charge was the biggest mistake for which the party continues to pay.
“The BJP was a small party in West Bengal, it grew to become the principal opposition but picking Kailash Vijayvargiya to make organisational decisions was the biggest mistake for which the party continues to pay. The central leaders should immediately rejig the party if it is serious about a victory,” said Roy.
He even accused Vijayvargiya of bringing “trash” from the TMC and inducting them into the BJP. “Even worse was bringing C-grade actors and giving them tickets to fight the 2021 assembly polls. The ones who worked for the party’s upliftment naturally were miffed,” Roy added.
ThePrint tried to reach Kailash Vijayvargiya via text messages. This report will be updated when a response is received.
Last year, Anupam Hazra, a former BJP MP and national secretary, called the state chief Dr Sukanta Majumdar a “puppet” controlled by others and lacking “personality”. He was annoyed after not being invited to a protest rally organised by his party in his constituency.
In January 2022, Shantanu Thakur, an MoS and MP from Matua community, quit the BJP WhatsApp group alleging that his community members were being ignored by the party.
He had reportedly said then, “It seems that the BJP does not recognise the role played by the Matua community in the party. The way the party is being run by a few leaders is totally unacceptable. The state office bearers’ committee was formed without any proper consultation.”
A verbal spat also broke out between the leader of the opposition Suvendu Adhikari, a former TMC leader who joined the BJP to defeat Mamata Banerjee from Nandigram during the 2021 state polls, and former state unit chief Dilip Ghosh in 2022.
During a protest rally in Kolkata in December 2022, Adhikari said, (without naming Ghosh) “I am not in the habit of making statements during my morning walk, I think before I speak.” Dilip Ghosh is known to speak to the media while on his morning walk every day.
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What’s ailing BJP in Bengal?
According to a senior party leader, who fought the 2021 polls but didn’t want to be identified, the party’s image was damaged by the TMC’s “washing machine” tagline, which accused the BJP of giving shelter to corrupt leaders from other parties.
“You see, the politics of West Bengal is very different from south India or the Hindi heartland. Here, people are socially more upbeat and take pride in their Bengali identity. Those who joined us from other parties, especially from the TMC with corruption charges against them, further helped to prove the TMC’s ‘washing machine’ allegation and to date, it has been etched in the minds of the voters,” the party leader said.
According to him, the party also lacks mass leaders. “Except for Dilip Ghosh and Suvendu Adhikari, the party has no face in the state,” he said.
“But most importantly, the party president (Sukanta Majumdar) became the head here in West Bengal by virtue of being an MP for the first time in 2019. He is still unaware of the grassroots workers. When Rahul Sinha was in charge (from 2005-19), if there was a factional feud, he would immediately send his team there and resolve the issue and pick the pulse, that’s completely missing now,” he explained.
Another factor that political analyst Snigdhendu highlighted is the role of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in creating friction within the party.
“The BJP was a very small party in West Bengal until 2014. Then it grew with waves of Left supporters coming in, simultaneously the Sangh started deputing its organisers into BJP’s fold to strengthen the leadership. Then, TMC started coming into the party at various levels,” he explained.
So, the BJP is an amalgamation of various forces with their specific interests, he added.
“Those who have political interests and have joined the BJP from other parties resent the fact that RSS-linked leaders have an advantage in the BJP. Then, there are BJP old-timers who have the RSS background and dislike the fact that leaders from other parties who joined the BJP in 2021 (ahead of the assembly elections) have an advantage. This creates factional feud within the party,” he added.
Moreover, the party is also missing meeting organisational set-up deadlines. According to BJP leaders, of the 77,000 booths in West Bengal, they have prepared 67,000.
According to reports, the central leadership of the BJP had tasked the party to carry out 1,000 rallies across the state to boost the party ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Delhi top brass reportedly had set a deadline of June-July, to complete the task. However, the BJP only managed about 300 rallies till the end of August.
A second extension was reportedly given to the state unit till 15 September, but the party hasn’t been able to hit its target even as leaders traverse the length and breadth of the state to fulfill the incomplete task.
“The target for 1,000 rallies across the state hasn’t been completed yet, but we are working on it. I am on my way to address a rally. Our leaders are on the ground to strengthen the party further,” Samik Bhattacharya told the Print.
(Edited by Richa Mishra)
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