How the absence of recognisable faces within BJP in Bengal is leading to a host of defections from TMC

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In the run-up to 2019 Lok Sabha polls, West Bengal BJP President Dilip Ghosh faced a major struggle. In almost all the 42 parliamentary constituencies in the state, he had difficulty finding candidates with a reasonable chance of winning the elections. Most would bomb at their ballot box debut, was the belief then. But the party managed to increase its tally from two to 18, primarily due to the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The saffron party is aware of its lack of depth of talent in the state, say observers, adding that is why the BJP is trying to engineer defections from the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC). A party insider says: “Leaders who have a stronghold over their areas are being welcomed. Apart from this, our ground level cadre, developed over the years by the RSS, should help us sail through.” As of now, BJP in Bengal still lacks a Mamata Banerjee-like face to make a connect with the masses.

This despite defections by Banerjee’s Man Friday Mukul Roy and three dozen others, much like what happened in Sikkim and Assam. The lack of a leadership face in the state has led to a binary contest. “It doesn’t matter that we don’t have a face in the state to take on Didi. It is Didi versus Modi that will work for us in Bengal,” said the party insider. “Amit Shah will be the most visible face in Bengal unlike other states.” Shah had recently said the BJP would give a “son of the soil” CM.

““We do not declare aCM face where we don’t have our own government – just like we didn’t in UP,Haryana, Bihar (in 2015) orMaharashtra. Choosing who will be the CM is a five-minute job for our party after winning any election””

— KAILASH VIJAYVARGIYA, BJP’sWest Bengal incharge

The saffron party says a CM face — or the lack of it — is a non-issue. BJP’s Bengal incharge Kailash Vijayvargiya says, “In whichever state we do not have our own government, we do not declare a CM face – just like we didn’t in UP, Haryana, Bihar (in 2015), Tripura or Maharashtra. This is part of our political strategy. In West Bengal, we have already come a long way. We started from zero to developing a wide and deep network of karyakartas.”

Many little-known faces have become CMs, such as Manohar Lal Khattar in Haryana, Biplab Deb in Tripura and Raghubar Das in Jharkhand. “Choosing who will be the CM is a five-minute job for our party after winning any election,” he claims. But will this strategy work in Bengal where the saffron party is trying hard to appropriate national icons with roots in the state – such as Subhash Chandra Bose and Rabindranath Tagore — and stoking anti-incumbency against an alleged “cutmoney” syndicate? Not necessarily. There are some disadvantages to such a strategy.

““BJP won 18 seats in theLok Sabha polls not due its talent or strategy but due to the slip-ups and neglect of our own partymen. The BJP clearly lacks winning candidates. Who is theBJP’s face in Bengal, I want to know””

— SAUGATA ROY, TMC MP

“As things stand, the BJP still has a disconnect with the Bengali bhadralok,” says Samir K Das, professor of political science, University of Kolkata. “Some of their gaffes such as erecting a statue of Birsa Munda haven’t gone down very well with the people. The party lacks electoral talent that can help it win elections.” However, as Das points out, that does not give the TMC any great advantage. “The TMC came to power in 2012 by questioning the intellectual leadership of the urban intelligentsia. In fact, the TMC rule has depreciated the cultural hegemony of the bhadralok as it doesn’t believe that they need to be culturally refined. Mamata Banerjee talks to the common people directly,” adds Das.

The assembly elections, likely in April, will show if Brand Modi can succeed in evicting Didi, or if the TMC turncoats can turn the tide. As for TMC activists making a beeline for the BJP, Vijayvargiya says that is out of their own will. “The scope for growth for any political worker in Bengal exists only within the BJP. It is a one person show in the TMC.” This might make the BJP, which has a talent shortage in the state, deal with a overcrowding problem soon, say experts. “Why did they all join the BJP? They are all eyeing lucrative posts within the BJP. But does the BJP have so many posts to satisfy them all? There are bound to be serious inhouse problems sooner rather than later,” adds Das.

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Roy, who joined BJP in 2017, has already aired his dissatisfaction by alleging some leaders were not allowing him to work freely. He might not be the only one to complain. Meanwhile, the BJP is stoking anti-incumbency, especially in the middle class, against the alleged syndicate raj and highlighting Didi’s appeasement policy towards Muslims to consolidate Hindu votes. The strategy had helped it during the Lok Sabha polls, when it won a significant number of seats in rural areas with backward castes. BJP also claims people are desperate for “poriborton (change).” But TMC MP Saugata Roy says the BJP won seats in the Lok Sabha polls not due its strategy but due to the slip ups by TMC activists.

“The BJP clearly lacks candidates that can win. We lost seats in 2019 out of our own neglect. Who is the BJP’s face in Bengal, I want to know,” says Roy. Will the lotus become the preferred choice over TMC’s jora ghas phul — or twin flowers & grass — in the upcoming elections? “It is a tough call,” says Das, explaining the situation further. “Till about a week back, it was advantage BJP. But Didi’s voteon-account announcements showering sops for all may have tilted the scale in her favour as of now. Also, the RSS has asked BJP leaders to use restraint in their speech. It is an evolving situation. The absence of local talent in BJP could lead to a tug of war to establish dominance in Bengal.”





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