As local channels would describe it, Kolkata was nothing short of a war zone as BJP leaders and workers took to the streets to protest against the West Bengal government's alleged corruption. Bengal BJP’s Nabanno Chalo Abhiyan was the party’s biggest campaign since their 2021 Assembly Elections rout.
This was organised in response to the recent allegations against top Trinamool Congress leaders in several scams including the SSC scam, cattle smuggling scam and coal pilferage scam.
The protest saw violence and arson including the torching of a Kolkata police vehicle, several police officers and BJP workers being thrashed. BJP leaders including Suvendu Adhikari and state president Sukanta Majumdar were detained during the protest and later released.
Official sources confirmed that a total of 139 persons were arrested, and six cases were registered. 56 police personnel have been injured, among which two have sustained severe injuries. According to reports, 363 BJP workers have been injured.
BJP’s Do-or-Die Situation in Bengal
For the Bharatiya Janata Party, this protest meant more than just wanting to protest against Trinamool leaders, this was also their best attempt yet to stay relevant in the state’s political discourse.
Things have only gotten worse for the BJP since their 2021 Assembly elections defeat with several bouts of infighting amongst its top leaders, defection of leaders to the TMC, the central command not being able to bring the situation under control, and a general lack of direction for the party’s state unit.
Despite several attempts the BJP, especially Leader of Opposition Suvendu Adhikari, failed to make enough noise against a rather dominating TMC which kept winning election after election. Cadres of the BJP shifted allegiance to the TMC, owing to Bengal’s political traditions and the saffron party could do little to stop it.
What seemingly made the situation worse was the side-lining of BJP MP Dilip Ghosh to elevate Sukanta Majumdar as the state president. Majumdar from his first day in office has been heavily criticised for being a ‘puppet’ and failing to win elections or make the party a force to reckon with.
The party had failed to adequately capitalise on the recent high-profile allegations that have otherwise put the TMC on the backfoot. The recent allegations against Partha Chatterjee and Anubrata Mondal were the perfect ammunition the BJP needed to take on Mamata Banerjee, but they failed to make enough noise.
Instead, in some areas they have begun losing ground to the CPI(M), which has been taking second place ahead of the BJP in recent elections. The party needed a big move to set the stage for the upcoming panchayat elections.
A Lacklustre Protest
The party had initially planned the Nabanno Chalo protest to be held on 7 September, but later deferred it to 13 September because of the Karam festival, a tribal harvest festival celebrated extensively in West Bengal, particularly in the belts where BJP has a strong voter base.
Sources inside the BJP opined that the BJP leadership knew about the date of the festival when they initially announced the protests, and later used it as an excuse because they did not get a good response from the ground.
Local units of the party held special programmes from 1 to 11 September to build momentum for the 13 September programme. Majumdar even resorted to appealing to opposition parties like CPI(M) and Congress, along with ‘good people left in the TMC’ to join the protests, fuelling further speculation about the campaign's turnout.
Despite arranging for trains to bring workers to Kolkata, the turnout was underwhelming. However, because no permission was granted for the protest, several workers were detained and dispersed by the police in Haldia, Nandigram, Siliguri and other places. The BJP had three routes planned to march towards Nabanna, but the police had set up barricades and water cannons in all three routes. The mob couldn’t move past the barricading.
Suvendu Adhikari, who was supposed to lead one of the rallies was detained even before the protest started. Like him, many other leaders were detained during the protests.
What made the situation worse for the BJP were the videos of a police vehicle being torched, and that of an assistant commissioner being thrashed, by alleged protestors. These videos being circulated all over the media invited backlash and killed whatever momentum the protest had. Most of the protestors dispersed shortly.
BJP national vice-president Dilip Ghosh called off the protests late in the afternoon while Majumdar was leading a rally towards the barricades.
By late evening, the protestors had gone back to their daily lives, the media has mostly moved on, the TMC was still unfazed as it was throughout the day, and all the BJP didn't determine any concrete plan after this.
While this rally may have been their best effort since the 2021 elections, they have a long and tough battle ahead, if they stand any chance to rattle the TMC.