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Bengal Elections: BJP’s Infighting Was a Mess Waiting to Happen

With mass protests across the state, BJP’s internal feud has come to the forefront.

Updated
Politics
5 min read
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Seems like the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is set to make monumental gains in Bengal, almost like Sachin Tendulkar chasing a double century (read: unstoppable). However, while the greatest threat to the BJP should have been the Trinamool Congress (TMC), it turns out that it is the BJP itself, or at least its ‘old guard’.

With every list that the saffron brigade announces, more and more protests break out against the candidature, party offices are ransacked, senior leaders are heckled...it’s as if ‘denewala jab bhi deta, deta chappad phaad ke’.

The BJP’s internal feud was a long time coming, with several sporadic instances of the ‘old guard’ fighting against the ‘new entrants’ or the newly defected leaders. However, this came to the forefront after the party announced their list of candidates for the subsequent phases of the Assembly elections.

The primary reason behind this? The ‘old guard’ was not happy with the candidature – many of whom were recent defectors from the TMC. The ‘old guard’ alleged that BJP leaders, who have given their blood and sweat to the party, have been denied tickets, whereas the defectors “who don’t understand the party’s ideology” and who “have tormented” them for years are now getting tickets.

Par Pehle, Aap Chronology Toh Samajh Lijiye

On 15 March, after the BJP released its list of candidates for the third and fourth phase of the elections, hundreds of BJP supporters held day-long protests outside the party’s Hastings Election Office. The group of protesters, including supporters from Canning West, Magrahat, Kultali, Joynagar and Bishnupur, even resorted to heckling senior leaders like Mukul Roy, Shiv Prakash and Arjun Singh, to make their anger known.

The police mildly lathi-charged the protesters to disperse them, as the protesters tried making their way to the office by breaking the barricades and shouting slogans against the candidates.

A large chunk of these protesters were from Howrah, who demanded the withdrawal of Panchla nominee Mahit Ghanti, a close aide of turncoat MLA Rajib Banerjee. The protesters alleged that Ghanti was involved in a 'satta' racket, extortion and money laundering. They wanted the party to field Ranjan Pal or Bhabani Roy.

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Meanwhile, the ‘old guard’ ransacked several BJP party offices in several parts of the state. Two party offices in Hooghly were ransacked and thereafter they were locked. Supporters were angry over Deepanjan Guha being nominated from the Chandanangore constituency and sitting MP Locket Chatterjee from Chinsura.

Protesters showed resentment over the nomination of Chatterjee, saying that there were strong local contenders. Somnath Mitra, a party leader in the district, was also thrashed by the supporters.

When four-time TMC MLA Rabindranath Bhattacharya quit the TMC after being denied a ticket, the BJP played saviour. Protests broke out in Singur immediately after, where slogans were raised against the party asking them to field ‘original’ BJP candidates.

These protests went to such an extent that two senior BJP leaders, including MP state minister Vishwas Sarang, were locked inside a party office in Singur for four hours. 

Similar protests broke out in Raidighi and Udayanarayanpur, as the BJP nominated TMC turncoat Santanu Bapuni and former Congress leader Sumit Ranjan Karar from the respective constituencies.

In Alipurduar, turncoat leader from the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) Ashok Lahiri was fielded, which sparked a wave of protests across North Bengal.

The protests led Home Minister Amit Shah to change his plans and stop at Kolkata overnight and hold a meeting with the state leadership to address the issue. He was slated to travel from Guwahati to Delhi. Sources close to the party have revealed that the state leadership was asked to pay no heed to the protests and that the candidate list will not be changed.

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However, the BJP replaced Ashok Lahiri with Suman Kanjilal on Thursday, 18 March, as it released the names of its candidates for the last four phases of the Assembly elections.  

This list gave rise to protests in Jalpaiguri where the BJP had nominated Sujit Singha. Protesters had set fire to the party office in the area. They wanted the party to field Jiten Pramanick from there. Similar protests were seen at Pandabaleshwar and Durgapur where turncoat leaders Jitendra Tiwari and Deeptangshu Chowdhury were given tickets.

It must be noted that Tiwari was about to join the BJP on a previous occasion but the move was vehemently opposed by BJP MP Babul Supriyo and leader Agnimitra Paul, following which he returned to the TMC, but then joined the BJP again on a later date.

On Friday, 19 March, there were protests against Roy in Jalpaigudi where BJP supporters demanded his removal alleging that he is a ‘broker for the TMC’.

Why Are There So Many Protests?

The primary reason behind the protest is the candidature and is mostly directed towards the turncoat leaders. The old-timers are angry that their leaders who have worked so hard for the party over the years have been sidelined to make way for those who have recently joined.

BJP insiders have said that the ‘unchecked welcoming’ of defectors from the TMC has led to this situation.

In the case of Alipurduar, BJP supporters claimed that they did not even know who Ashok Lahiri is.

In most of the other cases, the old-timers claim that when these new candidates were with the TMC, they had “even filed false cases” against BJP leaders. So, they don’t want to vote for leaders who they have always resented.

RSS leaders had previously warned against inducting defectors without proper checks, because they believed that most of the people coming into the party did not associate or understand the Sangh ideology and were coming in, only for “personal gains”.

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Protests Aren’t the BJP’s Only Problem

Large-scale protests aren’t the only thing that the BJP is having to tackle (or not) since the release of its candidates’ list.

Former TMC veteran and Kolkata Mayor Sovan Chatterjee, who had defected to the BJP in 2019, quit the party along with his friend Baishakhi Banerjee after he was not given a ticket for his desired constituency (Behala East) while she was not given a ticket at all. Banerjee called his a “humiliation” in a public Facebook post.

Sourav Sikhdar, national secretary of the BJP’s youth wing, sent his resignation from all posts from the party over the 'neglect' of a certain section of party workers and the police lathi-charging party workers at Hastings office. However, he has clarified that he has not quit the party yet.

There have also been two instances where the candidates have directly denied accepting the ticket from the BJP. They claimed that they are not part of the BJP and that their permission was not taken before giving them a ticket.

In another setback, disgruntled BJP leaders have set up a separate wing of the party and fielded candidates in at least 10 seats, including Garbeta, Salboni, Midnapore (Sadar) and Kharagpur 9 (Rural). In some constituencies like Balarumpur and Bagmundi, the leaders have also fielded independent candidates against the BJP candidates.

They have further threatened the state leadership that they will field candidates in more seats if their desired candidates are not fielded.

An election, they say, is all about optics; and while for the longest time the BJP was acing that game and making the TMC look like a sinking ship, now it is the BJP that seems to be on the receiving end of it – in what many TMC leaders have mockingly termed an “implosion”.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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