In Bengal, Abhijit Banerjee Poses A Dilemma For the State BJP

The state BJP is being unable to criticise Banerjee as harshly as the central leaders due to his sway over Bengal.

Published21 Oct 2019, 03:15 PM IST
3 min read

While the central leadership of the BJP keeps coming out in criticism of Nobel Laureate Abhijit Banerjee since his win, the West Bengal state unit of the party has found itself in a fix.

Given the huge pull that Abhijit’s win has had over Bengali heartstrings, the state BJP has been unable to follow the party line in their reaction towards Banerjee. State leaders are now in two minds on how to react to Banerjee’s achievements

So while Union Ministers like Piyush Goyal and state leaders like Rahul Sinha mocked Banerjee’s achievements, leaders like Dilip Ghosh took a much more positive stance on the economist.

Banerjee A ‘Big Personality’

Speaking to reporters, West Bengal state BJP Chief, Dilip Ghosh, said that Banerjee was “a big personality with a huge achievement”.

“He will be meeting Prime Minister (Narendra) Modiji. Being a Nobel laureate in economics, I am sure he will give good suggestions for overcoming the economic crisis that the country as well as the entire world is going through”, said Ghosh

This comes at a time when Union Minister Piyush Goyal came out with scathing criticism of Banerjee, who had been one of the minds behind NYAY, a minimum income guarantee scheme that was the main talking point of the Congress party’s manifesto in the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections.

"Abhijit Banerjee won the Nobel prize, I congratulate him. But you all know what his understanding is. His thinking is totally Left-leaning. He had praised the NYAY scheme effusively, but the people of India totally rejected his thinking”, Goyal had said.

BJP Bengal leader Rahul Sinha had also earlier echoed Goyal’s views. Reacting to Banerjee’s Nobel win, Sinha had said that “those people whose second wives are foreigners are mostly getting the Nobel prize.” “I don't know whether it is a degree for getting the Nobel”, Sinha mocked.

“There might be differences of opinion. He might not like our views and vice versa. But he is a Nobel Laureate. Nobody can deny him that…. However, they are all entitled to their opinions”, Ghosh said, steering clear of comments made by Goyal and other senior party leaders.

Bengal BJP Keeping Ears To The Ground

Sources in the Bengal BJP say that Ghosh’s statements were made after he received reports of widespread discontent amongst Bengalis on the BJP’s comments against Banerjee.

“Especially in his constituency of West Medinipur, Abhijit Banerjee is being hailed as a hero and the BJP’s comments against him have not gone down well. Dilip Da has his ears to the ground and is trying his best to mitigate the situation”, said the source.

The BJP Bengal unit’s position on Banerjee becomes especially tricky because of the way the Trinamool Congress and Mamata Banerjee have embraced Banerjee. The West Bengal Chief Minister was one of the first politicians to tweet her congratulatory message even before Prime Minister Modi.

While she sent Banerjee’s mother, a resident of Kolkata, a note with some sweets when the prize was announced, she also went and met her the next day.

Sources say that the West Bengal government is also planning an event to felicitate Banerjee.

BJP’s episode with India’s other Nobel laureate in economics, Amartya Sen, is also making them wary of Banerjee. While Sen is known to be one of the Modi government’s most famous critics, the BJP has managed to brand him as an “anti-national” despite his accolades.

“Given Abhijit’s vocal views on India’s deteriorating economy and the Modi government, the Bengal BJP is now unsure about what to do. Embracing Banerjee too much will validate his anti-government stance but distancing themselves will alienate the masses”, said another BJP functionary.

While the BJP has successfully co-opted (at least in the public mind), the other “pride of Bengal” in recent times- Sourav Ganguly, Abhijit’s popularity has put them in a dilemma. The ball now is in Mamata Banerjee’s court, who is yet to attack the BJP on for criticising Banerjee.

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