BJP's Bengal Headache: Babul, Saumitra Attack Dilip Ghosh Ahead Of Party Rejig
How the BJP deals with the differences between two of their top MPs and its Bengal President will set a precedent.
The West Bengal BJP is set to see major organizational changes as two of its top leaders, elected Members of Parliament (MP), no less, took to social media to (tacitly and overtly) attack the party’s state president, Dilip Ghosh.
MPs Babul Supriyo and Saumitra Khan, both of whom failed to make it to the newly reshuffled Union Cabinet, took to Facebook to criticize Ghosh last week. Khan, in a live stream on the social media platform on 7 July, resigned from his post as the President of BJP Bengal’s Youth Wing, after lashing out at Ghosh and the West Bengal Assembly’s present leader of opposition, Suvendu Adhikari. Khan, however, took back his resignation a few hours later, apparently as a “mark of respect” for “senior leaders” in Delhi who’d spoken to him.
Supriyo’s exchange with Ghosh, on the other hand, lasted a couple of Facebook posts.
As the cracks in the Bengal unit’s organization and senior leadership became apparent, Ghosh flew to Delhi to meet the party’s national president JP Nadda. However, while sources in the BJP confirm that a revamp in the Bengal unit is in the offing, it is unclear which faction in the heavily factionalised state leadership the Delhi high command will side with. Sources also say that the decision, like many decisions regarding the BJP’s Bengal unit, may be one that will create more space for the “loyal workers”, while putting “opportunists” in place.
Therefore, while Babul and Saumitra’s similarly timed exchange with Dilip may make it seem like the two are on the same side of the fence, their place in the party, as per the Delhi HQ, is different.
The Babul Conundrum
Of all the BJP leaders in West Bengal, Babul Supriyo has the distinction of being made a Central Minister twice. Moreover, Supriyo was one of the two BJP MPs from Bengal after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections – a time when the BJP didn't even earn itself the distinction of being called a third political force in the state.
Subsequently, the BJP made good inroads in his constituency- Asansol- and Supriyo retained his seat in the 2019 general elections as well.
Supriyo’s “star quality” and his visible presence in Asansol as well as the functioning of the party’s unit there, made him favourable to Delhi leader.
However, at the same time, Dilip Ghosh, a groomed RSS man was also making his presence felt in the party. In the 2016 Assembly elections, the BJP managed to put just three MLAs in the assembly – Ghosh was one of them. He won the Kharagpur seat in what was his first electoral outing, thereafter winning the Medinipur seat in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and being elected MP.
Eventually Ghosh emerged as a mass leader and one of the BJP’s most popular faces in Bengal. Gaining national attention for a slew of controversial statements, Ghosh established himself as a thorough-bred right-winger, and also the rare politician who stood by his comments, no matter how controversial.
This irreverence, in the face of a strong Trinamool and even before the BJP had won a major election in the state, made Ghosh appealing to BJP workers in the state. Soon, “Bangla Maa-er Damal Chele” (Bengali mother’s indomitable son) became a oft-used phrase for the leader.
The result of Dilip’s growing hold over the state unit also meant that, eventually, he was seen as more of a local leader than Supriyo, who took considerable pride in his central ministership.
During this time, Supriyo also made some controversial statements, but what affected his popularity within the Bengal unit was his behaviour, say party insiders.
Over time, several videos of Supriyo getting into ugly, abusive spats with BJP workers and common folk alike also came to the fore.
However, both Ghosh and Supriyo’s tryst with controversies, revealed a key difference between the two. Unlike Ghosh, who still stands by every outrageous statement he’s ever made – from cow urine containing gold to Jadavpur University students being “terrorists” – Supriyo held a relatively cautious approach. While in some cases he went out of his way to justify his statements, at other times, like when he tweeted about Mamata Banerjee just before the 2021 state elections, he’s retracted them.
“Ghosh has made it visible to the party workers in Bengal that he’s a state leader first and then a part of the national BJP. While he’s always maintained his relations with Delhi, he’s also seen as someone who takes the party’s problems and grievances in Bengal to the high command. As a result, he’s established a wide, almost unparalleled support amongst the party cadre”, said an aide of Ghosh.
Therefore, even if Delhi had issues with some of his actions, his hold within the party ensured that he couldn’t be easily sidelined. Supriyo, in the meanwhile, was gradually losing his grip on Asansol as his attitude and subsequent factionalism divided the BJP in the area.
2017-18 onwards, Ghosh and Supriyo’s differences and evident power struggle became public as both took jibes at each other while talking to the press.
In 2020, Ghosh said that those damaging public property in Bengal must be “shot like dogs like they are in BJP-ruled states”. Supriyo called Ghosh’s comments irresponsible and distanced the BJP from the same.
“I’m the President of Bengal BJP. Not him", Ghosh had said to The Quint at the time.
After being removed as minister after the recent cabinet reshuffle, Supriyo acknowledged his exit on Facebook and said that he’d been “asked to resign”. Responding to the post, Ghosh said that many had been removed as ministers, but “only he (Supriyo) made such a statement”. Supriyo then clarified that "asked to resign was the wrong way to put it". In what looks like the final comment on this issue, Supriyo again wrote on Facebook that he is choosing to “understand, yet not understand” Ghosh’s statement.
Since the spat, reports have also been doing the rounds stating that Supriyo might quit politics for good and that the TMC was closely watching the situation. Babul apparently following the TMC's Twitter page before Ghosh's meeting with Nadda gave rise to more speculation. He also allegedly starting following TMC leader Mukul Roy at the same time. Roy, one of TMC's founding members, defected to the BJP in 2017, only to come back to his former party a few weeks ago.
“He was frustrated with Ghosh’s reaction after the reshuffle. He expressed to Delhi that such comments, at frequent intervals, and especially after the party had suffered a massive loss, were unwarranted”, said a source close to Supriyo.
However, the source also added that Supriyo was anticipating a proverbial "clipping of wings" after he lost the Tollygunge seat to the TMC's Aroop Biswas in the 2021 state election. Biswas beat Supriyo by a margin of over 50,000 votes. Supriyo was one of four sitting MPs that the BJP had fielded in the state polls. As The Quint had reported at the time, it was a diktat for the MPs to work hard for their place in the party. Apart from Cooch Behar MP Nishith Pramanik, who was just named Minister of State (MoS) in the Union Cabinet, all other MPs lost their seat.
That apart, in the seven years that Supriyo was minister - first MoS in the Urban Development Ministry and then MoS in the Environment Ministry - he also failed to make a significant mark.
The Growing Dissent Against “New Leaders”
While Ghosh could not be reached for a comment on his meeting with Nadda, it is learnt that the this “commentary” by various leaders and the Bengal unit’s organizational restructuring were on the agenda.
While Ghosh complained about Supriyo and Khan’s statements, he too was asked to tone it down.
However, the more important point raised by Ghosh was that of party workers being disgruntled with the possibility of newer leaders being given big responsibilities. Earlier The Quint had reported how this was also a consideration during the distribution of cabinet portfolios to Bengal leaders.
“During the ticket distribution for the state elections, we saw cadre in various places revolting against brand new immigrants from TMC getting tickets. They were miffed that older leaders who’d worked for the party since it was nothing were given a pass. The fact that most of the TMC imports lost their seats obviously didn’t bode well either”, said a senior BJP leader.
“There is also talk that Saumitra Khan may be replaced. Him landing the BJYM post had ruffled many feathers. But his reaction after the cabinet announcement strengthened these sentiments. After Mukul Roy’s exit, many in the party are suspicious of these former TMC leaders who’ve been given lucrative posts in the organization”, he added.
This is why Babul and Saumitra’s cases are different for both the party and high command. While one has to be dealt with as a party leader gone who has not delivered, the other still has to prove himself as a dedicated member of the BJP.
How both are treated subsequently by Delhi will set a precedent. If the BJP needs to recover from its embarrassing electoral loss, this precedent will have to be a good one.
Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.