Post-Poll Bengal: What Explains Discontent Among BJP Cadres?
Even those leaders who defected to BJP from TMC before elections are now wanting to go back to Mamata’s party.
In just less than a month after the declaration of the assembly poll results, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Bengal has started witnessing increasing internal conflict. Several turncoats who did not receive tickets to fight the polls, despite defecting to the BJP from the Trinamool Congress (TMC), have resigned from the party expressing several issues, and sought Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's consideration to rejoin the TMC.
One of the prominent names in this group is former TMC MLA and Deputy Speaker of the Bengal Assembly, Sonali Guha. Once a close aid of the TMC supremo, Guha joined the BJP after she was denied a ticket by the party but did not fight the election. But in a recent letter, she wrote to Banerjee apologising for jumping ship.
And she is not the only one. According to a report published in The Times of India, “Malda Zila Parishad member Sarala Murmu said that she has realised her mistake, while North Dinajpur MLA Amol Acharya said that he is leaving BJP because of recent harassment of TMC leaders by CBI.”
Why Defectors Want to Go Back to TMC
Meanwhile, the unprecedented move by the central government to recall Bengal Chief Secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay — just 72 hours before his retirement — has created major discontent among the BJP leaders of Bengal. On the ground, several TMC leaders have been claiming that, apart from the above-mentioned names, around 10-14 turncoats — including former MLAs and MPs — have been in touch with the party, expressing their desire to rejoin.
Word is on the street that top Bengal BJP leaders, including the vice-president of the party, Mukul Roy, have expressed their will to rejoin the TMC. Roy was earlier the right-hand man of TMC supremo and Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
However, the TMC is yet to take a call on this matter. In a generalised perception, politics is all about opportunism, but that is not the only reason why the BJP is facing this jolt in Bengal, therefore, the other reasons too must be analysed.
How BJP Built Its Cadre Strength in Bengal
Until a few years ago, the BJP had no significant presence in Bengal. In 2016, the party got just 3 seats in the state assembly elections. But after 2016, the BJP top brass decided to expand the party in Bengal. In 2019 for the first time, the BJP won 18 seats in the Lok Sabha from Bengal, with over 40 percent vote share. This gave the party confidence, and the BJP aimed at winning Bengal in 2021. To fulfil Mission 2021, the BJP realised that a significant expansion of the party would be needed, therefore, they opened their doors to all.
Many jilted leaders of the TMC started to join the BJP, and just before the elections, many TMC leaders who were denied tickets jumped ship. The BJP gave tickets to most of these leaders except some, but in the elections, only a few of the defectors actually won.
The reality is that the TMC is a supremo-centric political party where the image of Mamata Banerjee is the foremost reason for its poll success. The leaders who jumped ship did it as individuals, but failed to bring the grassroots support base with them to the BJP.
The BJP thought that these turncoats would increase the party’s presence on the ground — but this did not happen. And now, after defeat, these turncoats have realised that they do not have any political future in the BJP.
Discontent Among BJP Old Guard & Scathing Criticism Over Bengal Decisions
Just after the announcement of tickets by the BJP before the Bengal elections, protests erupted across the state. The traditional BJP cadres were out on the streets protesting against the distribution of tickets to the TMC turncoats who joined the BJP at the last minute. Many senior BJP leaders were also upset with these decisions but did not say so publicly. However, after its defeat, the BJP’s old guard has come out and slammed the leadership for such decisions.
In the past few days, senior BJP leader and former Governor of Tripura, Tathagata Roy, repeatedly attacked the party leadership over giving tickets to turncoats.
In a tweet, he said, “My words have proved to be true. Those who were welcomed into the BJP with open arms, those new entrants who were granted such rousing reception while old-timers of 20-30 years were given short shrift and subjected to total neglect, are now set to return to the TMC one by one.”
Moreover, on 6 May, in a series of tweets, he publicly attacked BJP National General Secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya, Bengal BJP Chief Dilip Ghosh, and National Joint General Secretary Shiv Prakash.
The BJP has distanced itself from his views but this is the real sentiment on the ground. The old guard and the traditional cadre-base of the BJP, who have faced a lot of harassment by the TMC in the last few years, are disappointed with the party leadership.
This situation has fuelled an internal conflict within the Bengal BJP. On the other hand, the turncoats are also facing a (backward) push from the traditional BJP cadres who are not ready to cooperate with these new leaders. In such a situation, to most of these turncoats, leaving the BJP has become the only option.
BJP Bengal ‘Feud’: Old Turncoats vs New Turncoats
Just like the old guard, there is a rising discomfort among the older turncoats of the TMC who joined the BJP before the Lok Sabha elections, as compared to the new ones. This group has also faced repeated harassment from the ruling dispensation in Bengal and worked hard to create its own political base.
Moreover, many of these leaders were harassed by the new turncoats before they joined the BJP. But since the assembly election, they’ve seen that the focus of the BJP’s top leadership has shifted to the newcomers. Recently, some of these leaders have also expressed their discontent publicly.
For example, a few days ago, The Telegraph reported: “Bengal BJP youth wing’s president Saumitra Khan has offered to resign from his post, citing discontent over the election of Trinamool turncoat and BJP MLA Suvendu Adhikari as the leader of Opposition.”
Central Govt’s ‘Protection’ Is ‘Not Suiting’ Bengal BJP Leadership
Unlike many other states, the BJP central leadership has become very protective of the Bengal BJP leaders including some of the most prominent turncoats. The Central government has decided to give personal security cover through Central agencies to all the elected BJP MLAs, MPs, and top leadership. Similarly, just within days of the formation of the new Cabinet under Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, the CBI has arrested two Cabinet ministers, one TMC MLA and a former TMC minister in relation to the Narada scam.
In the same case, BJP MLA Mukul Roy and Suvendu Adhikari — who defected from TMC — are also accused, but the CBI has not taken any steps against them. These issues are making the lives of BJP leaders difficult on the ground.
It is not easy to move around the constituencies with massive protection all the time because it intimidates common people. The BJP leaders are also facing the heat from the common people due to such selective treatment by the CBI.
Bengal Chief Secretary Row
But the most significant one is the row over the Centre’s bizarre decision to recall the Bengal Chief Secretary.
This has become a major flashpoint between the TMC and the BJP.
Earlier, Bengal CS Alapan Bandyopadhay was supposed to retire on 31 May but a few days ago, at the request of the chief minister, the Centre allowed his extension for three months to work on COVID and cyclone management.
However, after the Centre’s decision to recall him, Bandyopadhay decided to retire on 31 May and rejected the extension. Being one of the most experienced politicians in the country, Banerjee took this opportunity to call all the opposition parties to come together and raise their voices against the BJP. Banerjee was also quick to appoint Bandyopadhay as her chief political adviser — to show the BJP who is boss.
This situation has caused further strife within the Bengal BJP.
Lack of RSS Support: A Thorn in the Path of BJP Bengal’s Newcomers
The RSS wasn’t very supportive of the BJP opening its doors to jilted leaders of the TMC. Being an ideologically strong organisation, the RSS usually keeps its faith with the old guard and for it, ideological position is key.
However, RSS maintains a safe distance from the day-to-day decision-making process of the BJP, therefore, despite their discontent before the Bengal elections, the Sangh did not interfere.
But after the election, the turncoats are unable to gather the support of the RSS at the ground-level, and to do grassroots politics with the BJP, this support is essential. In such a situation, these leaders have little choice but to leave the party.
After the Bengal election, where BJP got 77 seats and TMC got 215 seats, the BJP is yet to accept defeat. Even as the BJP central leadership is increasingly exacting vengeance in Bengal, discontent is growing within its ranks on the ground in the eastern state.
The BJP should have focused on its vote share gains in the state and accepted the mandate of the people as final. Political revenge is not only wreaking havoc within the party cadres, it’s also hurting the people of Bengal who need attention amid the second wave of COVID and the latest cyclone.
If the BJP leadership continues exacting revenge, they will not only lose their own leaders but also the public support which brought them 77 seats in this election from just three in the 2016 assembly elections. The BJP must reflect on its mistakes and work as the responsible chief opposition party of Bengal.
(The author is an independent journalist and fellow at the Delhi Assembly Research Centre, who writes on issues of governance and politics. He tweets @sayantan_gh. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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