In the 2016 assembly elections, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had to face a formidable opponent in Bhabanipur constituency. The BJP had fielded Chandra Kumar Bose, grandnephew of Subhas Chandra Bose, against her. Bose, a former employee of Tata Steel, joined the BJP after he became close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah. He, however, lost to Mamata by a huge margin.
“Even God would not have been able to defeat Mamata on her turf without preparation,” said Bose. “The 26,000 votes I managed to get was because of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.” In 2011, the BJP had polled just 4,800 votes. Bose said he did not want to contest, but was forced by the BJP national leadership to take on Mamata. In Bhabanipur alone, he said the BJP was divided into six factions, and he had to fight all of them, instead of challenging Mamata.
During the campaign, Bose said he visited a slum and found that despite the squalid conditions, nearly all the shanties had television sets. He saw people watching a sting operation on the alleged corruption in the Trinamool Congress. Bose asked them how they could vote Trinamool after watching that. And, he got an interesting reply.
“These ministers take money from the rich, keep a portion of it, and distribute the rest among the poor like us,” said a man. “I suggest you also do that and you will get our votes.”
Unsurprisingly, the corruption charges came unstuck and Mamata returned to power with an increased majority. “If the central leaders feel that they could defeat the Trinamool in 2019 without a game plan and extensive preparation, they are living in a fool’s paradise,” said Bose, warning about rampant factionalism in the BJP. He said state president Dilip Ghosh, national secretary Rahul Sinha, Ashish Sarkar, who was deputed by the RSS, and Mukul Roy, who left the Trinamool to join the BJP, had their own factions. “The workers don’t know whom to listen to. Although I am a vice president of the party, I am not entrusted with any responsibilities, but Mukul Roy, who does not hold any post, enjoys tremendous power,” said Bose.
He said the state leaders were only interested in bashing Mamata, sometimes even using filthy language. Despite being a vice president of the party, he did not get a chance to meet Modi and Shah when they visited West Bengal. In protest, he wrote to them. “I have great confidence in your leadership. Therefore, I request you to take suitable steps to put the BJP, West Bengal, on the right track,” wrote Bose in his letter to Shah.
Kailash Vijayvargiya, national general secretary of the BJP in charge of West Bengal, refuted the charges of factionalism. He said of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state, the BJP would get more than 25. “We may even cross 30. “There is a complete overhaul of the organisation with a lot of young workers. They are working from dawn to dusk, making use of the strong anti-incumbency wave sweeping West Bengal,” said Vijayvargiya.
However, when Modi visited Midnapore on July 16 for a mega rally, Ghosh and Union Minister Babul Supriyo were seen having a heated exchange on the dais, minutes before the prime minister appeared.
Despite the hiccups, the BJP hopes to improve its performance. It is working relentlessly to unite all Hindu organisations in West Bengal.
Mamata, while holding her annual July 21 martyrs’ day rally in Kolkata, vowed to win all 42 seats. Ghosh said the Trinamool was targeting BJP workers, with “active support” from the police and local administration. He said most of the 2,500 panchayat members belonging to the BJP who won in the local elections in May, were staying in Jharkhand, Bihar and Odisha, fearing for their safety. “They were told that their houses would be burnt and their families would be targeted. They were also warned that criminal cases would be slapped against them if they did not join the Trinamool,” said Ghosh. Around 40 of them joined the Trinamool on July 21, during the martyrs’ day function. Former Rajya Sabha MP Chandan Mitra, too, quit the BJP and joined the Trinamool at the function.
Bose said that to counter the Trinamool aggression, the BJP needed to emulate what the CPI(M) did in 1977. It undertook a silent campaign against the Congress government headed by Siddhartha Shankar Ray in the post-Emergency elections. “The CPI(M) ensured that the voters went to the polling booths holding Congress flags, but voted for the communists. The Trinamool did it to the CPI(M) in 2011. We would have to do the same thing, instead of badmouthing Mamata Banerjee and making her a hero,” said Bose.
Sinha, however, rejected the argument that the BJP was not improving in West Bengal. He said he had interacted with intellectuals in Kolkata. “They all told me privately that they were happy with the functioning of the Modi government,” he said. Sinha said he did not believe in the theory of booth politics, although the BJP had committees in place in more than 80 per cent of the booths in the state. “Modi and Shah have decided to give considerable time to West Bengal this time. They will travel across the state and Mamata will have a tough time,” said Sinha. Modi is expected to frequent the state after October. Shah will hit the streets of Kolkata on August 3 in response to Mamata’s martyrs’ day rally, and will be holding monthly visits.
Bose warned that Mamata was using Central funds and was taking credit for it. “She is using funds sent by the prime minister and is selling those projects as her own. Unless our leaders go and tell the people about it, how would the voters know?” Sinha admitted it was a problem, but said the Central government could reach the people only through the state government. “Modiji would definitely talk about it in his rallies,” he said.
Ghosh, too, sounded confident. “All problems will be sorted out,” he said. “I promise you, within a year, the Trinamool Congress will be out of West Bengal. There will be no trace of that party.”