Bengal BJP In Crisis: Cadres Demoralised Over Party Leadership’s Inaction On Fixing Accountability For Defeat And Inability To Protect Them

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Sep 10, 2021 11:01 AM +05:30 IST
Bengal BJP In Crisis: Cadres Demoralised Over Party Leadership’s Inaction On Fixing Accountability For Defeat And Inability To Protect Them (Samir Jana/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
  • The failure of the BJP’s state and central organisational leadership to retain its MLAs and stem an exodus is causing further dismay among the party’s ranks.

The BJP in Bengal is in the midst of a deep crisis with a large number of its ground-level workers dissociating themselves from the party. In many parts of the state, there are barely any ground-level workers remaining.

The reason for this is twofold: the party leadership’s inability to protect them from the Trinamool’s attacks and also inaction on identifying and punishing those responsible for the humiliating defeat in the recently-held Assembly polls.

A huge number of workers have been driven away from their homes and are yet to muster the courage to return. The ones who have returned have had to sever ties with the party.

“The saddest part is that most have willingly severed ties with the party. There is a general feeling of disgust and disillusionment with the party leadership,” an office-bearer of the BJP’s Howrah district committee told Swarajya.

The office-bearer, who asked not to be named, said the general feeling of disgust stemmed from the fact that no one has been held accountable for the defeat in the Assembly polls.

And the disillusionment is over the party’s inability to defend its frontline cadres who had braved threats and attacks to work for the party in the run-up to the polls, but have been left to fend for themselves after the polls.

A large number of district-level office-bearers and ground-level workers who have spoken to Swarajya over the past few weeks feel that the primary reasons for the defeat were:

a) the party’s inability to project a chief ministerial face, thus making it a Mamata versus Modi battle for Bengal;

b) the overwhelming presence of (BJP) leaders from outside the state during the campaign and their dominance over the party poll machinery that helped the Trinamool successfully project the BJP as a party of ‘outsiders’;

c) large-scale induction of ‘tainted’ Trinamool leaders and workers into the BJP without even a perfunctory screening;

d) faulty poll campaign that involved personal attacks on Mamata Banerjee, thus casting her as a martyr, and complete lack of understanding of Bengali sentiments; and

e) overconfidence on the part of some top state leaders and party ‘observers’ from other parts of the country who led the party central leadership up the garden path.

“It is disheartening to see that these leaders who had misled the central leadership and were solely responsible for the defeat are still calling the shots. They are still issuing statements and hogging the media limelight when, in fact, action ought to have been taken against them,” said Soumendra Biswas, a BJP worker from Barasat in North 24 Parganas district.

Biswas, who has been with the BJP for the past ten years, had been allegedly warned by Trinamool goons against working for the party. “I ignored those threats and warnings. On May 2 afternoon, my house was attacked and I fled with my family. We stayed at a relative’s house in Krishnanagar for one whole month,” he told Swarajya.

“I was told by local Trinamool leaders that I would be allowed to return home only if I paid a fine of Rs one lakh and completely disassociated myself from the BJP. I negotiated and brought down the amount to Rs 50,000 that I am paying in instalments. But I happily severed all links with the party. The party has not stood by me when I needed it the most,” he said.

Biswas is one among the tens of thousands of BJP workers all over Bengal who have completely detached themselves from the party. And their reasons are very similar to Biswas’.

“A party that does not stand by its workers and abandons them in their hour of need does not deserve to have workers. We all understand that the police and administration are in the hands of the Trinamool. But the BJP is in power in Delhi and could have done a lot to stop attacks on party workers. It could have sent warnings to the state government. The Prime Minister and the Home Minister were completely silent when they ought to have issued strong statements condemning the attacks,” said Saikat Mondal, a former office-bearer of the BJP’s South 24 Parganas unit.

Mondal posed a relevant question: “What would Mamata Banerjee have done if the BJP had won Bengal and Trinamool workers faced attacks? She would have stood firmly beside her workers and made it into a national issue. Why is the BJP leadership at the central level so silent? Only the party president (J.P. Nadda) and other organisational leaders have condemned the post-poll violence in Bengal. Why hasn’t Modi or Amit Shah done the same?”

A senior district-level office-bearer of Nadia who quit the party after the polls cites the example of Tripura where Trinamool leaders have allegedly faced harassment and some party workers were allegedly attacked by BJP cadres.

“The Trinamool flew down its top leaders, including Mamata’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee, to Tripura. A couple of workers who sustained very minor injuries were flown down to Kolkata for treatment at the state’s super-speciality SSKM Hospital. Mamata Banerjee has condemned those alleged attacks and Trinamool MPs raised it in Parliament. Compare this to Bengal where BJP workers have been even raped and killed, but the Prime Minister and the Home Minister are silent and the party president inanely says that the ‘violence would be tackled through Constitutional means’. It fills us with dismay and disgust. That’s why we quit the party,” he explained.

District-level leaders and workers are also miffed with most state-level leaders’ “completely inexplicable and unacceptable” inaction in standing beside the besieged party workers after the elections.

“Save for some honourable exceptions like Suvendu Adhikari, Arjun Singh (the Barrackpore Lok Sabha MP), Nishith Pramanik (the Coochbehar Lok Sabha MP who is now a Minister of State) and a handful of others, no state-level leader journeyed to the trouble spots to stand in solidarity with workers who were facing attacks from Trinamool goons. Why, then, should workers follow the orders of such leaders? What moral right do they have to remain as leaders? Why has no action been taken against them for their cowardice? These are questions that agitate us,” said another senior functionary of the BJP in Hooghly district.

But it is not only district-level functionaries and ground-level workers who have, and are, abandoning the BJP. Four MLAs have already defected to the Trinamool and, according to those in the know, at least seven more will do so over the next few weeks.

The BJP won 77 seats in the Assembly polls. Two, who are Lok Sabha MPs and had won the Assembly polls, gave up their legislative seats to continue as MPs. And with four MLAs--Mukul Roy, Tanmoy Ghosh (Bishnupur MLA), Biswajit Das (Bagda MLA) and Soumen Roy (Kaliaganj MLA)--crossing over to the ruling party, the BJP’s effective strength is down to 71.

A senior Trinamool Congress leader told Swarajya that at least 15 more MLAs are in touch with his party and Mamata Banerjee has cleared the names of half a dozen for induction into her party. “By the time the winter session of the state Assembly begins, the BJP’s strength in the House will be down to about 60,” he asserted.

Such a steady exodus of legislators from the BJP to the Trinamool is bound to further demoralise the ranks of the saffron party and trigger a sharper decline in the BJP’s organisational strength in Bengal,

The failure of the BJP’s state and central organisational leadership to retain the MLAs and stem the exodus is also causing more dismay among the party’s ranks. “How do these people call themselves leaders if they are unable to retain even newly-elected MLAs? What leadership qualities do they have? They are leaders in name only. They don’t have the skills and acumen in them. And they, thus, cannot expect us to follow them,” said yet another disgruntled party functionary.

In the final analysis, the BJP has only itself to blame for the crisis that has gripped it in Bengal. Some leaders’ contention that the defeat has triggered this crisis does not hold water. The electoral defeat has put the party leaders to test, and unfortunately many of them are failing the test. This failure, and not the defeat, has caused the crisis that the BJP faces in Bengal.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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