Here’s What The BJP Needs To Do To Stay Afloat In Bengal

Here’s What The BJP Needs To Do To Stay Afloat In BengalBJP office set on fire in Bengal on Sunday evening
Snapshot
  • The BJP faces tough and challenging times in Bengal.

    Far from allowing the setback to subdue itself, the saffron party should get aggressive and prepare itself for the numerous battles ahead.

The BJP may have won 76 seats and emerged as a modest but main opposition party in Bengal, but it faces a grave crisis in the state.

Sunday evening, Trinamool goons started attacking BJP workers, supporters and leaders, ransacking and torching BJP offices and creating mayhem.

These attacks will only increase in intensity in the coming days and months. And, expectedly, it will lead to an exodus of workers and functionaries from the saffron party.

Also, if past experience is anything to go by, Mamata Banerjee will not be content with the three-fourth majority she got and will try to engineer defections of MLAs from the BJP to her own party.

In 2011, she fought the Assembly polls that brought her to power in Bengal in alliance with the Congress, which won 42 seats.

But that did not stop her from poaching legislators from her ally; she lured a number of Congress MLAs into her party.

The CPI(M)-led Left Front won 62 seats in 2011, and was considered fair game by Mamata Banerjee to attack and decimate.

Left, especially CPI(M), cadres, leaders and supporters were hounded. Fearing for their lives and limbs, thousands of CPI(M) cadres joined the Trinamool.

This is exactly what lies in store for the BJP as well.

Politically, too, the BJP faces tough and challenging times in Bengal. The party will undergo a churn and many acrimonious debates will rage within about the reasons for its stunning defeat.

But the BJP has to gear itself for the many tough tasks ahead and take the Trinamool head on. Far from allowing the setback to subdue itself, the saffron party should get aggressive and prepare itself for the numerous battles ahead.

Here is what the BJP should do if it want to live to fight another day:

1. Grow organically and keep ‘outsiders’ away: The narrative scripted by the Trinamool about the BJP being a party of ‘outsiders’ worked on the ground.

The galaxy of BJP leaders from outside Bengal, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, campaigning so extensively in Bengal not only did not work, but also backfired.

But more than these ‘star campaigners’, it is the host of ‘minders’--Kailash Vijayvargiya, Arvind Memon and others--who created the impression about the BJP being a party of ‘outsiders’.

These ‘minders’ became the face of the BJP in Bengal when they should have kept themselves confined to the backrooms.

Vijayvargiya, especially, addressed rallies and held roadshows all over the state, overshadowing even state BJP chief Dilip Ghosh.

As Vijavargiya became the most prominent face of the BJP in Bengal through his numerous rallies and roadshows and by addressing press meets and appearing frequently on television, it became very easy for Mamata Banerjee to project the BJP as a party of ‘outsiders’ who know nothing of Bengal.

The BJP also drafted a huge number of other leaders, mainly from the Hindi heartland, to campaign in Bengal. Many of them, instead of boosting the party’s electoral prospects, did a lot of damage.

UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath, for instance, did not win any hearts by proclaiming that the BJP would set up ‘anti-romeo squads’ (watch this) if it came to power in Bengal.

Now that these leaders from other states have done the damage, the BJP should learn its lessons and keep them away.

It should allow itself to grow organically from the grassroots. There can be no alternative to building up a strong organisational base and giving local functionaries a lead role to take the party forward.

‘Minders’ ought to be told to keep away from the arc lights. In Assam, for instance, the ‘minder’--Baijayant Panda--was rarely seen in public and kept himself confined to the backroom.

2. Protect party cadres: If the BJP fails to protect its cadres, it will soon have none left.

There have been numerous reports of attacks on BJP karyakartas since Sunday evening. The residence of BJP candidate from Beleghata in Kolkata (Kashinath Biswas) was torched and BJP offices burnt down.

It is imperative for the BJP central leadership to not only stand by hapless and defenceless party workers and supporters in Bengal, but also take tough action to prevent such attacks.

There can be no excuse for Union Home Minister Amit Shah not doing some tough-talking with Mamata Banerjee. Law and order may be a state subject, but the Union government can, and must, take action to prevent political violence that Bengal has become infamous for.

The BJP should aggressively highlight these attacks and murders at the national level and craft a strong narrative to portray Trinamool as a vengeful party whose leader is completely intolerant of any opposition.

The saffron party should also file numerous petitions in courts, including the Supreme Court, seeking judicial action to stop political violence in Bengal.

And the BJP should also have no qualms in telling Mamata Banerjee in unequivocal terms that she would have to pay a very heavy price if attacks on and murders of BJP functionaries and supporters continue.

The Union Government can even set up a commission to probe and compile a report on political violence in Bengal over the past five years. That will effectively shame the Trinamool and put it on the backfoot.

The BJP should also learn from Mamata Banerjee here. Many Trinamool cadres were hounded, attacked and killed--though not as many as the more than 150 BJP karyakartas killed over the last three years--by the Left. She fought fiercely for them and made the nation aware of the murderous face of the Left.

Banerjee also led the fight against the CPI(M) from the front, even taking many blows herself. That made her the fighter that she is.

3. Keep its flock together: The Trinamool will now launch concerted attempts to break the BJP by poaching its functionaries, cadres and even its MLAs.

It will come as no surprise if BJP legislators start joining the Trinamool, just as Congress and Left MLAs had done since 2011.

This is what the BJP should guard against. Keeping its flock together at a trying time like this is very important.

Failure to do so will seal the fate of the party by demoralising its cadres and debilitating it organisationally. The BJP will, then, meet the same fate as the Congress and the Left that have been completely decimated in Bengal.

4. Play the role of loud and combative opposition: With 76 MLAs, the BJP can and should play the role of a strong opposition in the Assembly and outside as well.

Mamata Banerjee had only 60 MLAs when the Trinamool first contested polls (after its formation in 1998) in 2001. In the next Assembly elections in 2006, its tally went down to a mere 29.

But that did not dampen Mamata Banerjee’s mood and stop her from being aggressive against the Left.

Though she was part of successive regimes at the centre, she largely fought her battles (against the Left) on her own. She gave no inch to the Left and took on the Left Goliath head on.

The BJP should take a leaf out of Mamata Banerjee’s book.

5. Project Suvendu Adhikari as the leader: The absence of a chief ministerial face proved costly for the BJP. Making Modi the face of the BJP in Bengal and making it a Modi versus Mamata battle was a mistake.

The BJP should have, instead, projected a Bengali as the face of the party in Bengal. Even though it tried very hard to brush the issue (of a lack of a CM face) under the carpet, the people did not buy the narrative that a ‘son of the soil’ would be made the CM after the polls.

People knew that the inability to project a leader as the chief minister was due to intense rivalry in the top echelons of the state unit of the party.

But that’s all over now and the BJP should learn another lesson from this.

Suvendu Adhikari emerged as a good crowd-puller even outside his Medinipur turf. He is charismatic, aggressive and has good organisational skills.

Adhikari should be projected aggressively as the future CM of Bengal by the BJP. He should be given major organisational responsibilities now and a free hand to steer the party in Bengal.

The BJP should shed its reservations about people without an RSS background being given key responsibilities.

In Assam, for instance, the two leaders responsible for the BJP’s success in 2016 and this time as well--Himanta Biswa Sarma and Sarbananda Sonowal--came in from other parties and do not have an RSS background.

The BJP ought to be realistic and practical. Dilip Ghosh, despite the hard work that he has put in and his many qualities, is clearly not acceptable to a vast majority of the people of Bengal.

6. Act tough against Trinamool where necessary: Mamata Banerjee was successful in projecting the many raids and arrests by central agencies like CBI and ED on her party leaders as a witch-hunt.

That’s because none of the probes initiated and under way against ‘corrupt’ Trinamool leaders have reached their logical conclusion.

The CBI probes into the Sarada, Rose Valley and other ponzi scams have been going on for nearly eight years now.

The BJP was vocal in accusing a galaxy of Trinamool leaders of involvement in the scam and had even hinted at Mamata Banerjee’s involvement in the racket that defrauded lakhs of people, mostly poor, of their precious savings.

A few Trinamool leaders, including some ministers, were even arrested and jailed for many months. But the CBI has failed to submit a strong chargesheet even after eight years against a single Trinamool leader.

The ED and other central agencies have initiated probes into many other rackets, including illegal coal and sand mining, and have even questioned the wife of Mamata Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek.

But the widespread belief is that nothing will come out of those probes as well. Which is why Mamata Banerjee has been successful in painting them as witch-hunts.

If the central agencies have gathered evidence against Trinamool leaders, they should proceed against such leaders.

The Union government, especially Home Minister Amit Shah, should stop pussyfooting around this issue and set strict deadlines to the central agencies to conclude their probes and submit strong chargesheets in the courts if they have been able to gather conclusive evidence against Trinamool leaders.

And it should not be hesitant in taking action as per the law against any Trinamool leader, no matter how senior he or she is.

If evidence of wrongdoing is gathered against Abhishek Banerjee or even Mamata Banerjee, the Union Government should not balk at taking punitive action.

Otherwise, all such probes should be winded up and the accused absolved. And future probes should be ordered very judiciously only when there is prima facie evidence of wrongdoing.

7. Go soft on Hindutva: The BJP has been unnecessarily aggressive on its Hindutva agenda when its campaign on this plank should have been more nuanced.

The BJP should realise that aggressive Hindutva does not work at many places and should tailor its pitch accordingly.

For instance, a BJP candidate for an Assembly seat in Kolkata told this writer that some party workers accompanying him would break out into Jai Shree Ram slogans very often while he campaigned in middle class and upper middle class neighbourhoods.

“I could see the disapproving looks on people’s faces and the way they cringed on hearing those slogans. Despite many appeals, those party workers never listened to me and kept on raising that slogan,” he complained.

It is very important for the BJP to realise that Jai Shree Ram slogans and aggressive Hindutva will work in some parts of Bengal, but won’t work in others. It should craft its future campaigns accordingly.

8. Keep Mamata Banerjee confined to Bengal: The BJP needs to very carefully craft a strategy to keep Mamata Banerjee confined to Bengal so that she does not create problems for the saffron party at the national level.

Banerjee has been punching much above her weight and after her party’s spectacular win this time, will become the lightning rod for all anti-BJP forces.

Banerjee will do her utmost to gather together and weave a coalition of regional parties. She will get the support of the Congress and the Left as well.

A united opposition can pose problems for the BJP in 2024. To preclude that possibility, the BJP has to keep Mamata Banerjee confined to Bengal.

The only way it can do that is play the role of an aggressive opposition in Bengal. It should raise even minor issues and hold her to account for the many acts of omission that she is sure to commit.

Banerjee is a poor administrator, is mercurial and temperamental, and makes many mistakes under pressure. That’s what makes her vulnerable.

The BJP should play on her vulnerabilities and push her to commit more mistakes which it should highlight not only within the state, but also at the national level in order to blunt and puncture her bid to play a role at the national level.

If the BJP can do all these, it can emerge a winner in Bengal sooner rather than later.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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