This Is Why The BJP Needs To Get Serious About Bengal In Order To Sweep The 2024 Lok Sabha Polls

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Mar 15, 2022 06:00 AM +05:30 IST
This Is Why The BJP Needs To Get Serious About Bengal In Order To Sweep The 2024 Lok Sabha PollsPrime Minister Narendra Modi with Home Minister Amit Shah.
Snapshot
  • It is high time BJP’s top leaders in Delhi turn their attention towards Bengal and get the state unit back in shape.

    The task before them won’t be easy, but the price of inaction could stymie the party’s hopes of retaining the momentum of the victories in the just-concluded assembly elections.

Now that the lotus has bloomed again in four of the five states, including the politically crucial Uttar Pradesh, where elections were held recently, it is time for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) central leadership to turn its attention to Bengal where the party’s state unit lies in shambles.

The BJP in Bengal is yet to recover from the shock it received after falling short of its much-vaunted target of winning the assembly elections last year by an overwhelming majority. Trinamool launched attacks on BJP workers and supporters all over the state, killing many and driving thousands out of their homes.

With the party leadership — both at the state and central levels — failing to stand by the embattled cadres, BJP workers and supporters either dissociated themselves from the party or defected to the Trinamool. Also, a large number of turncoats from Trinamool who were inducted into the BJP with a lot of fanfare before the elections returned to the Trinamool after the polls, thus demoralising the saffron party’s rank and file.

What made matters worse was the bickering and the blame-game by the party’s state leaders. The failure of the BJP to achieve its goal of dislodging Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee from power triggered the blame-game which caused fissures within the party.

Senior leaders of the party’s state unit started speaking in different, and often opposing and contradictory, voices and pursued their own agendas. Some of them started encouraging factionalism and sycophancy and this created many lobbies and groups within the party, leading to the BJP’s Bengal unit sinking into a mess.

Inexplicably, the party’s central leadership allowed the drift to continue and did not intervene. While the BJP Bengal unit got into a self-destruct mode, the party’s central leadership got busy with the elections to Uttar Pradesh and four other states and had no time or inclination to take decisive action and clean the mess in Bengal.

But now that the elections in those states are over and the BJP has won four of them, it is high time the party’s top leaders in Delhi turn their attention towards Bengal and get the state unit back in shape.

The task before them won’t be easy, or even a pleasant one. But it has to be done not only for the sake of Bengal, but also the country.

The price of inaction on this count could stymie the BJP’s hopes of retaining the momentum of the victories in the just-concluded assembly elections and possibly sweeping the Lok Sabha elections in 2024.

Bengal has 42 Lok Sabha seats and as things stand now, the Trinamool is likely to win almost all of them. In the 2019 general elections, the Congress won 52 seats across India. In 2024, its tally is most likely to go down much more.

If the Trinamool wins an overwhelming majority of Bengal’s 42 seats — political pundits predict the party could easily win at least 38 seats — and picks up a few seats from the North East, it is most likely to emerge as the single largest opposition party.

On the other hand, such a win by the Trinamool would be bad news for the BJP. The saffron party won 18 Lok Sabha seats from Bengal in 2019 and that helped it improve its 2014 (Lok Sabha election) score of 282 seats to 303 — an increase of 21 seats — in 2019.

In 2024, the BJP has set an ambitious target for itself to improve its 2019 performance and win more seats. Top party sources said that the aim is to win at least 315 seats, if not more. But that target cannot be achieved if the BJP does not win a respectable number of seats in Bengal.

Also, the Trinamool emerging as the principal opposition party cannot be good news for the BJP. The Trinamool can never be expected to play the role of a responsible opposition and, if its track record is anything to go by, will only be disruptive and combative.

A disruptive opposition party that lacks vision and is driven only by blind hostility towards the treasury benches bodes ill for the smooth functioning of Parliament, distracts the government from pursuing its good governance agenda and can harm the nation’s interests.

Becoming the principal opposition party would also catapult the Trinamool, and its chief Banerjee, into the national limelight. That is something she has been wishing to achieve, but could not since her party is confined to Bengal. Thus, even without expanding its footprints beyond Bengal in any significant manner, Banerjee would be able to get disproportionate national attention (as the principal opposition party).

The sharp upgrade in the profile of the Trinamool as the principal opposition party and the resultant national attention it will receive will make it easier for the Trinamool to foray into other states, something it has not succeeded in as it is still perceived to be a provincial party from Bengal. As the principal opposition party in the Lok Sabha, this perception will change and it is quite likely to be considered a ‘national party’ even without being one on the ground.

And that cannot be good news for the rest of the country. The Trinamool lacks vision and has retained power in Bengal through populism that is financially ruining the debt-stricken state by driving it deeper into the red. Replication of the disastrous ‘Bengal model’ (that Banerjee loves to tout) in other states is sure to be calamitous.

The BJP national leadership thus needs to intervene immediately in Bengal and clean the Augean stables that the state unit of the party is now in. It is not unfeasible for the BJP to win at least half, if not more, of the state’s 42 Lok Sabha seats. That would deny Banerjee the chance that she desperately seeks to play a pivotal role at the national level by emerging as the leader of a coalition of regional parties.

The immediate task before the BJP would be to retain the Asansol Lok Sabha seat where bypolls are scheduled to be held on 12 April. The by-election there has been necessitated by the resignation of Babul Supriyo, the BJP’s two-time MP and former junior minister in the Narendra Modi government, from the Lok Sabha after he defected to the Trinamool last year.

Banerjee has named former BJP leader Shatrughan Sinha (Sinha joined the Trinamool in July last year) as her party’s candidate from Asansol. The choice of this former BJP parliamentarian and a vocal critic of Prime Minister Modi for Asansol was a deliberate one by Banerjee.

With this, she has signalled her intent of keeping up her opposition to the BJP and has sent a message that she is not deterred from her anti-BJP stance by the saffron party’s recent successes in the assembly elections. Her eyes are firmly set on the goal of becoming the most vocal critic of, and the strongest opposition to, the BJP.

The BJP cannot allow Banerjee’s challenge to go uncontested. The saffron party wrested the Asansol Lok Sabha seat from the CPI(M) in 2014 and retained it in 2019. Babul Supriyo had defeated the Trinamool’s Moon Moon Sen by over 1.97 lakh votes in 2019, a significant improvement of his 2014 victory margin of a little over 70,000 votes.

But the two successive victories cannot be attributed to the singer-turned-politician who is now with the Trinamool. Asansol has a significant percentage of Hindi-speaking people and the RSS and its affiliates have deep roots there. The seat can be easily retained by the BJP provided a strong and focused campaign is launched immediately.

If the Trinamool manages to win Asansol, it will strengthen public perception about the BJP being a weak party on the decline (in Bengal) that is unable to challenge the Trinamool. A win in Asansol will make the Trinamool appear invincible in Bengal, and that is likely to aid its prospects of winning almost all seats from the state in 2024.

A BJP victory in Asansol will prove that the party can rebound in Bengal and has been able to arrest its decline in the state. That will dampen the prospects of the Trinamool in 2024 and rob it of its aura of impregnability. It is thus important for the BJP to retain Asansol.

A victory in Asansol will also encourage the party’s top leadership to invest more attention and resources to clear the mess in Bengal and effect the turnaround that the BJP in Bengal desperately requires.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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