West Bengal: A Deeply-Divided BJP Hurtles From One Crisis To Another
BJP veteran and five-time Councillor Sunita Jhawar declined the post of vice-president of the North Kolkata district unit after the party announced her nomination.
Many party leaders and workers in Bengal have left or expressed displeasure towards the party and its decisions after the post-poll violence in the state.
The BJP in Bengal, wracked by internal differences, an erosion of popular support and an exodus of leaders and workers after the Assembly poll debacle nearly nine months ago, seems clueless about how to get its act together and is hurtling from one crisis to another.
The state leadership, which appears to be completely cut off from ground realities and unmindful of sentiments of workers, is yet to display any resolve to arrest the tailspin that has gripped the party which faces the grave prospect of an implosion.
The party suffered embarrassment yet again on Thursday (27 January). Party veteran from Kolkata and five-time Councillor Sunita Jhawar declined the post of vice-president of the North Kolkata district unit after the party announced her nomination to the post.
Minutes after the district president Kalyan Chowbey announced Jhawar’s nomination, she wrote to him stating that she would “not be able to work” in that post and, hence, was “resigning” from the post. Jhawar, however, added that she would work as an ordinary party worker.
In North Bengal’s Alipurduar district, the party announced that it had nominated Bhaskar De to the post of district vice-president. Soon after the announcement, De told the media that he had quit the party on 22 June last year and had informed the then state president Dilip Ghosh (who is now the BJP national vice president) about it.
But that was not the end of the BJP’s self-inflicted woes. In Jhargram district, agitated party workers who were angry over the nomination of newcomers and defectors from Trinamool into the district committee stormed the district party headquarters and ‘sealed’ it. They announced they would not allow the office to be reopened till the defectors were removed from the district committee.
On Sunday (23 January), the state BJP leadership “temporarily suspended” two former vice presidents of the state unit--Jay Prakash Majumdar and Ritesh Tiwari--a day after issuing show-cause notices to them accusing them of indulging in anti-party activities.
The two had attended a meeting convened by the Union Minister of State for Ports, Shipping and Waterways, Shantanu Thakur. Thakur has emerged as a lightning rod for dissidents within the Bengal unit of the BJP after he started voicing his anger over the non-implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
Thakur, the Lok Sabha MP from Bongaon, is a front-ranking leader of the Matua community--Bangladesh-origin Dalits--which voted overwhelmingly for the BJP in the last few elections after the party promised grant of Indian citizenship to them through the CAA.
The delay in the implementation of CAA has irked the Matua community and its leaders, including at least four BJP MLAs belonging to the community. These leaders have been voicing their unhappiness and have distanced themselves from the party.
Former vice-presidents Majumdar and Tiwari, who were dropped from their posts after the ill-conceived organisational rejig on 22 December last year, have been attending meetings and social get-togethers convened by Thakur.
After their ‘temporary suspension’ from the party, the two lashed out against party leaders and did not spare even the central leadership. Majumdar, especially, was sharp in his criticism and accused the central leadership of letting down party workers in Bengal who came under attack from Trinamool goons after the declaration of Assembly poll results.
He termed the inaction of the party leaders, including the central leadership, in standing by and defending embattled party workers as “shameful” and “cowardly”. Majumdar was right in his observation that the failure of the party leadership to stand by party workers after the declaration of results had cost the party dearly with many workers resigning or distancing themselves from the party.
Tiwari, an old-timer in the party, blamed the new state general secretary (organisation) Amitava Chakraborty and head of BJP’s national IT cell Amit Malviya (also the co-in charge of Bengal) for the mess that the state unit is in. He alleged that some party leaders from Bengal were on the payroll of the Trinamool, a charge that is being increasingly heard within the party (BJP).
Last week, four MLAs of Bankura district and three MLAs from Purulia district expressed their displeasure over the appointment of newcomers and people without any grassroots connection as presidents and senior office-bearers of the district committees there.
These legislators had written to party's national president JP Nadda demanding that these senior district office-bearers be sacked. Some of these MLAs have also distanced themselves from various party fora and networks.
Two of the MLAs from Bankura--Amarnath Sakha and Nirmal Dhara--made their displeasure felt by writing to the Union Home Minister asking for removal of their security cover provided by the union government.
Another unhappy BJP MLA from Bankura, Niladri Jana, went to a roadside kiosk selling fries and fitters last week and joined the cook in frying cutlets. This act was loaded with political significance and messaging since the Bengal Chief Minister had once lauded these ‘enterprises’ as proof of the MSME sector doing well in the state. Jana referred to Banerjee’s statement and told the media that the Chief Minister was right in encouraging people to set up shops and kiosks to sell foodstuff.
The BJP’s Bengal boat ran into rough weather immediately after the declaration of the Assembly poll results that defeated the party’s ambition of coming to power in the state. The party was ill-prepared for the violence unleashed on its workers and supporters by Trinamool marauders.
Scores of BJP workers were murdered, hundreds faced brutal assaults and the homes and properties of thousands were attacked and looted. Hundreds of BJP workers and their families were driven out of their homes.
The failure on the part of BJP leaders, including central leaders, to stand by the party workers triggered an erosion from the party. What was worse were the allegations of siphoning off relief funds (provided by the party and other individuals and organisations) meant for injured party workers and for those whose houses and properties had been damaged or destroyed.
This failure to stand by party workers and protect them from the Trinamool’s attacks led to acute anger among a large section of Bengal leaders who were still smarting from being pushed to the sidelines by the central leadership and ‘imports’ from other states during the high-decibel campaign for the Assembly polls.
Many who had defected from the Trinamool and joined the saffron party before the elections abandoned the BJP and returned to the Trinamool, triggering angry exchanges and accusations within the party with a section of the party leaders blaming others, and the central leadership, for blindly inducting turncoats into the party.
The BJP state unit hit a turbulent patch with an ill-conceived and inexplicable organisational rejig on 22 December last year. Eleven vice-presidents, five general secretaries, presidents of all district units, 12 state secretaries, presidents of all the party ‘morchas’ (like the Mahila Morcha and Yuva Morcha) as well as heads and members of all party cells were sacked and others appointed in their places.
Many of the new appointees are newcomers or unknown faces, and many of them are also unpopular with party old-timers, including legislators, leaders and workers. This rejig triggered opposition and disgruntlement within the party. Many have also rebelled against the new state president who is widely viewed as weak, lacking rapport with party workers, and a ‘frontman’ for some powerful leaders who are running the party affairs in Bengal from behind the scenes.
What was inexplicable was the complete exclusion of representatives from the Matua community in the new organisational setup. Despite Union MoS Shantanu Thakur and Matua legislators expressing their anger openly against this exclusion, the state party leadership have remained silent and have not taken remedial action.
This has only intensified the anger within the party against the state, and even the central leadership and many non-Matua legislators and leaders are siding with Thakur now. Their anger is directed particularly against the state general secretary (organisation) Amitava Chakraborty.
So acute is the anger against Chakraborty, who is accused of having packed the organisational setup with his followers and sycophants, that posters were put up against him at many places accusing him of being an ‘agent’ of (Trinamool strategist) Prashant Kishor and the ‘Vibishan’ (traitor) within the BJP. This is unprecedented in the BJP.
The old-timers in the party are also peeved with state president Sukanta Majumdar who they view as a political greenhorn with little knowledge of and knack for organisational matters. Majumdar joined active politics only after he was nominated for the Lok Sabha from Balurghat in Dakshin Dinajpur district of North Bengal.
Thursday’s developments only reinforce many of the charges against the current state leadership and the party’s central minders. Nominating a person who has already left the party six months ago as the vice-president of a district is much more than a mere blunder. And continuing to turn a deaf ear to widespread grievances in the hope that matters will ultimately settle down only paves the way for more trouble.
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