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BJP changes gears in Bengal, but the road ahead is long and hard

In mid July, I wrote an article on why despite the online buzz, BJP may not do well electorally in Bengal. I wrote extensively on how the Bengal BJP unit is failing to mobilize the cadres and masses, how they lack a strong ferocious unapologetic leader who can take on Mamata Banerjee and uproot the Jihadi existence.

I stressed on one moot point : to win the throne of Bengal you need to get your hands dirty. To win Bengal you need to be unapologetic about your stance. Within a span of 100 days, a lot of significant events have taken place.

From the change in leadership in BJP Bengal unit to Amit Shah’s crucial 2nd visit. From Mukul Roy leaving TMC to the weakening of the Left-Congress alliance, there is a certain positive vibe for Bengal BJP which they must seize and convert into votes.

Let us look through some of the important happenings in this span of time and why I feel BJP central leadership is taking Bengal much more seriously and approaching it with more vigour and intent as compared to earlier.

1. Leadership change – More determined, focused, and most importantly, united. Change in leadership does not only mean, new faces at important posts, but a more united team, with greater degree of cohesion between various leaders and factions.

A) The Dilip Ghosh saga- Dilip Ghosh, the BJP Bengal President has been occupying the post now for 2 years. He took over from Rahul Sinha in December 2015. He had the backing of RSS and central leadership to shape, energize, and revitalize the party. He had the complete power, yet he was somewhat dysfunctional in carrying about the changes.

One of the main reasons is his rivalry with Rahul Sinha. Sinha was more of a polished Bhadralok type of politician with good communication skills and media handling capability, while Ghosh was just the opposite. Dilip Ghosh was more accustomed for booth level and grassroot level politics. This is why Amit Shah and RSS chose him over Sinha. But Sinha faction did not like the radical changes bought about by Dilip Ghosh after his appointment. There was a degree of non co-operation with Ghosh.

This infighting and petty quarrels continued for more than a year, which created an unnecessary diversion. But Amit Shah’s visit as a part of a Padyatra in late April has considerably cooled down the rivalry. There seems to be a much more matured approach. To take on Mamata, you need a channelized, focused attack on her from all fronts. You can’t have two of your big state leaders scoring brownie points over each other.

Now as far as Dilip Ghosh is concerned, he may not tick all the boxes but he is unconventional, outspoken and has the courage to take on Bhadralok communism. He does not care what the ‘intellectuals’ and Bhadraloks of Bengal think about him. He does not care if Bengali media mocks him and calls him uneducated. He does what is necessary for the party.

Take for example his direct attack on Amartya Sen’s duplicity. When Sen was going on ranting against Modi, demonetization as he was forced to leave Nalanda, not one of the BJP state leaders had the conviction or the fire in his/her belly to take the charge and demolish his arguments. But that was not the case with Dilip Ghosh. Without any hesitation he took him down like never before and that was necessary. We Bengalis have developed a habit of accepting gibberish illogical arguments from sophisticated educated Bhadraloks and this is what influences the minds of Urban Bongs. Ghosh knew and did not let the occasion slip just like that.

B) Appointment of Locket Chatterjee as State BJP Mahila Morcha head:

On July 25th, Rupa Ganguly was removed as the BJP Mahila Morcha head and Locket Chatterjee took up the reins. There were various reasons for the removal of Rupa Ganguly, which need to be dealt separately. But Locket Chatterjee’s appointment ushered a new era. It is important to note even though she comes from movies background, this lady is hardworking determined and takes her job & political career seriously.

Unlike other celebs, she is 24×7 politician. Be it protesting against Durga Visarjan ban or attacks on BJP karyakartas, she is the first to reach the spot and register resistance. She has emerged as one of the top leaders of the state unit.

She is also more active on Social media and uses it judiciously to spread her message.

Unlike the previous head, she is spending more time on ground and revamping the booth committees, and less time in TV debates and political mud-slinging.

Even after her loss in Vidhan Sabha election in 2016 from Mayureshwari, she went back and conducted meetings & Sabhas and did not desert her supporters. An important trait, which many leaders lack. Not an easy task specially when you are up against the infamous TMC goon Anubrata Mondal.

2. Amit Shah’s second visit & an aggressive stance : During Shah’s first visit in April, he had focused on reaching the people with the ‘vikas’ mantra, strengthening his party, and other important aspects. But he didn’t address the core issue of safety and security of BJP cadre and supporters. Shah indeed learnt his lessons.

Bengal politics unfortunately is all about violence and muscle power. And you need to protect your cadre and supporters and give them moral backing to stand any chance against the ruling party. Amit Shah was quick to realize this.

He gave a free hand to his state leaders to deal with TMC in their own good way. He realized that to win the throne of Bengal, you need to get your hands dirty. He was more aggressive and direct about Mamata’s politics of violence  appeasement. For example, Shah said:

I am not here to listen how you got beaten up. I know that. I am here to listen to how you have resisted. I am waiting to hear such a story” .

3. Focus on booth level politics & restructuring the organisation: It seems there is finally a plan to revive the organisational strength of the state unit. The selection of leaders indicates that. Efforts are being made to reach the remotest villages. The presence of BJP in the rural belt is negligible, they have to start from zero.

There is caste arithmetic even in Bengal, which many of us overlook particularly in rural Bengal. For example the ‘Matuas’ form a considerable chunk in North and Nadia district (approx 17%). They are looking out for an alternative because of TMC’s appeasement centric politics and radical Islamist interference on their day-to-day activities. Speaking specifically in the context of rural area, Rajbanshis (17.71 per cent), Namasudras (16.33 per cent), Bagdi (14.25 per cent), Pods (11.42 per cent), Bauri (5.72 per cent) make up a considerable amount of the Hindu population on average.

BJP seems to have a plan to take these groups with them. They are trying to use out of favour left leaders and are inducting them into the party. Amit Shah has laid down the road-map to penetrate and create booth committees in about 75,000 booths. Lakshan Seth, previously a left leader is one such example.

Many BJP supporters may have issues with such people being in the party. But this is a political necessity and not a luxury. People need to keep that in mind that BJP needs such leaders with mass appeal and good organisational know-how to stamp its authority.

4. The Mukul Roy saga : Mukul Roy who recently quit TMC may also join the ranks. A leader who has corruption charges, but a leader who was the founder member of TMC. He, along with Subroto Mukhopadhay, was responsible for mobilizing the cadres during Singur-Nandigram movement that saw TMC rise.

Mukul Roy saga needs another article to explain it fully but I will just  say that he may well turn out to be the Himanta Biswa Sarma of Bengal. He may not have that mass appeal, but he knows each booth, each constituency and the demography pattern of each district by heart. Being the right hand man of ‘Didi’ for so many years, he knows how TMC can be nullified and trapped in its own web of appeasement centric politics.

It was Mukul Roy who was responsible for building the TMC as a party and an organization. The TMC students wing, teachers wing, labour unions – they were all set up by him single-handedly. He has literally built the party along with Mamata Banerjee.

To sum it up there has been considerable improvement in these 90-100 days, but a lot has to be done to covert these small steps to vote share and seats. With the Left continuously diminishing and the Congress in hibernation, BJP has become the principal opposition to TMC.

They need to seize the moment, capitalize on the advantages and go forward with more aggression and vigour. Upcoming Panchayat elections will be an indicator of that. All they need is now a central figure around which they can rally and snatch the throne of Bengal.

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