‘We can win 30 seats, but need to connect with people’: Chandra Kumar Bose speaks about BJP, Mamata and 2019

Chandra Kumar Bose, apart from being the grand nephew of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, is also the Vice president of the West Bengal BJP state unit. OpIndia met Bose to understand the current political scenario in Bengal and Bose’s view on the state and the state of the Bengal BJP.

The political situation in Bengal has been continuously getting intriguing. The recent by-polls in the state have indicated a rise in BJP’s vote share in the state. Along with the increased vote share, there has also been an increase in the political violence against the BJP in the state with approximately 50 people losing their lives in panchayat poll violence, 26 among them were karyakartas, according to BJP.

Bose, who comes from the corporate world, has always been an iconoclast in the party. He contested his first elections against the incumbent chief minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee from the Bhawanipur constituency. When asked about his views on the ability of Bengal BJP to adapt to the Bengal brand of politics, Bose expressed his reservations.

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According to Bose, BJP Bengal is still pursuing the policy of focusing on the Hindi speaking people in Bengal. He furthered by stating the need to understand that most of them are not voters here. They are here as workers. So, they might come to BJP rallies and road shows but that will not result in a change in vote share as most of them are not voters here. The “Bengal BJP is yet to approach the Bengali speaking Hindus”, who according to Bose constitute around 40% of the Hindu voters in Bengal.

Chandra Kumar Bose on BJP’s ‘North Indian’ Politics

“I would not use the word ‘north Indian’. Bengal BJP is mostly doing appeasement of and catering to the ‘Hindivashi’ or Hindi speaking people residing in Bengal. This has created another problem, as I was mentioning earlier, these people are not on the voter’s list. But, if we keep concentrating only on them we will never be able to increase our vote share beyond 25%,” he said.

Bose implied that the current policies of the Bengal unit are not electorally efficient and if not introspected, will result in a quagmire for the world’s largest political party.

Bose on what BJP can do to make itself electorally relevant in Bengal

“The concentration should be on Bengali Hindus, who out of that 70% still constitute around 40%, according to me. Although I feel that 70% number is inaccurate, a more realistic number should be around 65% of the Hindu vote. This is where we are losing out. We are not being able to touch this section of people by more than 2%. The majority of the votes in this section are going to Trinamool,” he said.

When asked about the accountability of the party’s poor performance in the state and the virtually non-existent political representation of BJP in Bengal since its inception till 2014, Bose claimed that the fault lies with the BJP leadership. According to him, the prevailing notion in the party was that Jyoti Basu was undefeatable and thus they never tried.

“The fault lies with the Party leadership. I would not say that that the fault lies with Bengal because BJP never focused on Bengal. Because Jyoti Basu was not undefeatable, somehow they thought it is not possible to defeat him. Why not? This is politics you need people to support you. The dent on the left, which was made by Mamata Banerjee, should have been made by the BJP. As a national party we should have used the regional face of Mamata Banerjee but for some reason, we failed to do it”, he said.

The Bengal unit has claimed that they have been working overtime in order to strengthen their organizational capacity in Bengal.

Bose on BJP’s claims that it has booth committees in more than 65,000 booths out of 77,300+ booths in Bengal. 

“I can tell you, that number is incorrect. According to me, the number is around 45-46000 booths”, said Bose.

This was particularly interesting because BJP has earlier cited increasing their organizational capacity at booth levels in the state for inducting Mukul Roy into the party. Mukul Roy was at a point in time the general secretary of the TMC and many believed him to be the number two man in the Trinamool Congress before joining BJP.

Chandra Kumar Bose on Mukul Roy’s induction into the party and whether Roy could improve BJP’s chances in the state

“Mukul Roy certainly has his followers because in the TMC he was the number 2 man. He is a strong organizational man but his organizational expertise had to work in parallel with Mamata Banerjee’s image. It is Mamata’s mass leader image that complimented Mukul’s expertise and vice-a-versa”, he said.

About state leadership or the lack thereof. We asked him if he means that Mukul Roy can only be effective is there a local leader and whether he thinks BJP Bengal lacks leadership

“If I say that then people will get very unhappy with me. But, the problem with the current leader is that he is proving to be unable in bringing the party together. Today we have four factions within the Bengal BJP, fortunately, or unfortunately, I am not part of any factions, but the point is if you are not part of any faction then you are not in the game also”. These four factions are – Dilip Ghosh’s faction, Mukul Roy’s faction, Rahul Sinha’s Faction and last but not the least is the faction of Ashish Sarkar. The leadership crisis in Bengal BJP is not that we don’t have leaders but it’s that we have too many”, he said.

Bose had earlier mentioned to us that he has written a letter to Amit Shah, the national president of BJP. In his letter, he has cited a few of his observations and reservations about certain party functionaries and the detrimental effects of their ways.

Bose on his letter to Amit Shah 

In his response, Bose stated that there is rampant over-reaching of organizational jurisdiction in the organizational circle of Bengal BJP. He mentioned an instance where the president of a national party’s state unit stood on a podium in Siliguri and stated that he will remain in his party position till such and such date. Bose expressed his reservations about such political statements.

He said coming from the corporate world, “an MD will not stand in the board meeting and say that I will remain till such and such date, the board members will say. Similarly, the state committee here will say that yes you are going to. So, why is he clarifying? Is there a question? Right after this statement, Kailash Vijayvargia, the central observer stated in Purulia that Dilip Ghosh will remain the president until 2021 assembly polls, why these statements?”

We asked him if these statements were a by-product of your own political ambitions

“I am not dying to become the state president. My ambition is to become the Prime Minister of India. I have stated the same to the Prime Minister himself, during one of my visits. I faced two interviews in my life, the first one with Russi Mody in Tata Steel. When he asked about my ambition, I replied that I want to be in his chair after a few years. The same I said to Prime Minister Modi. If anybody thinks that I am trying to grab the president’s post then he or she is mistaken. I am trying to grab the Prime Minister’s post.”

Amit Shah had earlier claimed that BJP will secure 22 seats in the state and we asked Bose about his estimates about BJP’s electoral fortune in the state.

“We can even get more seats than that. We can get 30 seats, provided we are able to connect with the people. Today, we have not been able to connect with the voters. The majority of whom are Bengali Hindu voters. We also have to get at least 10% to 15% of the Muslim vote. We have to get the magic figure of 45% to 48%. Today Mamata is in power with 51%. We have to cut Mamata’s vote share. We are getting LF and Congress votes in Bengal. If we continue this way, we will always remain a lower number two.”

The BJP has emerged as the number two party in West Bengal. Some even consider BJP to be a direct threat to the incumbent TMC government.

With 2019 elections on the horizon we asked Bose about the electoral formula to crack the state elections

“Our work should be focused on the small things. Reach out to the people without the party flag, meet and tell them that we are here for you. Do you want a gas connection? Is there somebody who needs to be admitted to the hospital? See, unless we don’t help the voter on the ground. They are never going to vote for us. See, if today the Left front calls a meeting in Brigade it will be packed but it won’t convert into votes”, he said.

We asked if he thinks the only way to counter the TMC is not to out-shout or out-debate them but the out-favour them?

“Correct, see Mamata has a three-pronged strategy. First is to provide favours. For example, this policy of giving two cycles, one for the daughter and one for the father. The girl goes to college on her bicycle and her father who used to walk to complete his day to day chores does those in a cycle now. They are very happy. This two-rupee rice scheme, though subsidized by the central gets reported as TMC is giving this to the people. After all, this, if you go to them and call TMC thieves they are not bothered at all.

Mamata’s second strategy is to threaten people of harm. She tells them, I have done all this for you, even after this if you do not give me the vote, there will be consequences. The third is she will actually beat up people.

We have to crack this by whisper campaigning. Just like the left did in the 1970’s. We don’t need them to have a BJP flag in their houses, we want their votes. If we create a ruckus and threaten the ruling party, the next day that karyakarta will be thrashed and given a TMC flag.”

Within the Bengal BJP, there seems to alienation imposed on certain individuals. These people despite being competent and stalwarts in their own fields are not given the proper space to articulate their opinions.

We asked him if he thinks he is being sidelined by Bengal BJP

“It does not bother me. I joined BJP to reach to the people. I don’t work for Amit Shah or Dilip Ghosh, I don’t work for Narendra Modi either. I work for the people utilizing the BJP platform, the day I cannot utilize this platform, I will go to another platform or from my own platform.

This mention of ‘platform’ is immensely important as 21st July is fast approaching. An important day in Bengal politics since TMC assumed power. Every year, one party leader or the other join the TMC on this day.

We asked him for his views on 21st July approaching and many people from other parties who are expected to join TMC on that date.

“My leader is Narendra Modi. I joined BJP because of Narendra Modi. Modi has introduced me to Amit Shah. I found both leaders able to give some clear thinking. I cannot say that of others and especially about the Bengal Unit. Bengal unit has a long way to go”, he said.

We asked him if focusing only on religiosity would work in Bengal

“See, In Bengal, religiosity will never work. It is ok if you want to chant ‘Jai Shree Ram’ or visit a temple but the moment you try to play the religious card in Bengal politics, it will come to a screeching halt. They will probably give NOTA but won’t vote for you. We respect all our deities but here people are focused on Durga Puja and Kali Puja. They might accept “Jai Ma Durga.” Though, the best slogan for Kolkata is Jai Hind.”

No conversation about Bengal can ever be completed without mentioning Mamata Banerjee. For the last few months, she has been constantly targeting BJP and its decisions. She is one of the propagators of the proposed ‘Mahagathbandhan”.

Mamata Banerjee government has directed the CID to arrest people on the basis of social posts and the circular to the CID states, according to a report published in ‘The Hindu’, cases should be filed for 505(2) IPC for “disseminating defamatory content”. It can very well be argued that this goes against her stance on FoE. We asked Bose if he thinks by issuing this circular she has exposed her hypocrisy regarding democratic dissent?

“Yes. You see I asked the same thing in person to Mamata Banerjee. I meet her at the Raj Bhavan every now and then. Whenever I am there, I make it a point to go say ‘hello’. You see, my wife lost her Job because I was contesting an election against Mamata Banerjee. Her employer got spooked. She was told since her husband is contesting elections against the incumbent chief minister she cannot continue there. She was told that Mamata Banerjee can be very vindictive and she will go after the company.

So, I told this to Mamata one 15th of August. I asked her – “Do you believe in Democracy?” to say she was shocked would be an understatement. She asked why I am asking this particular question. I shared my wife’s case and said you can do anything to me but my wife has nothing to do with this. She may very well be your supporter. My two cousins are in TMC, Sugata and Amit Mitra. She asked Indranil and told him to look after the matter. I said we don’t want any favours from you but I also told her that people think she is vindictive on her face”, he narrated.

We asked him why would Mamata Banerjee be so paranoid about the opposition since she is a mass leader and has around 211 seats. Why such insecurities then?

“Yes, I also think this is peculiar. If I was in her position, I would not fear anyone. Of course, I should not be overconfident. But, you see in this large-scale violence that took place around 50 people have died. Out of them, 26 were from our party. It was not necessary. If you remember, right after she came to power there was this Park Street rape incident. Even before the investigation started she said it’s a ‘got up case’ or ‘’Sajano Ghotona’. How can anyone say that? Even in the case of that interview with Sagarika Ghosh or the incident involving that farmer named Shiladitya Chowdhury who was arrested and charged for being a Maoist just because he had raised his voice against Mamata”.

He went on to say, “even this Ambikesh Mahapatra guy got arrested for drawing a sketch mocking Mamata. Kutty, the famous cartoonist mocked Indira Gandhi, who was a dictator, so many times but never once he was arrested. Thus, she has a long history of paranoia and overreaction”.

We asked him if he thought Mamata Banerjee is more paranoid than Indira Gandhi, who imposed the Emergency to retain power. 

“Yes. I think, only in these electoral cycles she becomes this paranoid other than that I cannot think of anything else which will make her this paranoid”.

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