FUMBLING AT THE FINISH LINE
India Today|April 12, 2021
Will internal rift and controversial candidate selections upset the BJP applecart in West Bengal?
Romita Datta

“Political tourism bahut achha chal raha hai (Political tourism is on in full swing).” This jibe from Union home minister Amit Shah, the BJP’s chief strategist for the West Bengal assembly election, on March 15 was directed at the 25-odd party leaders in charge of organisational work, who have been camping in the state for the past three months to realise Mission ‘Ebar Bangla (Now Bengal)’. Earlier in the day, Shah had to call off his rally in Jhargram district at the eleventh hour as the BJP local unit was able to mobilise only a handful of people to turn up.

Shah’s dressing down for party leaders, though, was prompted by a deeper concern. Campaigning in Guwahati for the Assam election, he decided on a brief stopover in Bengal on the way back to Delhi following reports of intense disgruntlement among party leaders and workers over the selection of candidates. Between March 14 and 16, BJP workers blockaded highways and vandalised party offices in parts of Howrah, Hooghly and South Dinajpur districts. Leaders, including national vice-president Mukul Roy, national joint general secretary (organisation) Shivprakash and Barrackpur MP Arjun Singh, were mobbed at the party headquarters in Kolkata. For the BJP, which claims to have a disciplined cadre and promises to rid Bengal of the ‘cult of political violence’, the incidents were deeply embarrassing.

While in Kolkata for a night, Shah, it is learnt, questioned several decisions taken in the run-up to the Bengal election. He asked BJP national president J.P. Nadda why last October, a relatively inexperienced Amitava Chakravorty had replaced Subrata Chattopadhyay, an experienced RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) hand, as party general secretary (organisation). Chakravorty, an RSS pracharak and former ABVP (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad) leader, was promoted from the position of joint general secretary (organisation).

THE TUSSLE WITHIN

Chattopadhyay’s removal came as a huge setback for BJP Bengal unit chief Dilip Ghosh. The two had been working closely for the past four years and had contributed immensely to their party’s impressive growth in the state—from 10 per cent votes and three seats in the 2016 assembly election to over 40 per cent votes and 18 seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha poll. Nadda and Kailash Vijayvargiya, the BJP national general secretary and central observer for Bengal, tried to argue in favour of Chakravorty, but Shah was unimpressed. “What will he (Chakravorty) do?” he asked, bluntly.

Chattopadhyay’s unceremonious exit had indeed raised eyebrows since he is known for his organisational prowess, having set up 1,200 mandals, 11,000 shakti kendras and 66,000 of the BJP’s 78,000 booth committees in Bengal. “His strategy was to make inroads into villages with the help of the RSS’s social work,” says a senior state BJP leader. “He not only groomed grassroots leaders but worked to woo those pathologically inclined against the Trinamool Congress (TMC)—unlike the current crop of leaders who are joining us for vested interests.”

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