The BJP’s short stint as the primary opposition party against the ruling Trinamool in Bengal seems to be coming to an end

It is said that “man proposes, God disposes”. In West Bengal, it seems God’s role has been swapped by the state Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). There was an enormous momentum in favour of the BJP for the past two years that the party has failed to cash in on. Now, with the party’s defeat in the three Hindi heartland states, the momentum is further waning.

This is the third time the BJP has missed the Bengal bandwagon. First it was in the early 90s, when the party made a huge impact in the minds of the common Bengalis during the historic Ram Mandir movement. The second time, it was during the late 90s during the tenure of the first National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Like the current momentum, then too it was driven primarily by the BJP running the government at the Centre.

However, “With power comes responsibility”: it is a phrase commonly attributed to Uncle Ben in the Spiderman series (though there are other references to the origin of this phrase that pre-dates its use in Spiderman). In the BJP’s case, the responsibility was to stick to its core ideology, core values and political unique selling point (USP). That is what made it a “party with a difference”. And today, this seems to be the major casualty while the party is in power – a power unparalleled in its 38 years of existence.

When a party expands, it is natural to find acceptance among individuals and groups which had earlier shunned it. It was natural for people from other political parties to join the BJP post 2014. Since that time, it has been running a government with absolute majority, and hence the switching of sides also was almost absolute. Even individuals and groups who were remotely not conversant with Hindutva or Cultural Nationalism and were often hardened critics of the same, joined the party in hordes.

Only, the scenario was slightly different in Bengal. Though Narendra Modi has been the man of the hour, West Bengal was still under the sway of Mamata Banerjee. Due to this, no leader of the first, second or even third rung joined the BJP till early 2017. Those who joined were nowhere even in the mid-segment bracket of their former parties. But due to some strange reason, the West Bengal BJP not only inducted these entities but offered these individuals senior positions, and with that made the first major political blunder in the state.

Firstly, this exposed the extent of hollowness in the state organisation. Naturally first rung leaders of other parties now became reluctant to join in a set-up that would dilute their own political stature. Secondly, this made local leaders of other major parties more ambitious. Hence, in this period even an ex-councillor of another party demanded a Lok Sabha ticket as a reward for joining the party. Thus the momentum when a substantial chunk of the local Trinamool Congress leaders could have been asked to switch sides, was lost at a crucial political juncture.

Almost all the members of the ruling coterie of the state BJP are bereft of political acceptability outside the party. Hence, another major shortcoming for the state party has been optimum utilisation of human resources. Members of the ruling coterie strictly limit all the affairs of running the party within themselves, despite the party losing face on several occasions. Take the example of the meeting with Bengal chief secretary, home secretary and the state Director General of Police under the instruction f the Calcutta High Court only a few days back.

Barring Mukul Roy – who is former cabinet minister – no other representative had any administrative experience ever, while the party has an entire gamut of former IAS and IPS officers in its membership portfolio. And the outcome is there for all of us to see. The party is repeatedly failing to organise any mass movement in the state despite several opportunities.

The sheer hopelessness can be gauged from the fact that despite the national president placing repeated deadlines, the party’s “booth committees” still remain elusive. Even a major part of the 20-25 per cent booth committees that do exist is highly unlikely to deliver on the poll day. Given this fact, how did the party leave its grassroots workers – who took the Trinamool Congress head-on in the Panchayat elections and in districts like Purulia and Midnapore – to fend for themselves while the state leaders were provided with high-end security cover? This is something unseen and unheard of in Bengal politics.

This makes a clear divide between the “haves and the have-nots” amongst the rank and file of the party in a state that is still not entirely out of the Left psyche. This is also somewhat hilarious in a state that has a long history of post Independence political struggles involving so many political parties and thousands of political workers.

Since the days of the fierce Naxalite movement, its political opponents, the heydays of the turbulent 70s, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Congress right down to the Trinamool Congress, nowhere was any organisation built under such a secure environment.

The video footage of a BJP central leader during the Lalbazar gherao agitation bears testimony to the fact that the BJP leadership is remotely not in sync with the political killer instinct of its own grassroots workers. Also, though an entire gamut of legal experts and advocates don the party’s rank and file, proper legal consultation and advice eludes the grassroots party workers. On the other hand, a huddle of lawyers represents the senior leaders in the courts in personal graft cases.

This time – in 2019 – a party will require anything above 40 per cent votes to be at a striking distance of a Lok Sabha seat. As per statistics from the last Lok Sabha, Assembly, local body and by-polls, the BJP seems unlikely to hit that mark anywhere outside Darjeeling, Kolkata North and Midnapore. And the going is bound to get significantly tough with a resurgent Congress and a resurgent Left.

A newly appointment state Congress President Somen Mitra was taken aback at the sight of the crowd at their public meeting on Rani Rashmoni Road in Kolkata only a couple of days back. Similar reactions were seen from the CPIM leaders during their 52-km Long March from Singur.

The BJP’s short stint as the primary opposition party against the ruling Trinamool Congress seems to be coming to an end. Still I see a natural mental tilt in favour of the party among the common Bengalis due to some of the Muslim-centric appeasement policies of the state government. But whether the party will be able to build on it or the ruling Trinamool Congress will mend its ways and win back this segment, is for all of us to see.

[The views expressed belong solely to the author, and may not reflect the opinions of the editorial team]

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