BJP unravelling in Bengal where it has lost the plot, unable to address issues on the ground
Dosti in Delhi and kushti in Bengal is how BJP characterised TMC’s equation with Congress & CPI(M) after their participation in Mamata Banerjee’s opposition conclave for the presidential elections
Dosti, or bonhomie, in Delhi, and kushti, or wrestling, in West Bengal, is how the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is sarcastically characterising Trinamool Congress’s equation with the Congress Party and Communist Party of India (Marxist) after their participation in Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s opposition conclave in the national capital last week for the presidential election in July.
Last year, the BJP emerged as the principal opposition party in West Bengal after the Congress Party and CPI(M)-led Left Front failed to win even a single seat in the legislative assembly elections. Although the BJP got 77 seats, it fell badly short of its goal of trumping the Trinamool Congress, which bagged 213 seats in the 294-strong House and formed the government for a third straight term.
The BJP - in the throes of a crisis for a whole year after its failure to capture power – is now poking fun at the Congress Party and CPI(M) for brainstorming with the Trinamool Congress for the presidential election instead of fighting it tooth and nail in West Bengal. The BJP is also taking pot shots at Banerjee for supping with them. BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari says he is amazed by the CM’s somersault as she keeps likening the three opposition parties – BJP, Congress and CPI(M) – to proverbial brothers “Jogai, Madhai, Bidai” who have teamed up to fight the Trinamool Congress! The BJP is specially keen to discredit the CPI(M) as it appears to be recovering some lost ground through sustained mass mobilisation programmes while the BJP is beset by infighting. The CPI(M)’s good performance in the Ballygunje assembly by-election is a case in point.
Dismissing BJP’s charges, Sujan Chakraborty, CPI(M) central committee member, has advised the saffron party to devote its time and energy to stop its MPs and MLAs from crossing over to the Trinamool Congress, instead of levelling baseless allegations at other parties to grab attention.
The dosti-kushti barb is evidence of the BJP clutching at straws even as a Herculean task stares it in the face ahead of the 2024 general elections and panchayat polls next year. The findings of an internal review by BJP-RSS accessed by Anand Bazar Patrika paint a rather grim picture of BJP’s prospects.
The assessment reveals that BJP’s popularity has plummeted so drastically in three years that it would win only two Lok Sabha seats in 2024 compared to 18 in 2019. The two “safe” seats are Darjeeling in north Bengal and Bangaon in North 24 Parganas in south Bengal. While Darjeeling is a no brainer because of Gurkhas’ support, the Bangaon prediction comes with a rider. To retain Bangaon – where the Matua Scheduled Caste Hindu sect decides the outcome – the BJP government at the Centre must quickly implement the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) to give Indian nationality to Matuas who are originally from East Pakistan/Bangladesh and came to West Bengal as refugees. They have voting rights and Indian citizenship but fear that it will not withstand the rigorous National Register of Citizens (NRC) test which lakhs of Hindus in Assam flunked. So they want to be indemnified by CAA which alone can confer fool-proof Indian nationality.
The Home Ministry is seeking extension after extension to frame CAA rules. It sought the fifth six-month extension in April. Without the rules being framed, CAA can’t be implemented. The CAA is still a mirage. And the uncertainty has triggered a revolt by BJP’s Matua leaders. They are accusing of Home Minister Amit Shah – who frequently visits West Bengal to arrest the BJP’s downslide – of not delivering on his CAA promise. Besides Bangaon, Matua votes decide the fate of several parliamentary and assembly seats as seen in 2019 and 2021. How the BJP fares in upcoming electoral contests is dependent on implementation of CAA.
But the CAA – which the BJP used as bait in both elections - has become a hot potato today because of Sheikh Hasina government’s objections to the Modi-Shah regime’s Hindutva driven legislation which is a slur on Bangladesh. New Delhi seems to have put CAA on hold under Bangladeshi pressure. It is chary of alienating Dhaka not only as it is a proven loyal ally in south Asia but because of the growing Chinese presence in the neighbouring country.
There are other insurmountable obstacles too in the BJP’s path. Factionalism is a major challenge. Defection to the Trinamool Congress – reversal of the 2021 trend – is another. The 2019 tally of 18 Lok Sabha seats is already down to 16 after Babul Supriyo (Asansole) and Arjun Singh (Barrackpur) crossed over. Frequent, well-publicised visits to West Bengal by Shah and J. P. Nadda show how ineffective the state leadership is. State president, Sukanto Majumdar, appointed in September 2021, is locked in a war of attrition with ex-president Dilip Ghosh. Last month, the central leadership publicly warned Ghosh – the most successful state chief under whose leadership BJP bagged 18 parliamentary seats – to stop undermining Majumdar or face the consequences.
The BJP is today in such dire straits in West Bengal that the dosti-kushti arrow at other political parties can’t redeem it. Instead it highlights the BJP’s inadequacy to address real issues on the ground.