The BJP’s rise in West Bengal is not sudden but was well crafted in 2011. The entire nation was chanting the theme of Poribortan, waiting anxiously for 34 years of Left rule to come to an end, but in a small corner of 6 Murlidhar Sen Lane, Kolkata, which houses the BJP state office, a select few were convinced that contesting all 294 seats will be the right strategy. Many senior leaders were against our decision of contesting all assembly seats. The media added to our worry and we were concerned that our strategy for 2016 will not find many supporters. However, Nitin Gadkari, then the party president, came to our support and agreed for us to contest all the seats.
The strategy was very simple but lucid: If the BJP was to expand its base in West Bengal, then it was important to record our presence in all assembly segments. By contesting we get booth workers and candidates, who could later evolve into local or regional leaders. No better time for a political party to grow other than by contesting elections. However, in the din of the “Remove Left” chorus, one aspect of Mamata Banerjee was being overlooked — her inability to govern. This was going to be the BJP’s strength, we decided to wait and let her make mistakes.
With the Trinamool Congress’ (TMC’s) resounding victory in 2011, its reverberations drowned the BJP’s hopes. A few wrote our obituary. A political posting to the West Bengal BJP was considered a punishment. Disappointed but with a strong belief in ourselves we decided to strengthen the organisation at the district, block and booth levels. This helped us to challenge more effectively on the ground the state government’s anti-people policies. Mamata Banerjee’s honeymoon lasted for one year and in 2012 her mistakes started getting noticed: Attacking a cartoonist, accusing a rape victim, branding a poor farmer a Maoist agent for asking her a question publicly and her tirade against journalists. One may have ignored her individual mistakes as she is known to be mercurial in nature but there was no governance. Industries were closing down, TMC workers were on the rampage, law and order was collapsing and by 2013 her appeasement politics was at its peak. Amongst many unconstitutional decisions for minorities, her decision of announcing monthly salaries for imams was the worst and most criticised, which got struck down by the high court due to the BJP’s petition. Ideologically it was a natural battle to take on the TMC on good governance and vote-bank politics. With the cadre relatively well oiled in 2013 we organised two successful rallies in Kolkata and Siliguri, attended by Amit Shah and Arun Jaitley. The BJP was getting noticed in West Bengal by now.
An important change was noticed when Narendra Modi attended a party function in April 2013 in Kolkata. A Muslim sculptor refused to accept payment for a sculpture of Swami Vivekananda when told that it was for the chief minister of Gujarat. He believed that Modi and the BJP can stop illegal immigrations and finally they will get their rightful share of welfare schemes. It was a message for ‘sab ka saath sab ka vikas’. By now strategists were clear that Mamata Banerjee will never join the NDA. She was looking at 27% Muslim voters and the BJP at the Muslim sculptor. The great opportunity came in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. To test the waters before advising our prime ministerial candidate, a jibe was directed at Mamata Banerjee’s comment on non-Bengalis being “mehman” (guest). The parties asked her if non-Bengalis are your mehman then Bangladeshi infiltrators are your “damads” (sons-in-law)? Also Mamata Banerjee was questioned on her links with Sudipta Sen, who had bought her painting for the price of a masterpiece. Next morning the BJP became the darling of the Bengali media. The rest is history with eight back-to-back rallies of Modi attacking Didi on the Saradha scam and Bangladeshi infiltrators. The BJP’s vote share went up from 5% in 2009 to 17% in 2014.
With the Saradha scam and Burdwan blast under investigation, Didi’s worries are growing. Despite knowing that it is the Supreme Court that has ordered a CBI inquiry into the Saradha chit fund scam, Mamata Banerjee wants to debunk the entire investigation because the trail may lead to her doorstep. A political offensive cannot be a substitute for criminal culpability. The Burdwan blast exposes the security risk of vote-bank politics. It is unfortunate that under the TMC government the jihadi outfits were allowed to use Indian soil to attack a friendly neighbour. This has grossly compromised India’s position on the war against terror and also caused an embarrassment internationally. National security cannot be held hostage to vote-bank politics. This political discourse needs to be corrected in the interest of the nation.
A successful rally of Amit Shah in Kolkata has rattled the TMC from top to bottom. Didi’s language is an expression of her anger. Her desperate attempt to transform Bengal politics into communal vs secular is a non-starter. For the BJP the fight is against the silent invasion of India by illegal immigrants and terror is a national security issue. Her core voters have silently but firmly moved towards the BJP. In West Bengal a non-ideological convergence between the TMC and Communists will happen, the Congress will remain undecided. The future is for those who have belief in themselves and not those who are opportunists.
The BJP’s ‘Bhaag M Bhaag’ and ‘Trinamool Mukt Bengal’ are waiting to happen in 2016.
Sidharth Nath Singh is BJP national secretary and West Bengal in charge
The views expressed by the author are personal