Dilip Ghosh replaced as BJP’s Bengal chief, Sukanta Majumdar takes over
New Delhi/Kolkata: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Monday replaced Dilip Ghosh with Balurghat MP Sukanta Majumdar as the party’s West Bengal unit chief , months after a bruising poll loss and amid a stream of high-profile defections to the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) in the state.
Ghosh, the firebrand Medinipur MP who served as the state unit chief for six years, was named national vice-president of the BJP. Former Uttarakhand governor Baby Rani Maurya, who stepped down earlier this month, was also appointed national vice-president of the party.
“The BJP is a big family and there can be some differences among its members. I am confident that those who in the BJP for ideological reasons will not leave. I apologise to our workers who might have felt neglected,” said Majumdar shortly after the announcement.
The reshuffle -- which come into effect immediately -- end months of speculations fuelled by Ghosh’s differences with several state BJP leaders, including youth wing president Saumitra Khan, who even threatened to quit last year after Ghosh withheld appointments made by him.
“The central leadership did what it thought was right. I had a long discussion with J P Nadda over several issues. As a worker of the party I will follow the new state president,” said Ghosh.
The change in leadership in Bengal comes when the party is wrangling with infighting in the state unit and embarrassment at the defection of senior leaders to the TMC, including former party vice-president Mukul Roy and Asansol MP Babul Supriyo.
The move also underlines the BJP’s continued focus on north Bengal, a region it dominates and won 30 of the 54 assembly seats in the April-May state polls. Majumdar was one of the party’s seven MPs from the region who won in 2019 and is considered a non-controversial, soft-spoken leader.
Ghosh and Majumdar were both longtime members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Majumdar holds a doctoral degree in botany from the North Bengal University and is a first-time MP.
State leader of Opposition Suvendu Adhikari congratulated both Ghosh and Majumdar. “…I wish them very best and believe that both would give their best to strengthen the party,” he tweeted.
Ghosh was appointed party unit chief in December 2015, replacing Rahul Sinha. In 2020, he was named president for a second term despite resistance from party cadre.
Many found his style abrasive. “Ever since Ghosh was appointed there were many complaints about how he functioned with the party workers. Some found his working style autocratic. Post the assembly election, complaints about his working style were conveyed to the national leadership. The change in the state leadership has been exacerbated by the most recent development of BJP leaders joining the TMC,” said a state functionary on condition of anonymity.
During Ghosh’s tenure, the BJP grew from a side player to the main opposition party in Bengal, winning an unprecedented 18 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in 2019 – its best-ever performance. The party hoped to topple the TMC from power in assembly elections earlier this year, and mounted a spirited campaign, but ultimately was roundly defeated, winning just 77 seats to the TMC’s 213.
Since then, the party has lost several senior leaders to the TMC and its strength in the assembly is down to 71. Still, many credit him for having expanded the party’s base, especially in rural areas, in a state the BJP has traditionally little electoral traction.
“People blame him for taking a hardline stance but it is also relevant to see that he was trying to create space for the party in a state where the TMC indulged in political violence,” a second functionary said on condition of anonymity.
Ghosh frequently made news for controversial statements that left the party leadership embarrassed.
In 2019, he said Indian cow’s milk contained gold, and in September that year, called students of Jadavpur university “anti national”. His comments during the election campaign on chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s clothes also rakes up a controversy.
But his characteristic style also helped him garner popularity. “Maybe Ghosh is a bit rustic but he became a darling of the crowds,” said a BJP leader close to Ghosh.
Ghosh won the Kharagpur assembly seat in 2016 -- one of only three seats the party won in that election -- but the party lost it to the TMC in the 2019 bypolls. The BJP won the assembly seat again in the recent polls.
Supriyo, who joined the TMC on September 18, was known as a staunch critic of Ghosh. “I do not want to comment on organizational changes in the BJP. However, I hope Ghosh changes the language in his social media messages,” Supriyo said.
Maurya’s appointment in the party ranks came months ahead of scheduled assembly elections in her home state of Uttar Pradesh. The senior Dalit leader’s resignation from the governor’s position had triggered speculation that she could return to electoral politics in UP next year.