‘Not defections but violence will weaken BJP unit in West Bengal’
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is concerned over the impact of the post-poll violence against its workers on its organisational strength but sees no threat to its growing clout in West Bengal by the return of former Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders to the state’s ruling party, functionaries aware of the matter said.
The BJP, which won 77 seats with a vote share of about 38% in the assembly elections held in March and April, has emerged as the main opposition in the state. The Congress and the Left parties failed to secure even a single seat in the 294-seat assembly.
On Friday, the BJP’s national vice president Mukul Roy, without sending his resignation to the party high command, switched back to the TMC. There is speculation that some other leaders, who joined the BJP, could also return to the TMC. Last month, Sonali Guha, who also defected to the BJP in the run-up to the polls, regretted her decision and indicated that she wants to return to TMC.
Is the BJP geared for facing defections?
A state leader, who did not wish to be named, said the party unit has been in “disarray” even before the elections began. “There were differences in the unit about the state leadership. There were many people who have been with the BJP for years withstanding pressure and violence, but they were overlooked when about 20 odd TMC turncoats were given tickets to contest. That demoralised the cadre. These defections are bad for the party’s image,” the leader said.
While some leaders admit that the desertions are bad optics, especially since the BJP has emerged as a strong contender in the state, they say that the threat to the party does not come from defections.
“Roy or any other leaders leaving will not impact the party. In West Bengal politics an individual is not above the party. Here the party symbol matters more than the perception of a person. Politics here has been between binaries, earlier it was the Left against the TMC, now it is the TMC against the BJP,” said Samik Bhattacharya, the chief spokesperson for the BJP in the state.
Though the central leadership of the BJP has not officially commented on the defections, particularly by Roy, who was given a position in the national team, a second functionary said some defections could be a result of pressure.
“Roy has some 60 plus cases filed against him. A Member of Parliament, Arjun Singh, has about 90 cases filed against him. So, it is possible that some of the former TMC leaders are returning because of fear of excesses by the TMC,” said the leader.
The desertions have underscored the need for better coordination in the state unit and between the central leadership and the state unit, said a third leader. “There was never a doubt that Roy’s role was overstated. A section of leaders had conveyed to Delhi the concern that the central leadership was banking too much on turncoats and unable to address the concerns of the workers. However, no action was taken. Now we have a bigger problem to address, the continued violence against the workers,” the third functionary said.
Some leaders, including Tathagata Roy, also stoked a controversy by referring to Roy and other TMC turncoats as “Trojan Horses”. The statement was condemned by Rajya Sabha MP Swapan Dasgupta. “It is wrong to view everyone who joined BJP in Bengal after May 2019 as Trojan horses. Many new entrants participated in the election with sincerity. They must not be made to feel unwelcome. Politics is not a game of exclusion; it involves adding support & creating new leaders. As for those who see a political party as a vehicle of personal gratification alone, the door is always open to explore other options,” Dasgupta tweeted.
Violence will weaken the party
The BJP attributes the continued violence against its workers to the party’s growing heft in the state. It is also concerned that the violence will instil fear in the cadres as well as those who sympathise with the BJP.
“The fact that the TMC resorted to violence after it won the elections with a huge mandate shows it sees the BJP as a threat. What is really hurting the party is not anyone leaving, but this violence against the workers,” said Shishir Bajoria, state executive member of the BJP.
The continued attacks against the cadres were also flagged by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological fount of the BJP. An RSS functionary said the fear of being attacked can have an adverse impact on Sangh’s work. “After many years, the Sangh’s presence has increased on the ground through shakhas (branches) and meetings. If these attacks continue then those who attend these meetings will also fear being targeted,” the functionary said.
RSS shakhas have gone up from 875 in 2014 to about 1,200 in 2019.
All eyes on the Centre
The state BJP unit, which claims that the police have not taken action against the perpetrators of violence, is now resting its hope on the Union government.
“In the last three years, we have seen 138 causalities. Between May 2, when the results were declared, and May 5, when the TMC government was sworn in, we lost 10 workers, and since May 5 till date have lost 29 workers. There is an absolute violation of laws. BJP workers are not being given vaccines, thousands of them are unable to return home. There is a perception among people that only the Centre can now bring about a change and end this cycle of violence,” said Bhattacharya.
TMC leader Tapas Roy rejected the BJP’s allegation of widespread violence in West Bengal and said there was no such thing. “The BJP is trying to disturb the peace as it not being able to digest the humiliating defeat. Even suicides are being tagged as political violence. In many cases, it was the BJP’s internal fighting. There were some incidents soon after the poll results were declared but at that time the law and order were under the jurisdiction of the ECI [Election Commission of India].”
Roy maintained there has been no widespread violence after Mamata Banerjee took over as the chief minister on May 5. “The chief minister has directed the police to take strong actions against any such incidents.”
Prof Abdul Matin of the Jadavpur University said the defections will not adversely impact the BJP if the party focuses on building its organisation. “It is true that there is widespread violence against the opposition parties across the state and it is the responsibility of the TMC to take care of this. This violence can be attributed to the binary era of politics in the state which is TMC versus BJP. As for TMC turncoats returning to the party, it will send a bad signal to the workers in rural Bengal. The defections will increase internal factionalism in the TMC,” he said.