After the BJP recorded its best-ever performance in West Bengal in the recent Lok Sabha elections, winning 18 of the 42 seats, the party has now suffered a jolt.
A number of councillors in TMC-controlled municipalities in West Bengal, who had defected to the BJP after the elections, are returning to Mamata Banerjee’s party.
Last week, at least three municipalities have witnessed this reverse trend. More than the BJP, this is a bigger embarrassment for Mukul Roy. Once the right-hand man of Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief Mamata Banerjee, Roy is known to enjoy considerable influence in these three municipalities.
Under pressure yet unbending, Mukul has now claimed that at least 107 MLAs (from TMC, Congress and Left) have been knocking at the BJP’s doors, and he would soon make those names public.
Blame-game over exits
The current trend of defection and ‘ghar wapsi’ (as the TMC councillors termed it) has one element in common. Both sides allege coercion and allurement as the main reasons for causing the defection.
Of the three municipalities, Halishahar and Kanchrapara fall under the Bijpur assembly constituency – Mukul Roy’s son Shubhrangshu Roy, who has now joined the BJP, is a two-time MLA from here. The third municipality, Haringhata in Nadia district, is very close to Bijpur and considered a Mukul Roy stronghold.Controlling the area, therefore, became a prestige issue for both the BJP and the TMC.
On 28 May, five days after the Lok Sabha election results, the BJP state leadership had taken some of these councillors to Delhi where they had formally joined the BJP.
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A little over a month later, the TMC leadership presented these returning councillors before the media on 11 July and claimed that more would come back.
Firhad Hakim, the minister for municipal affairs, told media persons that these councillors were pressured into joining the BJP against their will.
Mukul Roy, however, alleged that the TMC “had sent goons” after these councillors and forced them to return to the TMC fold. He claimed that many more TMC workers will come and join the BJP.
Kailash Vijayvargiya, BJP’s national general secretary and Bengal in-charge, and Arjun Singh, BJP MP from Barrackpore, the Lok Sabha constituency under which Kanchrapara and Halishahar fall, echoed a similar sentiment, while responding to media queries in Delhi.
All is not well in BJP
But the BJP state unit is also fighting an internal battle. The squabbles between BJP state leaders are an indication that all is not well in the party.
Soon after the Lok Sabha results, Manirul Islam, a TMC MLA from Birbhum district, was reportedlyencouraged by Mukul Roy to defect to the BJP. Given the alleged notoriety associated with the MLA, other members of the state BJP raised objections over his induction.
Party insiders say that BJP national president Amit Shah’s expressed will to cause defection at all levels in the TMC, without considering the defectors’ merit, encouraged a section of the BJP leaders to continue poaching from the rival camp.
Mukul Roy, for instance, has been consistently pursuing Sabyasachi Dutta, the mayor of Bidhannagar Corporation (a satellite township of Kolkata), as well as an MLA from Rajarhat to defect to the BJP. His visits to Dutta’s residence have already forced the TMC to move a no-trust motion against the mayor, which is scheduled to take place on 18 July. In a situation that is fluid to say the least, it is not clear how many of the 39 TMC councillors (the corporation’s total strength stands at 41) will lend support to Dutta.
But, state BJP president Dilip Ghosh has gone on record stating that since Dutta has not approached the BJP, the party does not know anything about his plans. BJP state vice-president Jayprakash Majumdar went a step ahead and told ThePrint that “the BJP and Mukul Roy are two different entities”.
Majumdar said that Dutta never contacted the BJP, and he should know that unless Dilip Ghosh and the party give a green signal, Mukul Roy alone cannot take the call on whom to induct into the BJP. “Our party has not given Mukul Roy a free hand in deciding whom to invite to join our party,” said Majumdar.
TMC cadre not too optimistic
Although the recent developments have given the TMC leadership a reason to celebrate, not everybody is enthusiastic about it. A number of TMC leaders and workers are sceptical about the possibility of the tide turning in the party’s favour.
Senior TMC leader Tapas Roy, who is also the minister of parliamentary affairs, sees no reason to start celebrating yet. “It is too early to say that the party has been able to reverse the trend,” Roy told ThePrint.
The TMC old-timers are peeved because the party is consulting Prashant Kishore more than its local leaders. A TMC leader, who does not want to be identified, told ThePrint, “Prashant Kishore is vice-president of JD(U), which is a member of the NDA. How could he be the guiding light for the TMC in this hour of crisis?”
He further said the party cadre’s morale is not high as it fears more violent agitation in the next few months over the ‘cut money’ issue. “The situation is such that anybody can raise the ‘bogey of cut money’ against anybody now and cause a serious law and order situation,” he said.
Mamata Banerjee is relentlessly trying to pump up the morale of the party leaders by telling them that the state election would be fought on state’s issues and the BJP won’t be able to make a dent.
On July 11, in a meeting at Trinamool Bhavan – she had earlier held a closed-door meeting with Prashant Kishore and her nephew Abhishek Banerjee – Mamata Banerjee issued instructions to her party MLAs to increase their public outreach, apologise to people for mistakes and take corrective measures. She also advised them to avoid direct, aggressive confrontation with the opposition wherever possible and unnecessary interactions with media.
As a prelude to the all-important 2021 assembly election, both the TMC and the BJP are gearing up for the upcoming elections in around 80 municipalities, including the Kolkata Corporation, due in 2020. The BJP is trying to build on the growing disenchantment against Mamata Banerjee and the TMC. Mukul Roy’s open boast that several MLAs from other parties are in touch with him shows that the trend of defections in Bengal is here to stay for a while.
The author is a journalist and political analyst. Views are personal.
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