Kolkata: Assembly elections in West Bengal are one-and-a-half years away but the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has already begun identifying potential candidates — four for each of the 294 constituencies.
The idea is to “groom” them as “leaders” and make them the BJP’s ‘faces’ in their respective constituencies through pitchforking them to the frontline of the party’s agitation programmes. Closer to elections, the party will assess their performance and pick one of the four as its candidate in a given constituency, state BJP functionaries told ThePrint.
“At the end of this (grooming) process, if nobody emerges as a winnable candidate in a particular constituency, we always have the option of bringing others from whichever party they are in,” said a senior functionary in Kolkata.
In the last general elections, the BJP had led in 121 assembly segments. Party leaders cited a recent survey conducted by an “independent agency” to claim that if elections were to be held in West Bengal today, the BJP would win 165 seats, a comfortable majority in the assembly.
A rapid rise
The need for grooming leaders has arisen as the BJP’s rise in West Bengal has been “much quicker” than expected. It was on the political margins in the state all through the 34 years of Left rule.
In the 2011 assembly elections, when Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress unseated the Left, the BJP had scored nil, with 4 per cent vote-share. The ‘Modi wave’ in 2014 Lok Sabha elections propelled its vote-share to 17 per cent but it translated into just two seats.
In the 2016 assembly elections, its vote-share came down to 10 per cent. The party, however, sprung a surprise in the 2019 general elections, winning 18 of 42 Lok Sabha seats with a 40 per cent vote-share — just 3 percentage points less than that of the Trinamool Congress.
Seeking to build on its current momentum, the BJP as also the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has gone into overdrive. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat was in Kolkata last weekend — his third visit in seven weeks.
An RSS functionary said that the number of Sangh shakhas has grown to 1,700 today, up from 800 in 2010. BJP president Amit Shah is likely to visit Kolkata during Durga Puja — on 1 or 3 October — in which the party is participating in a big way this year.
Party to exploit communal faultlines in state
The BJP has been looking to exploit communal fault lines in the state, which, leaders allege, have been getting sharper due to “years of Muslim appeasement policy” followed by Mamata Banerjee government.
The party has been promising a national register of citizens (NRC) in West Bengal with the assurance that, unlike in Assam, Hindus won’t find themselves at the receiving end of this exercise. The NDA government at the Centre will get parliamentary approval of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill before implementing the NRC to protect the interests of Hindus, state BJP president Dilip Ghosh told ThePrint, adding that there were one crore “Bangladeshi infiltrators” in West Bengal.
“The BJP has become a go-to party in Bengal,” Ghosh said. “Thousands of people are joining us every day. In our membership drive, 80 lakh people have already joined the party and it will go up to one crore.”
Explaining the immediate impact of the Lok Sabha poll results, BJP leaders said party workers were not coming out openly earlier because of the violent methods used by the Trinamool Congress to intimidate its political rivals. But, after the 2019 elections, those workers are said to be “giving it back”. They have clear instructions from the party leadership: ‘Maar kar aana, peeth deekha kar mat aana (Beat them and come back, don’t run away like cowards).”