Kolkata: Union Home Minister Amit Shah held a crucial organisational meeting of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) West Bengal unit in Kolkata during his two-day visit to the state last week. In an attempt to boost the morale of local leaders and party cadres, he told them that the fight for Bengal “must be political”.
He also set the West Bengal unit targets for the 2024 Lok Sabha and 2026 state assembly elections, a party leader who attended the closed-door meeting told ThePrint on condition of anonymity.
Shah told the party leaders that BJP will form government in West Bengal with two-third majority in the next state polls, the leader further said, adding that the home minister also told them not to be deterred by “police intimidation” in their fight against the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) in the state and focus on 2024.
“The basic message that Amit Shah gave was that the politics in Bengal has become violent, but we cannot cow down, this is the ugly facet of TMC. But he also made it quite clear that we will not become a carbon copy of the TMC to defeat it. The fight must be political; and that can be achieved by mobilising people,” Senior BJP leader and former MP Swapan Dasgupta told ThePrint.
This was Shah’s first visit to West Bengal since Mamata Banerjee was elected as chief minister for a third consecutive term in 2021. The BJP emerged as the principal opposition party in the state in last year’s election.
The visit comes at a time when the BJP’s vote share has depleted in West Bengal. In 2019, when the party was at its peak in the state, it garnered 40.30 per cent votes and was leading in 121 assembly seats. However, in 2021, the vote share declined to 38.1 per cent as the party secured 77 seats in a fiercely fought electoral battle.
Another party leader told ThePrint that when those who attended the meeting brought up post-poll violence and killings, Shah gave his own example of having been booked in several false cases and even going to jail.
Dasgupta admitted that the West Bengal unit had been feeling demoralised.
“The political violence has stopped people from coming out publicly and supporting the BJP. So naturally our workers have become inactive. Organisational finetuning will also be done. Most importantly, we must understand how to overcome this fear right from the grassroot level,” he said.
During his visit, Shah had Thursday also reignited the debate over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), saying the controversial law will be implemented after the “Covid wave” ends.
Booth reconnect, defections, infighting
During the meeting, the BJP’s central leadership also assigned fresh tasks to the state unit. National General Secretary BL Santosh asked party MPs to identify 100 weak booths under their constituencies with the help of the 2019 Lok Sabha election results and start strengthening them. Similarly, BJP MLAs have been asked to identify and strengthen 25 booths in their respective areas where they didn’t perform well.
Crippled by defection and internal friction, the BJP in West Bengal has faced consecutive setbacks since the 2021 poll debacle. From 77 seats, the party’s tally dropped to 70 after five MLAs switched to Trinamool and it lost two assembly seats (Ballygunge and Asansol) in the bypolls last month.
Amid all this, after he was replaced by Dr Sukanta Majumdar as the state unit president, Dilip Ghosh last month called Majumdar an “inexperienced leader”, exposing differences.
Speaking to ThePrint, political analyst Biswanath Chakraborty said that BJP has no future in West Bengal unless the TMC makes a “major mistake”.
“One must understand, BJP doesn’t have the support of the 40 per cent Muslim population here in the state, they will never back the BJP. This will make it difficult for the party to expand further. But most importantly, the people of Bengal don’t connect with BJP’s ideology. One must also take into consideration that there is a structural deficiency in the party here,” he added.
However, political analyst and author of the book Gangster State, the rise and fall of CPIM in West Bengal, Sourjya Bhowmick said BJP still has a chance in Bengal.
“BJP always had cadres in West Bengal but no leader. That seems to have changed with Suvendu Adhikari who has leadership qualities, organisational capacity and leads from the front. Also, remember the total vote difference between BJP and TMC was 60 lakh in the 2021 election, which is not much in a big state like West Bengal. Add the anti-incumbency against the ruling TMC government to these factors. So BJP definitely has a future in West Bengal. The only challenge is the organisational weakness below, like frequent defections,” he added.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)