New Delhi: The crucial West Bengal assembly election is just a few months away, but the BJP high command hasn’t yet zeroed in on its chief ministerial face, leading to murmurs in the state party unit for the coveted post.
BJP leaders told ThePrint the party brass doesn’t seem to take a chance by declaring a CM face before elections because it will trigger factionalism.
Nonetheless, some Bengal BJP leaders are openly expressing support for their preferred CM candidate.
For instance, BJP leaders close to state party president Dilip Ghosh have been pushing his name for the top post. This resulted in the high command snubbing them in an internal meeting, asking the leaders to keep mum till the BJP parliamentary board takes a decision.
Besides Ghosh, Trinamool Congress turncoat Suvendu Adhikari has also emerged as a “strong contender” for the CM post, specially after he vowed to defeat Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who has announced she will contest from his home turf Nandigram.
Open support for Dilip Ghosh
Last week, Bengal BJP’s youth morcha president and MP from Bishnupur Saumitra Khan, while addressing a rally in West Midnapore, said Dilip Ghosh will be the chief minister. He also claimed that “a lot of people are trying to rein him in”.
“Dilip Ghosh is the original leader. He has not gotten married and had a family. He has been working for the Sangh from a young age and when he was given the responsibility of the BJP in West Bengal, the party was nowhere. He has fought from Darjeeling to Junglemahal. A lot of people are trying to rein him in. Dilip Ghosh will run the state one day, he will be our chief minister,” Khan had said.
Talking to ThePrint, Khan — who himself joined the BJP from TMC before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls — said, “At least Ghosh is not a turncoat. He is a grassroot leader, who has expanded the party, while others have influence in one or two districts only.”
BJP sources said Khan’s open support for Ghosh as the CM candidate might be because of Adhikari increasingly becoming his tough challenger for the top post.
Khan’s remarks created a flutter, with BJP general secretary and Bengal in-charge Kailash Vijayvargiya rebuking him in front of Ghosh at a party meeting last Sunday, BJP sources said.
Vijayvargiya was furious since Khan’s statements did not go down well with other party leaders and they have complained to Vijayvargiya about it, sources added.
Shivprakash, BJP’s joint general secretary, and Amitabh Chakraborty, state general secretary (organisation), also reprimanded Khan at the meeting, sources said, adding that the dressing-down was necessary to rein in the “aspirational fight” between party leaders, which can damage Amit Shah’s aim to capture Bengal.
A BJP leader, however, told ThePrint that Khan’s open push for Ghosh cannot be seen as standalone and without the backing of the latter.
“Khan might have been paying Ghosh his due as a few months back, he had unilaterally constituted youth morcha district committees and appointed their district presidents too.
“Ghosh, however, dismantled the committees, and their fight reached Delhi, which was then resolved by Vijayvargiya. Following this, Khan realised Ghosh is now the power-centre and he started backing him, although Mukul Roy was also instrumental in his switch-over from Trinamool,” the leader added.
‘Risk’ of projecting CM face
BJP sources said the party is aware of the fact that Mamata will make the ‘lack of CM face’ an issue during her election campaigning. She has already branded Amit Shah and the BJP as outsiders, who are trying to “break the spine of Bengali culture”.
But Shah had also retorted saying that “there is no need to get anyone from Delhi to defeat you, Mamata didi. Against you, there will be a son of soil from Bengal. A person from Bengal only will fight you and we will give Bengal a chief minister from the state in coming days”.
Sources said that during Shah’s visit to Bengal on 5 November, he had told party leaders at a meeting, which was also attended by Ghosh and Mukul Roy, that “everyone should forget about thinking who would be the chief ministerial face, and rather focus on winning the election first”.
Senior BJP leaders, however, said the high command knows the risk of announcing a chief ministerial candidate before the election as it will give rise to internal differences.
“It’s a high-voltage election for the BJP and the high command can’t take any risks,” a source said.
“In many states, the BJP has fought elections without announcing chief ministerial candidates and won them too,” Jay Prakash Majumdar, state vice-president, told ThePrint.
“In the UP assembly election, the party did not announce anyone as the CM face and later Yogi Adityanath was chosen. In Maharashtra too, no one was projected as the CM candidate in the 2014 assembly elections. So here also, the party may not announce anyone (before polls).”
Ghosh v/s Roy v/s Adhikari
A BJP MP told ThePrint that Ghosh has an edge because since his appointment as the state president in 2015, the BJP has enlarged its footprint in TMC bastions — from Junglemahal to Bankura, Purulia and Birbhum.
“But after Mukul Roy’s appointment as national vice-president, things are not easy for Ghosh to take unilateral decisions. And Vijayvargiya also holds Roy in high regard, knowing his (political) capability,” he said.
Roy was instrumental in causing major defections in the Trinamool before the Lok Sabha elections, and most of the turncoats had won the polls, helping the BJP secure as many as 18 seats.
But even after this, Roy was not accommodated in the cabinet or in the party organisation, leading him to stop taking part in party activities.
Party sources said that in August 2020, Roy was so miffed with Ghosh that Shah and Vijayvargiya had to placate him with the vice-president post and also replace one of Ghosh’s close aides Subrata Chattopadhyay as the state general secretary (organisation).
Adhikari, meanwhile, has also emerged as the contender for the CM post. He can be influential in deciding BJP’s prospects in more than 40 assembly seats, particularly in south Bengal, which is a weak spot for the BJP.
A BJP general secretary told ThePrint if Adhikari fights Mamata in Nandigram, the whole narrative will revolve around Mamata versus Adhikari.
“He may emerge stronger (as the CM candidate) although right now Ghosh and Suvendu have been jointly addressing rallies at many places. May be, both have joined hands to corner Mukul Roy in this high-stake election,” he added.