Kolkata: Infighting has flared up in the West Bengal BJP after the party released its candidates list last week for the upcoming elections, giving tickets to several newcomers and turncoats from the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) and ignoring party long-timers.
BJP workers staged protests across at least a dozen assembly constituencies in multiple districts after the party released the list of candidates for 63 seats for third and fourth phases Sunday.
Soon after, former TMC minister Sovan Chatterjee — who joined the BJP two years ago — and his friend Baisakhi Banerjee — who joined a year ago — quit. Chatterjee’s constituency, Behala Purba, which he represented for several years, was given to actor Payel Sarkar, who joined the BJP a few days ago.
On Tuesday evening, BJP cadres briefly clashed with police during their protest in front of the party’s central election office in south Kolkata’s Hastings. The party workers had been staging a dharna there since Monday morning.
The BJP candidates, who were facing the protests, however, said the demonstrations were “motivated” by the Trinamool, and that they have convinced the party workers to work together for a better Bengal.
Senior BJP leaders termed the protests an “unprecedented indiscipline” that was never seen in a “regimented party like BJP”. Party sources, however, said the protests were caused by “unchecked opportunistic entry” into the BJP from Trinamool.
Meanwhile, TMC said the BJP has “literally nothing of its own in the state” and whatever is happening now “is an implosion within the party”.
Since Monday, the BJP has seen a series of protests by party workers in prominent assembly constituencies, including Singur and Tarakeswar in Hooghly, in Amta and Domjur in Howrah, in Kulpi and Diamond Harbour in South 24 Parganas, and in parts of north Bengal, including Alipurduar.
The BJP has fielded defectors, non-politicians and also new candidates from these seats.
Journalist Swapan Dasgupta, who has been named from Tarakeswar, told ThePrint there “were some disruptions led by a couple of leaders”.
“But I have spoken to my colleagues, workers and supporters, and we are all working together for the party and for a better Bengal,” he said.
“The organisation has seen a dramatic growth in the past 18 months. There are some people who are yet to be accustomed with the BJP’s culture of discipline. It is a challenge of political integration. The party will have to manage and handle it. The party has never bowed down to indiscipline. We have tried to calm down our workers through persuasion,” he added.
Protests erupted in Singur Monday and Tuesday after the BJP announced 89-year-old TMC turncoat and retired school headmaster Rabindranath Bhattacharya as the candidate. BJP workers demanded that Bhattacharya’s name be dropped.
Bhattacharya, a former cabinet minister, was a trusted aide of CM Mamata Banerjee during her Singur movement. He joined the BJP a few days before his name was announced as the candidate.
Bhattacharya was denied a ticket by the TMC as the party reportedly decided not to field any candidates aged 80 years or above.
Becharam Manna, who is seen as Bhattacharya’s rival in Singur, was fielded by TMC from the seat.
Talking to ThePrint, Bhattacharya said, “This is not a spontaneous protest. This is a motivated one. The local Trinamool leaders are financing such protests to discredit me. But I have spoken to our workers and convinced them. They have agreed to work with me.”
In Alipurduar, BJP workers protested against the candidature of former chief economic advisor Ashok Lahiri, with the cadres saying they “don’t know who Ashok Lahiri is and why he was nominated”.
Lahiri told ThePrint he would visit his constituency soon and talk to the party workers.
‘BJP never committed to giving any defector a ticket’
BJP leaders said they have appealed to party workers to keep calm, and action would be taken against the trouble-makers.
“Some of our workers were emotional and they came to express their views. I don’t believe that they indulged in violence. Police lathi-charged them deliberately to fuel a ruckus. We have appealed to them to maintain calm,” BJP Bengal unit’s chief spokesperson Shamik Bhattacharya told reporters.
A BJP insider told ThePrint, “This has been caused by unchecked opportunistic entry from the TMC. The party has already identified those who created this trouble and provoked workers. Stringent action will be taken by the party against them.”
BJP state president Dilip Ghosh said the party never committed to giving any defector a ticket and it is also the same for the party’s old-timers.
“If there is indiscipline, the party will take stringent and appropriate action. For us, the party’s decision is final,” Ghosh told ThePrint.
A senior RSS leader said, “This should not have happened. Sangh does not tolerate such indiscipline. It is unprecedented. Our main motto is discipline. The trouble-makers should be identified soon.”
‘Bad optics for BJP’
TMC MP Sougata Roy told ThePrint the BJP is facing “implosion within the party”.
“The old BJP workers are unhappy with defectors getting seats in the elections and they are getting deprived. BJP is offering candidature to Trinamool discards. The party has literally nothing of its own in the state. What is now taking place is an implosion within the party,” he told reporters.
Experts, meanwhile, said that since the BJP has failed to build its own organisation in the state, it’s depending on turncoats now.
“BJP in the past four-five years failed to build its own organisation and that is why it needs to depend on defectors. The clash between the newcomers and the party’s old hands was bound to happen. It is a bad optics for BJP before the elections,” said political analyst Biswanath Chakraborti.