Kolkata: In what he has described as his “homecoming”, Barrackpore Member of Parliament Arjun Kumar left the BJP, alleging organisational failures in the party, and returned to the Trinamool Congress Sunday, three years after exiting it.
Singh, who joined the BJP 2019 — just before general elections — rejoined TMC at the party headquarters in Kolkata and took back the party flag from TMC’s second-in-command Abhishek Banerjee, the nephew of party chief Mamata Banerjee.
His return comes eight months after former BJP Union minister Babul Supriyo left the BJP for the TMC. However, Singh has made it clear that, unlike Supriyo, then an MP from Asansol who vacated his seat after joining the TMC, he will retain his Lok Sabha seat.
Speaking to ThePrint, Singh said that his son, sitting BJP MLA Pawan Singh, will join the Trinamool Congress soon too.
“Internally BJP has become weak… If you compare that with Mamata’s organisational skills, the BJP is nowhere on the ground. They are busy fighting amongst themselves. Some are even busy stealing central party funds,” Singh alleged.
He added that TMC national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee would be heading to Barrackpore to hold a public meeting with him and other party leaders by his side on 30 May.
One of West Bengal BJP’s most popular faces, Singh is the latest in a growing line of leaders who have exited the party in the wake of its loss in the 2021 Assembly elections, which saw Mamata Banerjee return to power. Since then, the BJP’s Bengal unit has been in a state of disarray.
‘BJP has weakened in West Bengal’
In less than a year, the BJP in Bengal has witnessed a slew of high-profile exits, with Arjun Singh now joining the likes of former MP Babul Supriyo and MLAs Mukul Roy and Tanmoy Ghosh.
A former BJP leader who’s now in the Trinamool also told ThePrint on condition of anonymity that the BJP’s organisational structure has suffered a breakdown.
“Old BJP leaders who were responsible for the growth of the the party in Bengal, like Sayantan Basu, Pratap Banerjee, and Joy Prakash Majumdar, were sidelined after the Assembly elections,” the leader said.
“Inexperienced politicians were given charge of the party to make decisions. They destroyed the mondal, booth and district level leadership. The BJP workers at the grassroots who looked up to the leaders felt abandoned and lost,” he added.
However, a TMC MLA from North 24 Parganas, who was part of the closed-door meeting with national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee moments before Arjun Singh returned to the TMC, cited the criminal cases against Singh as the reason behind his switch.
“[The] decision of the high command is final, and we follow that,” the leader told ThePrint “They felt Singh should join back and so he did. He has several criminal cases against him. He thought it was his chance.”
Arjun Singh told ThePrint Sunday that he’s been booked in 165 criminal cases since 2019. In 2021, West Bengal Police registered an First Information Report against him in a corruption case that dates back to when he was chairperson of Bhatpara Naihati Cooperative Bank.
However, many in the TMC are pleased at his return. “He was an effective leader in North 24 Parganas when he quit TMC,” MP Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar said. “He realised the mistake he made by joining the BJP and hence he has decided to return.”
Political analysts say the leaders who left the TMC were returning because they misjudged how difficult it would be to beat Mamata’s party.
Udayan Bandyopadhyay, a political science professor at Bangabasi College in Kolkata and a political analyst, sees Singh’s defection, as well as the others, as driven purely by a desire for electoral gains.
“Arjun Singh wants to be elected again in 2024, and he knows that can happen only if he joins the TMC,” Bandyopadhyay told ThePrint. “The BJP has weakened in the state for multiple reasons and it’s tough to beat TMC now. That’s why we are seeing sitting MLAs and MPs switching over.”
A high in 2019, but exodus after 2021 polls
The West Bengal BJP peaked in the wake of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, when the party sent 18 MPs out of the state’s 42 to Parliament, with a total of 40 per cent vote share.
Buoyed by that performance, the BJP went into the 2021 state elections with renewed vigour. However, despite its avowals, the BJP couldn’t beat the TMC, which won 213 seats of the state’s 294 Assembly seats, with 47.9 per cent vote share.
Meanwhile, the BJP — a party that has never been a significant player in the state even though Syama Prasad Mookerjee, founding father of its predecessor Jan Sangh, belongs to the state — won 77 seats with a vote share of 38.1 per cent. The election made the BJP the principal opposition in the state.
But, holding on to those 77 seats has been impossible. The BJP has seen several defections since the election loss — starting with Krishnanagar Uttar MLA Mukul Roy, an old Trinamool hand who had switched over to the BJP in 2017, and his former-MLA son Shubhranshu Roy in June 2021.
MLAs Tanmoy Ghosh (August 2021), Biswajit Das, Soumen Roy (September 2021), Krishna Kalyani (October 2021) followed suit, as did former West Bengal minister Rajib Banerjee (October 2021). Another significant addition to the TMC was former Union minister Babul Supriyo, who left the BJP to join the party in September last year.
In addition to these defections, two BJP MLAs, Jagannath Sarkar and Nisith Pramanik, resigned from the Assembly so they could retain their parliamentary seats.
In all, therefore, the BJP’s numbers in the Assembly fell from 77 to 70.
Only two weeks ago, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who visited West Bengal on official work, met state leaders of the BJP to help address the problems in the party. Notably, Arjun Singh also attended the meeting.
Chandra Kumar Bose, who was dropped from the BJP vice-president’s post in 2020, told ThePrint that the party didn’t understand the state.
“The BJP can neither feel the pulse of the people in Bengal nor understand the history, heritage or culture that binds the people of the state. Apart from attacking political opponents, the party has nothing to offer to the people of Bengal,” Bose, who is the grand-nephew of Indian freedom revolutionary Subhas Chandra Bose, said.
A year-and-a-half before his term expired, Dilip Ghosh was removed from Bengal BJP president’s post, and first-time Balurghat MP Sukanta Majumdar took over the charge in September last year.
This change made the organisation weaker, the former BJP leader who is now in the TMC said.
TMC leader Joy Prakash Majumdar, who was suspended from the BJP earlier this year and joined Mamata Banerjee’s party in March this year, told ThePrint that after Arjun Singh’s departure, Leader of Opposition Suvendu Adhikari, a former TMC leader who joined the BJP in 2020, will be the face of the party in Bengal.
“Since he is also from the Trinamool Congress, neither the BJP nor the RSS can fully trust him. That trust deficit was created last year itself with Mukul Roy’s exit,” Majumdar said. “The damage within the BJP is now irreparable.”
The BJP’s West Bengal unit is bracing itself for more defections, BJP insiders in West Bengal told ThePrint.
Swapan Dasgupta, a former Rajya Sabha MP from the BJP, blamed political harassment by the ruling TMC for the defections.
“Anybody leaving the party is not a very good thing regardless of the support they command,” Swapan Das Gupta, a Rajya Sabha MP from the BJP, told ThePrint. “[But] it’s a reality we must face. In West Bengal, an atmosphere has been created whereby the opposition leaders aren’t given space. On the contrary, harassment has reached colossal heights. A few may not want to face it and find it easier to succumb.”
As the Trinamool Congress continues to breach BJP bastions in the state, its leaders seem buoyant.
“Alignment and realignment of forces are a constant in politics but why they are deserting the BJP and joining the Trinamool — that the state president of BJP can tell [you] better,” MP Sukhendu Sekhar Roy told ThePrint.
Defections are likely to continue as long as it is politically expedient, experts believe.
Sourjya Bhowmick, political analyst and author of Gangster State: The Rise and the Fall of the CPI (M) in West Bengal, said that leaders who had joined the BJP were returning because they had miscalculated their steps earlier.
“There is no political morality in Bengal, the space of ideology is shrinking on a daily basis so these defections are no surprise. These leaders joined the BJP assuming that it would come to power,” he said. “Now, seduced by power, they are returning to TMC. Multiple police cases against them is also another reason.”
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)