Kolkata: BJP workers in Bengal claim to have been under attack over the past three and a half months since assembly election results were announced on 2 May and the Trinamool Congress returned to office in the state.
According to members of the Bengal BJP, even as workers, supporters and local leaders struggle to keep the flock together in the face of the Trinamool Congress’ alleged intimidation and violence, senior national leaders — ubiquitous in the state in the run-up to the elections — are nowhere to be seen.
There is a growing clamour among them for Union Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP national president J.P. Nadda to visit Bengal.
While Shah last visited Bengal in April, before the last phase of polling, Nadda arrived in the state for a two-day visit on 4 May, where he visited homes of party workers allegedly killed in the political violence in South 24 Parganas and Kolkata.
Some local MPs have been absent from the ground too. While Babul Supriyo has largely stayed away from party programmes, criticising the party’s Bengal leadership and announcing his departure from politics, MP Saumitra Khan has been equally critical of the BJP members leading the Bengal unit.
There have been two organisational meetings — one in July and another in August in Kolkata — held by two central leaders, Arvind Menon, BJP national secretary co-incharge of West Bengal, and Shivprakash, national joint general secretary (organisation). These are the only times when central leaders visited the state, say leaders of the Bengal BJP.
Speaking to ThePrint, BJP members across districts said they had expected more support from the central leaders. Many have expressed displeasure about the BJP’s campaign plans, which, according to them, brought workers under attack after the elections.
The state BJP acknowledges there are grievances, noting that some central leaders didn’t involve veteran local politicians “properly” in the campaign but it was the latter who eventually bore the brunt of the violence. However, the central party leadership denies allegations of being MIA, saying the party has been coordinating relief operations and helping workers on the ground.
The BJP spearheaded an aggressive campaign in West Bengal, bringing in top leaders from PM Narendra Modi to Shah and Nadda, as it aimed to form its first-ever government in the state. However, the campaign failed to get the desired results and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee made a comeback with a landslide.
The party, a senior leader told ThePrint, is looking to effect an organisational restructuring at the state, district and block committee levels in September, in response to its defeat.
BJP a ‘party in chaos’
Priti Ranjan Maity, a senior leader in East Midnapore district, described the BJP as a “party of chaos”.
“Some disgruntled leaders from the Trinamool made the most of the chaos. Since the election, how many BJP leaders have reached the affected villages? A few central leaders visited some villages for photo-ops only and put them on social media,” she added.
Maity, a school teacher who served as an election agent in Khejuri constituency, said he now chooses to stay “inactive” in the BJP and works only when directed by the Sangh (RSS).
BJP minority morcha president Ali Hussain said members of the group expected “more proactiveness” from leaders. Describing some of the central leaders as “vote pakhi (seasonal birds that visit the state during elections)”, he said, “We expected cooperation from senior central leaders when it is needed. None came to see workers or inquire how they are doing. But our shakti pramukhs, mandal leaders and state leaders stood like rocks.”
Somnath Roy, a member of BJP state committee and former president of the party’s East Midnapore unit, said, “These three months were very crucial for our cadres. Mamata Banerjee’s Bengal is such a state where police do not even register a general diary in case of political violence, without asking their political bosses. Our karyakartas were beaten, looted, dragged out of homes and killed. We were not even able to gherao thanas.
“How would we motivate our cadres then? The central leaders were in deep slumber. We did not even get proper medical and legal aid.”
Talking to The Print, Pradip Tirkey, BJP’s Jalpaiguri district committee member, said, “The party lost in Mal assembly constituency by around 5,700 votes. Since then, the Trinamool Congress is terrorising our cadres, thousands were displaced. Many are yet to return to their villages. We had expected more support from the senior leaders.”
According to Tirkey, Trinamool “is offering many of our local leaders positions in their party or threatening them”. “The offer was made to me too. But I refused to join. However, to survive such violence, I had to go underground for some days.”
Basir Alam, vice-president of the minority morcha, said at least “six to seven Muslim workers were killed during the post-poll violence”. “Some of their families are yet to receive any compensation from the party. No senior central leader visited them,” he added.
Joydip Chatterjee, the BJP’s Burdwan district secretary, claimed his son and wife were in hospital for weeks after they were allegedly beaten up by Trinamool cadres. His house was also looted and vandalised, he said.
“I was out of my house for two months, and returned a few days back. The central leaders did not reach us thinking that the situation could have gone worse if they came.”
Chatterjee said he has yet to receive any compensation from the party to rebuild his house.
‘We have been there for local members’
BJP state president Dilip Ghosh said he knows there are some “grievances” among “the old hands who worked on the ground as loyal soldiers”.
“I know, many karyakartas are disheartened. Many are staying away. Two months ago, when I was visiting districts, 50 per cent of mandal sabhapatis remained absent in anger or grief. We are reaching out to them.
“Some of the central leaders, who have experience of winning states, were given responsibilities. Things did not work as we thought. Some of the old leaders were not involved properly in poll functions and then they faced unprecedented violence. I can understand their issues.”
However, he said, he is requesting local leaders “to strengthen the organisation and not wait for a central leader to come and help them”.
“I am there with my workers. Our leaders fought the case so strongly in the court, some workers are now slowly returning to the party,” he added, referring to the hearing under way in the Calcutta High Court on the violence that followed the polls and the investigation into it. Earlier this month, the high court ordered the CBI to investigate the violence that followed the elections, and the agency Saturday made its first arrests in connection with the matter.
Central leaders of the BJP, however, deny the allegations lobbed at them, saying the party has been coordinating relief operations and helping workers.
“Several senior leaders, including the BJP national president, visited Bengal in the aftermath of the post-poll violence. Senior ministers like V. Muraleedharan, the minister of state for the Ministry of External Affairs, several of our national general secretaries, senior leaders have visited Bengal and met workers on the ground,” said Amit Malviya, the BJP’s co-incharge for West Bengal.
Local MPs and newly-elected MLAs, he added, “are coordinating ground efforts”. “I have traveled across organisational districts and spoken to our workers. Others have been coordinating relief operations or helping our aggrieved workers get legal support in their fight against the oppressive TMC regime.”
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.