Whether you like it or not, the rise of the BJP in Bengal has been unprecedented and one that cannot be ignored. In 2016 assembly elections, BJP had won merely 3 seats with a 10.16 percent vote share from the total. The vote share of the saffron party in 2014 was 16.8% and in 2019 Lok Sabha elections BJP bagged 18 seats with its share rising to 40.25% To reduce the rise of the BJP just to the mobilisation and consolidation of Hindutva votes would be unfair and a complete misreading of how BJP creates a fertile ground for the Kamal to bloom.
In the past 6-7 years the BJP has heavily invested itself in Bengal- politically, ideologically, strategically and organisationally. For example after Kailash Vijaywargiya managed a successful campaign for BJP in Haryana in 2014, the then party president and current Home Minister Amit Shah deputed him in June 2015 as national general secretary of the BJP incharge of West Bengal. The leader from MP since then has spent most of his last 6 years in the dust and grind of Bengal’s volatile political battlefield instead of the comforts of Lutyen’s Delhi.
Just recently in Delhi when Kailash Vijayavargiya was back for a short one day visit essentially to brief BJP’s national president JP Nadda on the situation in Bengal and to brainstorm with other central ministers and top leaders who are being regularly dispatched by the party to lead the campaign in various parts of Bengal, I was surprised to see the fluency with which he was rattling off instructions to some leaders in Bengali. As I sat in his room in the BJP HQ with other journalists eager for a soundbite on the party’s upcoming plans, he beckoned a Bengali channel reporter and started reading from a Facebook post apparently in Bengali! This reminded me of yet another leader of the BJP- Sunil Deodhar who masterminded the Tripura victory for the party- he too had mastered the language of the state before its politics .
The BJP doesn’t fight elections like the Congress party or any traditional political party. Its leaders don’t reach the political scene a few months before an election nor do they assign tickets based on some ulterior, extraneous considerations. Instead they get into the poll bound state years in advance and build the entire set up and integrate themselves with the local language and culture. They essentially embed themselves into the socio-demographic structure of society and then begin their political actions.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is a useful ally in this cause . Prior to Bengal polls, RSS has set a target of opening one shakha at each of the 3342 gram panchayats of West Bengal by 2021.
Scores of pracharaks are actively taking the ideological messaging of the Sangh Parivar into the most rural, poor pockets of Bengal which perhaps once used to be Left-Communist strongholds.
To cater to the more urbane, educated folks the party has appointed Arvind Menon and BJP It cell chief Amit Malviya as co-Incharges. CM Mamata Banerjee has already assigned election strategist Prashant Kishor to run an online campaign ahead of the Bengal polls so J P Nadda seems to have named Malviya to counter this. Malviya has run succesful campaigns for the party at the national level and is also seen as popular amongst the younger BJP leaders. To galvanise the all important youth vote that is anyway a pro-Modi or Modi leaning votebank, the party also deputed newly appointed president of the BJP youth wing, Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) – MP Tejaswi Surya who recently led a rally of thousands of BJP workers when he visited Bengal and made some fiery interventions. But apart from this young blood, BJP relies on more calm and collected strategists like national General Secretary (Organisation) BL Santhosh who has made several visits to Bengal and is often given the task to the leaders to understand the issues within the state unit and interact with various factions. This is done to send out a message that the Central party leadership hears their grievances and this boosts the morale of the BJP rank and file even as they are subjected to a violent brand of politics in this key state . BL Santosh, an RSS pracharak with tonnes of experience of electoral politics in Karnataka, is a strong ideologue and an electoral strategist who also holds the confidence of the PM , HM and party president Mr Nadda.
Yes the BJP prides itself as an politico-ideological movement but it is pragmatic too and it runs an efficient electoral machine which also allows space for winnable candidates of other parties to be accommodated and co-opted. A spate of big leaders from the TMC have now become part of the BJP. Just a day ago leaders like ex Minister Rajib Banerjee , Trinamool MLA from Bali, Baishali Dalmiya, Uttarpara MLA Prabir Ghoshal, Howrah mayor Rathin Chakraborty, and former MLA and five-term civic chief of Ranaghat Partha Sarathi Chatterjee joined BJP. Prior to this heavyweights Suvendhu Adhikari and his brother joined the saffron fold. In the past bigwigs like Mukul Roy, Arjun Singh, Mihir Goswami and others have deserted Mamata Banerjee too. While some would be right in questioning BJP on taking so many TMC leaders who they alleged were hand in glove with the Mamata Banerjee government in victimising BJP karyakartas, the fact is that these defections indicate to some extent which way the wind is blowing in Bengal.
Mamata Banerjee is a fighter no doubt and she cannot be ruled out completely just yet. But the fact of the matter is that Maa seems to be losing Maati ( ground) and Manush ( loyalists and leaders) at an alarming rate. Partly to blame is the rise of Abhishek Banerjee and the manner in which “outsiders” are now running the show.
This has made a large number of key aides and second rung leaders of TMC uncomfortable and has forced them to look towards the BJP to fulfil their aspirations. The BJP for its part has a long way to go yet to reach its target of 200 plus. With that in mind they have drawn up a huge campaign that will be unveiled in the next few days. The “Paribartan Rath Yatra” programme, reminiscent of BJP veteran L K Advani’s rath yatra in 1990s, will cover 294 seats across Bengal and has been planned to whip up support for the party across against tolabaji (extortion) and muslim appeasement. BJP president Nadda is expected to flag this off. Having recently faced a brutal attack on his convoy Nadda is fast emerging as a competent and shrewd political strategist and organiser. The jugalbandi between him and Amit Shah in visiting the state, making cultural reaches and breaking bread with the locals has helped to a large extent in washing off the “outsider” tag that TMC labels them with.
Finally, the BJP has its trump card- the PM. His presence and his rallies have often made the last mile difference for the BJP to convert defeats into victories – Bihar is a case in point. Just recently when the PM visited West Bengal for the celebration of Parakram Diwas to honour the 125th Birth Anniversary of Netaji Bose- the discomfort and awkwardness amongst the TMC bigwigs was visible. Mamata Banerjee handed over a juicy political plank to the saffron party by refusing to speak after she was greeted with slogans of Jai Shri Ram. She felt she had been heckled but the BJP has used this issue to once again project the TMC as a party that doesn’t care about Hindus because it only focuses on Muslim appeasement.
What will be the outcome of this election is yet unknown. But the momentum is building up for the BJP. Will Mamata be able to save her seat or will West Bengal see the lotus bloom? Nobody thought it would happen in Tripura. Those who are in a hurry to write off the BJP too quickly in Bengal would be well advised to keep reading this space.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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