Ahead of the West Bengal Assembly elections scheduled to be held next year, the BJP central leadership has started taking over the party’s Bengal unit.
Talking to Outlook on condition of anonymity, a number of Bengal BJP leaders have said that Amit Shah will personally oversee the BJP’s poll campaign along with BJP president Jagat Prakash Nadda. According to party sources, many BJP leaders at the national level and from other states will also be involved in the upcoming campaign.
As of October 2020, central leaders who were looking after the BJP’s Bengal affairs were national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya, national joint-general secretary (organisation) Shiv Prakash and national secretary Arvind Menon.
Besides, on behalf of the party’s ideological parent-body, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the likes of all India sah-pracharak pramukh or co-in-charge of whole-timers, Advaita Charan Dutta, played a key role in coordinating between the BJP and the RSS. This was important because RSS organisers of different levels, as well as swayamsesvaks (volunteers), have constituted a crucial part of the Bengal BJP unit’s organisation since 2014.
Now, it has been decided that Shah and Nadda will visit the state once every month, while the party’s national youth wing chief, Tejasvi Surya, is also expected to pay several visits. B L Santosh, national general secretary (organisation), has also started shifted his focus on Bengal. He paid three visits to the state in November alone.
In November, the BJP entrusted six other leaders with poll campaign responsibilities. First, the BJP IT cell’s national head Amit Malviya was appointed co-in-charge of the Bengal unit. He has joined Menon as Vijayvargiya’s deputy. Besides, five other leaders have been made in-charges of the five zones-- through which the party has divided the state.
Kaushambi MP Vinod Sonkar will look after the state’s southwestern region where people belonging to the backward classes dominate the demography. Sunil Deodhar of the party’s Tripura triumph fame will be in-charge of the Hooghly-Midnapore zone in south Bengal. Deodhar can also speak Bengali.
Dushyant Gautam, Rajya Sabha MP and the party’s national general secretary, has also remained closely associated with the party’s SC morcha. A Rajya Sabha MP from Haryana, Gautam will be in-charge of the party’s Kolkata zone, which includes the districts of North 24-Parganas and South 24-Parganas where people from the SC community constitute a major part of the population.
Vinod Tawde, who served as the education minister in the Devendra Fadnavis government in Maharashtra, will be in charge of the Nabadwip zone in south-central Bengal. National secretary and Basti MP Harish Dwivedi will be looking after the north Bengal zone.
This is not all though. “More leaders from the states of Gujarat, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra will be coming here to take charge of certain districts or Assembly constituencies,” said a senior BJP leader who did not want to be named. “Select RSS organisers and BJP youth wing leaders will start visiting the state from December from different parts of the country,” said another BJP leader who was earlier associated with the RSS.
These leaders will engage in different activities including campaigning, organisational coordination strategy, electoral roll review and booth management.
Besides, Swapan Dasgupta, Delhi-based columnist and Rajya Sabha member is also being increasingly involved in the state's affairs. Presently in Bengal, he has been entrusted with building a connection between the state’s intelligentsia and the civil society, a task in which the party is still lagging behind its principal rivals-- the Trinamool Congress and the Left.
Dasgupta and Kolkata-based industrialist-turned-BJP leader Sisir Bajoria will also organise a trade conference to chart the party’s plan for the restoration of the state’s industrial heritage should they come to power.
Anriban Ganguly, the director of the Delhi-based BJP think-tank Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation (SPMRF), is also a member of the party’s central policy research wing. He will camp in the state till the Assembly elections. The SPMRF will be organising a series of events involving members of the state’s civil society in small towns across Bengal.
Delhi-based Animesh Biswas, who oversees the “Save Bengal” campaign under Shiv Prakash’s supervision, has landed in the state already. “Save Bengal” is a campaign that links non-resident Bengalis, mostly those living in cities like Delhi, Jaipur, Chandigarh and Bengaluru, with Bengal’s small towns.
A number of Bengali natives, living in cities outside the state are slated to visit the state over the coming months to campaign for the BJP. A BJP organiser pointed out that the BJP’s Rajasthan unit recently launched a “Bengali” cell, involving the Bengali population living in the state.
The TMC has strongly reacted to the BJP’s plan of roping in leaders and party members from all over the country. “All they want is to add muscle power. It’s not about those five leaders or other leaders. They will be bringing in thousands of hooligans from different states with the precise plan of destabilising the state’s law and order situation to create justification for imposing President’s Rule ahead of the elections,” TMC Rajya Sabha MP and spokesperson Sukhendu Sekhar Ray said.
The BJP hit back at the TMC citing the involvement of poll-strategist Prashant Kishor’s organisation. “Is Kishor not an outsider? Our party is bringing in committed and devoted workers but the TMC has hired a professional agency,” Saumitra Khan, Bengal BJP’s youth wing chief and Bishnupur MP said.
Meanwhile, Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh was harsher in his rebuttal. “The TMC does not consider the Rohingyas as outsiders but considers the prime minister and the home minister as outsiders. This exposes the kind of politics the TMC indulges in,” Ghosh said.
In the 2016 Assembly elections, the TMC won 211 seats and the BJP won only three. But in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP won 18 of the state’s 42 seats, while maintaining a lead in 129 of the state’s 294 Assembly segments.
Amit Shah has set a target of winning 200 Assembly seats, while one only requires 147 seats to win the Assembly.
In 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the TMC received 43% of the polled votes, slightly above the BJP’s 40%, and therefore the 2021 Assembly elections are expected to be a close one.