With assembly elections due early next year in West Bengal, the BJP has embarked on a discreet mission to find a ‘strong leader’ who can take on Mamata Banerjee in the state. In the last Lok Sabha elections, the party had won 18 out of 42 seats – an impressive performance in a state where it had only two seats.
The party, however, lacks a popular face that it can project as a chief minister candidate. Realising that it cannot bank on national leaders like Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah to win in Bengal, several names are being considered to take on the ruling TMC. Recently, veteran leader and Meghalaya Governor Tathagata Roy expressed his “desire to make a comeback into West Bengal’s mainstream politics ahead of the polls”.
Though Dilip Ghosh is heading the party in the state, his rift with Mamata confidante-turned-BJP leader Mukul Roy showed the party as a divided house. The two leaders had differences over the party’s approach to the Assembly polls and roles allocated to its leaders. So much so that the central leadership had to intervene to make peace between the two camps. While BJP national president JP Nadda held a meeting with Ghosh in Delhi, party’s national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya met Roy in his residence in Kolkata.
The party believes that a division in its state leadership would dent its chance of toppling the TMC government in 2021. Lately, both the leaders have shown signs of solidarity.
Although quite popular in the grassroots for his speeches and no-holds-barred attacking stance, Ghosh is yet to find acceptance among Bengali intellectuals and the middle class, whose support is essential to become a popular political face in Bengal.
Former chief ministers of the state – Left Front’s Jyoti Basu, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and even present chief minister Mamata Banerjee – successfully reached out to masses riding on the support of Bengali intellectuals. In a bid to overcome this shortcoming, the party has widened its reach to find a more acceptable face and probably a chief minister candidate.
Recently, Ramakrishna Math and Mission (RKM) monk Swami Kripakarananda was being projected on social media as the CM candidate for the BJP. Known as Debotosh Chakraborty in his pre-monastic life, Kripakarananda was a student of Narendrapur Ramakrishna Mission. He is a doctor from Nil Ratan Sircar Medical College and Hospital and a trained classical singer. He is currently posted in a Varanasi hospital.
According to party insiders, the idea behind the monk’s possibility of becoming the CM candidate was based on its UP model where Yogi Adityanath was the party’s trump card in Uttar Pradesh Assembly election and later became the chief minister. However, Ramakrishna Math and Mission rubbished the reports and said that RKM monks cannot take part in politics as instructed by Swami Vivekananda.
Meanwhile, Tathagata Roy too expressed his desire to not only make a comeback in politics but also, if the party intends, become the chief ministerial face. The former state BJP president has recently completed five years in gubernatorial posts after serving as Governor of Tripura for three years and the same for Meghalaya for his remaining terms.
Roy had a distinguished academic and professional career having worked in Indian Railways, RITES and Metro Railways Kolkata. He was a Jadavpur University professor and founder head of the Department of Construction Engineering at its new campus at Salt Lake. Intellectually sound, Roy authored several books on Hindutva and Jan Sangh founder Syama Prasad Mookerjee.
However, his electoral performances have been poor as he unsuccessfully contested 2009 and 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Despite connecting well with Bengali intellectuals, Roy had difficulties connecting with the grassroots and often fell out of people’s favour for his controversial statements.
The party now intends to test the waters with these possible contenders before making a final decision. According party leaders, more names are being considered which will come out once poll preparations are in full swing. However, it is clear from the BJP’s recent approach that without a strong political face, it will be an uphill task for the party to give Mamata Banerjee a tough fight.
📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@ieexplained) and stay updated with the latest
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines