The BJP’s central leadership on Monday (September 20) appointed Dr Sukanta Majumdar, the 41-year-old first-time MP from Balurghat as the chief of the party’s West Bengal unit, replacing Dilip Ghosh. The 57-year-old MP from Medinipur had been in the post for almost six years.
The appointment of Majumdar is seen as an attempt by the party to strengthen its organisation in the state after the poor performance in the Assembly elections, which has been followed by a steady stream of defections of its leaders to Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress.
Majumdar’s appointment came a day after the two-time BJP MP from Asansol and former union minister Babul Supriyo switched over to the TMC. Ghosh has been made a national vice-president of the BJP.
Sukanta Majumdar is an assistant professor of botany at the University of Gour Banga at Mokdumpur in Malda district. Majumdar was educated at the University of North Bengal in Siliguri, from where he obtained a PhD. His profile on the website of the Lok Sabha says that he has published more than 15 scientific papers in national and international journals.
Majumdar, who has been an active RSS worker, entered Parliament in 2019, defeating the sitting MP, the TMC’s Arpita Ghosh, at the Balurghat seat by a margin of over 33,000 votes.
He has an image that is very different from that of his predecessor’s, who was known for making controversial and provocative statements.
Sources in the BJP said Majumdar, who at 41 is the youngest state president of the party, has been brought in to strengthen the organisation after the disaster of the Assembly elections, and to arrest the defection of party MLAs to the TMC.
Despite a high-voltage campaign in March-April this year, led from the front by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, the BJP, which had hoped to form the government in Kolkata, could win only 77 seats out of the 292 for which elections were held. The TMC swept the elections with 213 seats, performing better than it did in 2016.
The BJP’s tally in the House has since come down to 71, with MPs Nisith Pramanik (Coochbehar) and Jagannath Sarkar (Ranaghat) giving up their Assembly seats to retain their membership of Lok Sabha, and four other MLAs, including Mukul Roy, going over to the TMC.
The party in West Bengal has also been riddled with factional fights, which the central leadership would like to resolve well in time for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, in which the state’s 42 seats will be crucial.
The defection of Supriyo came as a major setback to the party, especially to its state unit. The removal of Ghosh and his replacement by a young, clean face appears to be intended to send out a message of restructuring and change to other leaders who may be sitting on the fence or looking to bail out.
Despite being in the news for repeatedly making tasteless and derogatory comments about the TMC and Chief Minister Banerjee, Ghosh, who succeeded Rahul Sinha in 2015, was the BJP’s most successful state president by a long way. Under Ghosh’s leadership, the party raced to 18 Lok Sabha seats in Bengal in 2019 from the two seats that it had won in 2014 (Supriyo and S S Ahluwalia in Darjeeling).
Ghosh was also instrumental for expanding the organisation to the grassroots and keeping the party rank and file charged up with his fiery speeches. However, the relentless controversy that followed him also put off many who might otherwise have been inclined to give the BJP a chance, and thus ended up harming the prospects of the party in many ways.
The intense infighting was a huge problem of Ghosh’s tenure as president. The state unit of the BJP was divided into two lobbies, led by Ghosh and Mukul Roy, the former BJP national vice-president who jumped ship from the TMC in 2017. (Roy, who was once Banerjee’s closest aide, returned to the TMC in June this year.)
The factionalism in the state BJP was complicated further after former state minister and Medinipur strongman Suvendu Adhikari joined the party in December 2020, and was seen by many as a strong contender for chief ministership in the possible BJP government after the Assembly elections.
Adhikari made aggressive efforts to make his presence felt in the party, and this was evident during the selection of candidates for the elections. One of the reasons why the BJP’s central leadership sought to micromanage the elections from Delhi was to control factional fights.
By appointing Majumdar, the party has signalled a greater focus on North Bengal, the region where it performed better in the Assembly polls. Of the 54 Assembly seats in North Bengal, the BJP picked up 30 — that is well over half the seats in the region, and almost 40 per cent of the 77 seats it won across the state.
The focus on North Bengal was also reflected in the cabinet reshuffle of the Narendra Modi government in July — two BJP MPs from the region, Pramanik and John Barla (Alipurduars), became Ministers of State.
The elevation of Majumdar also seeks to balance regional aspirations in the state unit, given that Leader of Opposition Adhikari is from South Bengal.
The choice of a young leader is a signal to the rank and file, whom the BJP would like to rejuvenate and galvanise against the TMC after the disappointment of the election defeat.
On TMC side, the Chief Minister’s nephew and Diamond Harbour MP Abhishek Banerjee, who has been made the All-India general secretary of the party, is only 33. Should Majumdar remain in the post until 2024, the Lok Sabha elections in Bengal will in a way become a contest of these young guns.
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