The confrontation between the BJP-led Centre and TMC-governed West Bengal government is likely to intensify in the coming days, with the BJP keen on Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee targeting the saffron party, and inadvertently helping the party project itself as the main challenger. Party leaders expect this to further diminish the Congress and the Left Front as potential challengers in the narrative before next year’s Assembly polls.
While the face-off has been high-pitched since before the Lok Sabha polls, with pitched battles allegedly involving workers of the two parties and accusations from both sides of being attacked by the other, it was cranked up a notch last week when BJP president J P Nadda’s convoy was attacked on the outskirts of Kolkata.
Sources in BJP said the party wants the Centre to take action against officials who were seen as negligent in the attack. They said the widely held view is that imposition of President’s Rule for the “collapsing law and order situation” could boomerang, and Banerjee could use it to draw public sympathy. But they also said that the “tension” between BJP and TMC should remain, as that could keep the BJP up in the perception battle against the state’s ruling party.
Kailash Vijayvargiya, BJP general secretary and party’s West Bengal in-charge, told The Indian Express: “It is anarchy; law and order has completely collapsed in the state, and the ruling party has crossed all limits of democratic values and constitutional proprieties. It’s the fittest case for imposition of President’s Rule.”
BJP wants a ‘direct’ battle with TMC
The political battle in West Bengal is now perceived as one between the TMC and the BJP. This is exactly what the BJP wants – to make it a TMC versus BJP political battle in people's minds and relegate to the sidelines the other two big players, the Left Front and the Congress, which are expected to contest the polls together. The party wanted Mamata Banerjee and her party to target its leaders to create the narrative of a direct contest, and the Centre's decision to replace a “mild” Keshari Nath Tripathi as Governor with Jagdeep Dhankhar, who has been on a warpath with the state government since taking charge, is seen as having helped that.
For BJP, Vijayvargiya said, the battle is only getting intensified. “We have decided to take it up with the people. We will continue our fight, no matter how much violence is unleashed on us. After Nadda-ji’s visit, Home Minister Amit Shah is coming later this week (December 19-20), and that will infuse more confidence among the workers,” he said.
On demands for President’s Rule, a person involved in BJP’s electioneering process in West Bengal said, “The Chief Minister will make a hue and cry (over that) and could create sympathy in favour of TMC. So the BJP does not want that drastic step (imposing President’s Rule) for the time being. However, we want action to be taken against officials so that the heat is on.”
Other than the absence of a strong cadre to match that of TMC, the “fear factor” has also been a hurdle for the BJP leadership to extract full commitment and hard work from the cadre, party leaders said. “There is violence everywhere. Our workers are getting attacked and killed,” Vijayvargiya said.
There have been similar allegations against the saffron party from TMC leaders.
After Nadda took over the party’s reins and revamped his team in several states, he did not move either Vijayvargiya or Shiv Prakash, an RSS pracharak loaned to BJP who has been the joint general secretary in charge of Bengal. Both have been working in the state for long and played key roles in the party’s impressive performance in 2019 General Election, when it won 18 of 42 Lok Sabha seats.
The party also appointed Arvind Menon and Amit Malaviya, head of its national IT cell, as co-in charges. With an eye to keep the heat on TMC, the party has also given a free hand to hardliner Dilip Ghosh, the state unit president, to take on Banerjee and her party aggressively.
The party has appointed a battery of lawyers in each district to support BJP workers in the legal process, as the battle intensifies. Five sanghatan mantris have been appointed in the state’s five zones and there is constant communication between the workers and leaders, party leaders pointed out. BJP national secretaries and Union ministers are also visiting each zone at least once in two weeks to keep this communication channel open, they said.
Animesh Biswas, national executive member of Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, who has been camping in Kolkata for the last few months, said: “After J P Nadda’s visit, Amit Shah’s visit next week will be the biggest morale boost for party workers here. The TMC leadership is trying to instil fear (among BJP workers) to jeopardise the electoral process. But by keeping the communication channels open between party workers and senior leaders, we are trying to keep the morale up.”
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