For a party which fought the elections to Bengal like a full-fledged war, this possibility of the party imploding in the state and rest of the country seems improbable. But this ‘breaking news’, exacerbated by desertion of BJP workers to TMC and growing turmoil in other state units, in the given circumstances, is bad news for the BJP.
For compulsive cynics and astute observers, this bad news seems to be lingering right now on the ground, in various parts of Bengal, as much as in the heart of its capital, Kolkata. It is moving beyond borders to Tripura too, it seems, where the TMC has practically no presence. Often, as is the predictable pattern, it tends, or ‘trends’, to be bordering on the thin line of a theater of the absurd, with a substantial share of dark sarcasm and spoof thrown in. The question is if once invincible party cracks up in Bengal what is the guarantee that similar scenes may not play out in other states as a reaction to lakhs of deaths due to poor quality of governance at the center and in the BJP state capitals.
A sample of this rapid erosion in the party despite its muscle and money power of is- where are its 24 missing MLAs?
Pray, where are they?
The BJP bosses in Delhi should know, certainly. Because the BJP bosses in Kolkata seem clueless. At least that seems to be the unfolding scenario.
The most recent public spectacle is Suvendu Adhikari’s visit to the Raj Bhawan to meet Governor Jagdeep Dhankar. He went along with 50 MLAs to give a memorandum on the post-poll atmosphere of “fear and violence” in the state. It was also apparently a show of strength.
That is why this comedy of errors! The Trinamool Congress promptly asked: So where are the 24 missing MLAs? Where have they gone?
This query seems to be floating like a proverbial prophecy with two prominent protagonists at the center of this unending drama: Adhikari and Governor Jagdip Dhankar. The Governor has been taking on the Trinamool government with relentless and remarkable consistency and passion. His latest Tweeter spat with Krishnanagar MP, Mohua Moitra, who calls him ‘Uncleji’, has obviously attracted a good audience for its singularly dramatic content.
Indeed, the latest favourite in Kolkata of the powerful twosome in Delhi seems to the latest ‘turncoat’ in BJP: Suvendu Adhikari. Mamata Banerjee called him Mir Jaffer and ‘Gaddaar’ in her last rally in Nandigram, which this reporter covered. While she did not name him, she clearly said, in as many words, that Mukul Roy is not like this man. She said that she had suspected Adhikari all along – that he would make clandestine visits to Delhi – via Guwahati. She said that good he has left before the polls, or else he would have tried to hijack her MLAs to the BJP after the polls. She also regretted publicly — that why are they treating Mukul Roy in this manner – forcing him to fight from a MLA constituency which is not his stronghold!
The fact is that Mukul Roy has never uttered a derogatory word against Mamata Banerjee while in the BJP. He played his politics within the realm of certain decency. And, yet, clearly, the ground was clearly slipping beneath his feet in BJP much before the assembly polls in 2021.
Did he indeed join the BJP to escape the central law enforcement agencies on the Narada sting operation? Was he comfortable with the likes of Dilip Ghosh, the BJP state chief, and, of course, the two powerful men from Gujarat? Was he comfortable with their expressed ideology? Was he truly accepted in the BJP by the rank and file and its state leadership, despite the prominent defections he engineered, including young and dynamic leaders like Saumitra Khan from the Trinamool? Was he being sidelined, despite the 18 MPs he helped get elected for the BJP – first time in its poll history in Bengal?
Did he resent the coming in of Adhikari and the power and importance given to him by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah? Was he uncomfortable with Adhikari’s shrill and vitriolic hate politics and his misogynistic language used against Didi?
How come both he and Adhikari were left untouched by the CBI when two top ministers and two top leaders of the Trinamool were arrested on the Narada scam soon after the Trinamool victory? With his son losing the assembly polls on a BJP ticket, is he looking for a secure future for his son, even as he looks for his own survival in West Bengal with Didi firmly on the saddle?
STRONGMAN SUVENDU ADHIKARI had all the power in Trinamool, inside and outside the government, as minister and leader, and the inherited power of his influential family. His father, earlier a minister in the Manmohan Singh government, was a Trinamool MP till recently. Now, he has joined the BJP, but is in a dilemma, as he has not resigned from the Trinamool. His brother too was powerful, and he and his family reigned supreme as power-players across a vast fiefdom, especially in Purba Medinipur. He was also a key figure in the Nandigram movement led by Mamata Banerjee with the slogans of ‘Ma, Maati and Manush’.
He shifted to BJP before the assembly polls this year and quickly became a brazen Sanghi loyalist in terms of his shrill and vitriolic ideological expressions in public rallies — he openly used misogynistic language, and a communal discourse, targeting his former mentor and the minorities. Did his bosses in Delhi mind this language? Certainly, they showed no signs of it.
Nor did apparently the Election Commission despite the petitions seeking action against him – oh, it did, finally, but was it not too late?
Currently, much to the hidden agony of BJP old-timers like Dilip Ghosh and other ‘original BJP leaders and founding members’, and within the thin cadre base it has in its fragile party organization in West Bengal, overflowing to the brim with ‘turncoats and defectors from other parties, namely, Trinamool, Congress and the CPM, Adhikari seems to have become a hot favourite of the Delhi-duo.
Critics however believe that if Modi and Shah, and the RSS think that Adhikari will become another Himanta Biswa-Sarma, they might be making another hasty mistake — certainly Bengal is not Assam, despite the geographical proximity and a shared border and history. The same message is coming from other states where dissent against the party leadership has begun to show up. In UP, Maharashtra, Rajasthan it is possible to hear the murmur of a brewing revolt against the central leadership.
Mukul Roy was reportedly not whole-heartedly accepted by ground workers of the BJP state unit, especially its fledgling leadership. A second-in-command in Trinamool after Didi, and an organizer/strategist par excellence, he knew the nervous system of the party and the geographical terrain of the state in its most distant district and moffusil corners. As a reward, he was made the BJP national vice president and was strategically instrumental in getting the party 18 Lok Sabha seats in 2019 in Bengal, which, even the BJP bosses in Delhi found unbelievable.
Well, let us not forget that almost the entire CPM support base voted for the BJP as ‘revenge’ against Trinamool – even while the CPM scored zero in the 2019 polls – much like in the assembly polls in 2021. This time, apparently, sections of the CPM cadre and support base, which hates the Trinamool endlessly, not only voted for their own candidates, they also backed younger leaders like Aishee Ghosh and Minakshi Mukherji wholeheartedly, even while the fossilized old guard continues to lead the party to ruin.
Indeed, even in Nandigram, hardcore Trinamool supporters expressed immense respect for CPM candidate Minakshi Mukherji, and not one negative word was uttered against her by them, as this reporter would testify. She is tipped as a future leader of the CPM in Bengal; she is a fine orator and became a star speaker in the polls for the party, though, predictably, she did not do well in Nandigram.
Thankfully and fortunately, it seems, some sections of the CPM support base did not vote for the BJP this time, and, thereby, did not follow the incipient, suicidal line of 2019: Ekushe Ram, Chobbishe Baam… (Ram in 2021, Left in 2024). The ‘BJP ke ektao vote deben na’ (Not even one vote to the BJP) campaign did play a crucial role in this catalytic rejection of the BJP by Left, secular and progressive circles, especially the young and educated, and especially in Kolkata. The entire city roundly defeated the Hindutva party in all the constituencies, including BJP MP Babul Supriyo in the celebrity constituency of posh Tollygunge.
However, the Left and Congress alliance not winning even one seat in the entire state, and the BJP emerging as the main opposition, is worrisome for the larger democratic, secular and progressive ethos of Bengal in the days to come. It also points to the possibility of erstwhile sections of the Left support base yet again voting for the BJP – like the Hindu refugee communities from Bangladesh, who used to be staunch supporters of the CPM earlier, or committed old supporters who still hated the Trinamool so intensely that voting BJP was their only and ultimate act of political revenge.
Indeed, the refugees, especially the displaced, resilient and hardworking post-Partition communities across the religion, class or caste spectrum, were committed Left supporters over the years because the Left worked on the ground for them for decades. The refugees who have come after the 1970s and 1980s from Bangladesh too followed the pattern – until the RSS-BJP began its diabolical hate politics, fear psychosis and communal polarization among these communities, many of them extremely poor, insecure, ghettoised and surviving in difficult circumstances. The polarizing card of NRC-CAA in Assam, with fake promises of citizenship etc, was thereby used in Bengal by the BJP to woo these Hindu Bengali refugee communities (who are legitimate voters and citizens, largely), even while the BJP dumped the CAA in Assam as an election prop because of mass resentment among the Assamese population.
MEANWHILE, SUVENDU ADHIKARI has all his stars shining bright, even while it might be ‘darkness at noon’ in his new party.
He has been appointed as leader of the Opposition by his latest mentors: Modi and Shah. This has come after a razor-thin, controversial and mysterious margin of victory at Nandigram (after Mamata Banerjee was initially declared the winner). He is certainly lucky to get audience with the PM and his best buddy in the capital, even while the state BJP chief allegedly has no clue about the meetings.
He was strangely invited for a review meeting by the PM with the Bengal CM (and her chief secretary, plus, the governor) at the Kalaikunda airport to discuss the aftermath of Cyclone Yaas. (Ironically, this pattern was completely missed by the PM in similar meetings with the CMs in other states, even after cyclones, thereby pointing to an uncanny sub-text, especially in Bengal).
The controversy that followed did not add up to amiable Centre-state relations. Instead, it became so acrimonious that with the Centre yet again flexing its muscles, Didi upped her ante; Modi and Amit Shah are behaving like autocrats– namely, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin – she said; her topmost bureaucrat is being hounded!
She went on an aggressive retaliatory campaign as a wounded Bengal tigress fighting for the state’s dignity and pride, even as it became clear to the entire nation that both Modi and Shah have not been able to digest with dignity what is a legitimate landslide victory for Didi. All in all, her TRP ratings went up, while the Kalaikunda botch-up did not add happy grades in Modi’s abysmal report card in recent times.
Indeed, with the 24 missing MLAs, there are rumours that some BJP MPs too might go missing in the days to come! Several BJP MLAs have refused to accept the central security given to them – mostly because they are reportedly wary of being followed and spied upon. Many of the MLAs are waiting and watching, including in North Bengal. With Mukul Roy’s return, other prodigal sons and daughters are bound to follow, it is being said.
In this choice of plenty, the Trinmool is saying that those who who played too dirty while in the BJP might not be taken back. Several ‘turncoats’ have lost the elections. There have been open expressions of dissent against the BJP party chief in several places by loyalist cadres. ‘Original’ party members want a thorough clean-up and defectors out, ‘opportunists’ want to desert a sinking ship, others want to strike a better deal, and turncoats just don’t know what to do in this unhappy catch-22 situation.
Interestingly, in some parts of Bengal, BJP supporters and local leaders are making public display of remorse and self-criticism, reminiscent of the bad old days of the Cultural Revolution in China. In what is seen as a peaceful public spectacles of ‘mass apologies’ – that they were allegedly seduced by the top-heavy BJP apparatus with the promise of an El Dorado after the inevitable victory, etc — scores of BJP supporters are riding autos in processions with loudspeakers announcing their apologies in some places, putting up placards saying so sorry, and making public announcements regretting their decision to join the BJP.
Some are taking up Trinamool membership and denouncing the BJP. This is reportedly happening in isolated places, and is not a widespread phenomenon; however it not unusual in Bengal. The only redeeming factor, it seems, is that the process of ‘change of heart and party’ has been peaceful, and there is reportedly no organized violence, or terror.
(In other places, reports of BJP supporters allegedly being hounded or terrorized by the ruling party apparatus, has not been confirmed. The BJP has condemned these ‘terror tactics’ repeatedly. The NHRC is enquiring and the Calcutta High Court is clued in. The pandemic and lockdown too has made reporting difficult from the ground and distant places.)
Meanwhile, the case of Sonali Guha, a four-time Trinamool MLA and very close to Didi once upon a time, is a classic example of the current state of affairs in the BJP. She jumped ship to the BJP, did not get a ticket, and has now written an open letter with intense theatrical grief, saying that a “fish cannot stay out of water for long”. For a fish-loving Bengali, this is indeed double-irony.
Her letter to Mamata Banerjee tells a few things:
“I am writing this with a broken heart that I took the wrong decision of joining another party after being emotional. I could not get accustomed there… I will not be able to live without you, ‘Didi’. I seek your forgiveness and if you don’t forgive me, I won’t be able to live. Please allow me to come back, and spend the rest of my life in your affection.”