Kolkata: On Tuesday, the Bharatiya Janata Party of Bengal took to the streets of Kolkata in an effort to demonstrate its power. The BJP staged one of its largest protests, Nabanna Chalo (a march to the state secretariat), after losing the 2021 assembly elections.
This occurred as the TMC, led by Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, was under fire for alleged cases of corruption. The saffron party attempted to revitalise the organisation with this mega-show, but the leadership crisis persisted due to poor communication among the leaders.
Bengal BJP Vice President and MP Jagannath Sarkar told the NewsDrum, "In the last year, the TMC has tortured BJP supporters in every corner of the state. Yesterday, we sent a clear message that the BJP will not remain silent and will fight the TMC on the streets. They asked police officers to beat our leaders and supporters because they fear the BJP."
The Bharatiya Janata Party's national leadership has recently resumed focusing on the Bengal branch of the party. This occurred after Partha Chatterjee, the TMC's suspended secretary general and a former cabinet minister, was detained by the enforcement directorate in connection with an alleged SSC recruitment scam. During the investigation, ED found that Chatterjee's close assistant Arpita Mukherjee had over 50 crores in cash at her residence.
Meanwhile, Anubrata Mondal, the TMC district president for Birbhum, was subsequently detained by the CBI for allegedly engaging in a cow smuggling scheme.
Sarkar said, "Now the central leadership is prioritising the Bengal BJP again. This month central appointed in-charge Sunil Bansal also held meetings with us. We presented the detailed plan for this event and other plans. He has suggested several steps to revive the organisation and we are following these suggestions. People of Bengal have realised that the TMC is a corrupt party and only the BJP can defeat them."
Essential show of strength
This protest march at the heart of Kolkata was essential for the BJP. After losing the Bengal assembly elections in 2021, the Bengal BJP unit's organisation was in ruins. Under the direction of the then-Bengal BJP chief Dilip Ghosh, Kailash Vijayvargiya, Arvind Menon, and RSS leader Shivprakash, the party ran in that election. But following the loss, the central authorities gave up entirely on the state unit. Before this election, the Bengal BJP welcomed a number of dishonest TMC leaders who later left the party and joined it again after the BJP's defeat.
Vice-President of the Bengal BJP Jagannath Sarkar told NewsDrum, "Taking such damaged TMC leaders was a mistake on our part. Because we allowed these individuals to join the BJP, people felt betrayed. We are currently attempting to correct our course."
Sukanta Majumdar was named the new BJP president after Dilip Ghosh was ousted following the assembly election defeat. On the ground, however, little changed.
In addition, internal conflict and defections accelerated within the party. Shubhendu Adhikari, the BJP's leader within Bengal's assembly and a key aide to Mamata Banerjee, ran his own brand of politics at the same time.
The Bharatiya Janata party has lost every local election, by-election, and civic vote in the past year due to this lack of coordination. Party insiders claim that the central leadership has made it clear that Sukanta Majumdar and Shubhendu Adhikari should now lead the state unit.
The party was in a life-or-death situation, which is why such a massive display of strength, largely under the direction of Adhikari and Mazumdar, was crucial for the party.
The protest was poorly planned by the BJP leaders, and confusion resulted from a lack of coordination between various units. The BJP initially chose to hold a protest on September 7th, but later changed the date to September 13th.
The party managed to contact its booth-level supporters and transport them to Kolkata using trains and buses without having a proper plan in place.
According to a senior BJP district leader who did not want to be identified, "Despite our repeated requests, the state leadership never coordinated with the district magistrates and local police chiefs to discuss our movement. Because of this, the district police arrested and detained many of our supporters even before they boarded the train."
Another group of BJP leaders asserted that because the party's activity had no bearing on the regular activities of these districts, there was no need to inform the local police or district officials about it at the district level.
According to Dipak Barman, general secretary of the Bengal BJP and MLA for Falakata in the Alipurduar district, "Lack of coordination was not in question. Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister, gave the police direct orders to detain, beat up, and harass our karyakartas. I have never witnessed police detain political party supporters inside a railway station during my time in politics. In Alipurduar, more than half of our people were arrested even before getting on the train."
The district police officials, however, asserted that because Kolkata's protest was not authorised, they were forced to detain these individuals.
But the lack of coordination was not restricted to the district level. The entire protest was planned without seeking any permission from the Kolkata police. The senior leadership of the state were informed by the police that the rally would not be allowed to move and barricades were made on all three routes of the protest.
However, the party's state leadership did not discuss their plan of action in advance. This caused all of the top leaders to be either arrested or stuck within an hour of the protest, which caused the protest to spiral out of control.
Some BJP supporters launched a stone-pelting assault on the Kolkata police and even brutally beat one ACP.
An additional group of BJP cadres set a police car on fire. The BJP leaders have categorically denied any association with these actions.
Former Bengal BJP chief and national vice president Dilip Ghosh said, "These acts of violence were not committed by our people and the BJP supporters weren't carrying petrol. Police have been present throughout the entire protest, and it needs to be looked into as to why there weren't any around that particular vehicle. Do you think the police wanted such a thing to happen?"
The key issue facing the Bengal BJP unit is the leadership crisis. This problem was dominant during the mega protest as well. In the past year, this leadership crisis has surfaced repeatedly.
On the one hand, there is Bengal BJP chief Sukanta Majumdar and leader of the opposition Suvendu Adhikari, and on the other hand, there is Dilip Ghosh. Both Ghosh and Mazumdar have an RSS background, but there is no doubt that the grassroots organisation of the Bengal BJP was built by Dilip Ghosh.
However, since the defeat in the 2021 Bengal, the central leadership has been trying to sideline Ghosh. Significantly, the central leadership has repeatedly intervened and tried to censor Ghosh. But all the efforts were in vain. This leadership crisis has also fueled infighting within the party.
Sukanta Majumdar became the Bengal BJP last September replacing Ghosh. After taking over the charge for the first time, Mazumdar started making several changes within the organization. During these changes, it was noted that many people who were close to Dilip Ghosh did not get a chance to hold important positions in the state committees.
Sources in the Bharatiya Janata Party confirmed that several of these leaders had informed Sukanta Majumdar that they have the backing of Dilip Ghosh. The sources said that in several districts, some people have directly told Mazumdar that these sorts of decisions will not work inside the party. Meanwhile, Mazumdar did not shift from his stand and continued. This decision irked Dilip Ghosh, and he made a public statement against Sukanta Majumdar.
According to a TOI report, Ghosh said, "Sukanta Majumdar has recently been given the responsibility. He is less experienced. The party has been fighting for a long time, and there are experienced veterans who were part of that. They need to be used to putting up a fight in the state.”
The leadership crisis completely marred the protest on Tuesday. In an unprecedented move, the top leaders of the BJP did not even walk together during this protest. Dilip Ghosh was leading the march near Howrah Bridge when police stopped him and he announced that the Nabanna Abhiyan was over. Immediately after this announcement, Bengal BJP chief Sukanta Majumdar announced that it is not over.
A senior BJP leader, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said, "The central leadership has given clear order that the Bengal BJP will be led by Sukanta Majumdar and Suvendu Adhikari. Dilip Da is a senior leader and has been instrumental in making the organisation in Bengal flourish. He has his own kind of politics, but right now he is not in full command of the Bengal unit. The central leadership and the state leadership are looking into every development."