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Kolkata: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) national leadership’s decision to remove Dilip Ghosh as president of the party’s Bengal unit took state leaders by surprise on Monday night, as no one seemed to have expected it to happen so early. But as the news sunk in, senior state leaders seem to unanimously think that the central leadership had finally heeded to the complaints that were piling up against Ghosh.
“Name any of the BJP’s prominent faces in the state – Babul Supriyo, Mukul Roy, Swapan Dasgupta, Suvendu Adhikari or Tathagata Roy – and none of them is on good terms with Ghosh. This is one of the reasons that the party is in absolute turmoil in Bengal. The first two have already joined the TMC and MLAs are also switching over. The party badly needed someone who can get along with all the leaders,” said a Bengal unit vice-president of the BJP, who did not want to be identified.
Ghosh would have completed his two terms – spanning six years – as Bengal BJP president at the end of November. Asked what prompted the BJP not to allow Ghosh the remaining two months, a BJP Lok Sabha MP from Bengal said, “The TMC’s initial success in poaching BJP MPs and MLAs accelerated the matter.”
Ghosh will now serve as a national vice-president, a post that Mukul Roy held from September 2020 until his return to the TMC in June 2021.
Another BJP Lok Sabha MP from Bengal said that the party’s central leadership was “quite concerned” about the lack of coordination between Ghosh and Adhikari, Mamata Banerjee’s one-time confidante who joined the BJP ahead of the assembly elections. He defeated Banerjee, who challenged Adhikari on his home turf, and went on to become the leader of the opposition in the state assembly.
“The party is giving significant importance to Adhikari. The party’s national leadership seems to hold him in high esteem. At a time when the TMC has unleashed a poaching drive on our party’s MLAs and MPs, the top leadership wanted to ensure that Adhikari did not have trouble with the state unit chief,” the MP said, adding that the party had also entrusted Adhikari with keeping MLAs from switching over to the TMC.
A BJP MLA pointed to two tweets by Rajya Sabha MP Swapan Dasgupta – one after Mukul Roy rejoined the TMC and the other after Babul Supriyo joined the TMC. In both tweets, Dasgupta had described the deserters as assets of the party and insisted that the party needed to introspect on why they left.
Characters in contrast
The new state unit chief Sukanta Majumdar, an assistant professor of botany at the University of Gour Banga, has long been associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). He entered politics in 2019, when he was put up as the BJP’s candidate for the Balurghat Lok Sabha in Uttar Dinajpur district of north Bengal. He emerged victorious.
Soft-spoken Majumdar has always maintained a low profile even though he is also known in the BJP circles as “gritty.”
“Majumdar was the RSS’s nominee for the Balurghat Lok Sabha seat. I am sure he will receive the fullest support of the RSS in Bengal,” a Bengal BJP veteran told The Wire. He added that he thinks while many of Ghosh’s remarks had antagonised the majority of educated Bengalis, Majumdar can address these people better.
Doubtlessly the most popular BJP face in the state, Ghosh has long earned controversy as his middle name. A pracharak, or whole-timer, of the RSS, he hit the headlines more often for the wrong reasons than the right ones. This did not seem to deter him, as his rise was meteoric.
Joining politics in 2014, when the RSS sent him from the Hindu Jagran Manch to the BJP, he was first appointed a general secretary of the Bengal unit and made the state unit president in 2015. In 2016, he emerged as a giant killer by defeating Congress veteran Gyan Singh Sohan Pal and becoming one of only three BJP MLAs in the state. He was elected to the Lok Sabha in 2019.
“Going by their public speeches and interactions with the media, Majumdar is quite a contrast to Ghosh,” a BJP MLA from north Bengal told The Wire, requesting anonymity.
Ghosh first became the state unit chief in December 2015 and his first term was supposed to end in December 2018. However, he continued throughout 2019 and was formally re-elected for his second term in January 2020. This leads some leaders to believe his second term was to end in January 2023, as the whole of 2019 should be considered a period when he was an ad-hoc president.
However, there are others who said going by the party’s constitution, a person can serve as a president for six years at a stretch at the maximum. They argue that Ghosh’s second term started in December 2018, and therefore, should have ended in November 2021.
“His term was to end in November anyway. The central leadership decided to remove him merely a couple of months earlier. I am sure the central leadership gave a lot of thought before choosing the replacement and this should benefit the state unit,” said Tathagata Roy, who had served as the BJP’s state unit president and national executive member before serving as the governor of Tripura and Meghalaya. He rejoined politics after completing his tenure as Meghalaya governor.
Another leader pointed out that Ghosh also did not enjoy good coordination with Amitava Chakravorty, general secretary (organisation), a key organisational post always held by an RSS pracharak. Majumdar has a good rapport with Chakravorty, BJP leaders said.
Focus on north Bengal?
Political observers also found it quite curious that Ghosh has been replaced by a Lok Sabha MP from north Bengal. Sukanta Majumdar is the first state unit chief of any of the state’s major political parties to hail from north Bengal since A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury stepped down as Bengal Congress president in the late 1990s.
The decision to make Majumdar the president comes amid several BJP leaders’ public demands for a separate north Bengal state. They claim that north Bengal has remained underdeveloped as governments in Kolkata did not pay the region enough attention.
During the Union cabinet reshuffle too, the BJP chose to elevate leaders from the north Bengal region. Despite north Bengal being accounting for only one-fifth of the state’s area, two junior ministers each were chosen from north Bengal and south Bengal.
“Choosing the state president from north Bengal certainly happened with a long-term perspective. It should help the party earn the trust of the people of that region,” a BJP Lok Sabha MP from north Bengal said.
Eight of the state’s 42 Lok Sabha seats and 54 of 294 assembly seats are in north Bengal. In the assembly elections, the BJP perfomed excellently in north Bengal, winning 30 of these 54 seats. (One seat in south Bengal went to the BJP’s alliance partner All Jharkhand Students’ Union.) It was only able to win 46 of the 240 seats in other regions.
Party leaders say that with Majumdar’s elevation, Suvendu Adhikari will look after south Bengal, while the former will help the party strengthen its support base and organisation in north Bengal.