Relentless Internal Trouble Plagues West Bengal BJP

Several MLAs have asked the party high command to alter the recent organisational changes in the party’s state and district-level units.

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Kolkata: As if the series of meetings that disgruntled Bengal BJP leaders, including Union minister Shantanu Thakur, held between themselves over the past month was not enough, several BJP MLAs from two districts have reportedly written to the party’s national leadership, seeking their interventions in altering the recent organisational changes in the party’s state and district-level units.

According to one of these MLAs, who refused to be identified, four MLAs from Bankura district and three from Purulia have written to the party’s national president Jagat Prakash Nadda and home minister Amit Shah, seeking the removal of the newly-appointed presidents of their respective districts.

While multiple MLAs from the districts of North 24-Parganas – the home district of Union minister and Matua community leader Shantanu Thakur – and Bankura having already rebelled following the organisational changes announced in December, those from Purulia are the latest addition to the list. The party fared better in these districts in the last assembly elections.

Speaking to The Wire, Bankura MLA Niladri Sekhar Dana said that he had written to Nadda but with the intention of strengthening the party’s organisation and suggesting measures to realise Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dreams for the state.

“I have been with the BJP all my life. The TMC and a section of the media are spreading misinformation that we are going against the party. The media is always more than willing to highlight BJP’s internal troubles, even if there is none. But I want to make it clear that I wrote to Naddaji suggesting measures to strengthen the party’s organisation and ways to ensure that every inactive member and supporter is made active again. We believe in Modiji’s mantra of ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas and sabka vishwas‘,” he said.

However, another MLA from the district, who refused to be identified, said, “Of course, we have explained how the recent organisational changes are going to prove detrimental for the party’s growth and what all needs to be done to lift the morale of the party’s workers.”

Meanwhile, on Thursday, two BJP MLAs from Bankura – Amarnath Sakha and Nirmal Dhara – wrote to the Union home ministry, requesting their security cover to be withdrawn. When The Wire contacted Dhara, he refused to comment on the issue. However, Sakha told local media that he sent this request due to some personal issues.

The MHA provides security to all BJP MLAs in the district.

A section of the party’s Bankura unit leaders sees the move to let go of security cover as a step towards leaving the party. However, both Sakha and Dhara have denied any such plan.

Since the May 2021 assembly elections, as many as five BJP MLAs, including one from Bankura, have switched over to the Trinamool Congress (TMC).

These latest developments happened within a week of the much-talked-about meeting of disgruntled BJP leaders held at the guesthouse of the Kolkata Port Trust, which operates under the Union ministry of shipping. Matua community leader Shantanu Thakur, who is also the minister of state for shipping, was the most important participant in the meeting, others being recently-removed office bearers of the state unit, Sayantan Basu, Ritesh Tewari, Jay Prakash Majumdar and two MLAs from North 24-Parganas district, Ashok Kartania and Subrata Thakur.

This meeting was followed by a picnic at the garden of a BJP worker in the Bongaon area, attended by the same leaders.

The refugee community of Matua-Namashudras are electorally important for the BJP. Due to the party’s assurance of implementing the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the BJP swept the parts of Nadia and North 24-Paraganas district where Matuas dominate the demography, both in the 2019 Lok Sabha election and the 2021 assembly polls.

However, after the new state committee and district committees were announced in December, Matua community leaders felt they did not get their due representation in these. Subsequently, five Matua MLAs left the party’s ‘groups’ on WhatsApp. They have also expressed their displeasure within the party for the delay in implementing the CAA.

Shantanu Thakur, the Bongaon MP, had told the media after the meeting in Kolkata that one person had decided all the new committees and it would ruin the prospect of the party in the state. At the picnic, he told the media that when the dissonant tune goes louder, it becomes the dominant tune.

“People who helped the party take its vote share from 4% to 40% have been removed. This state committee needs to be dissolved and reconstituted,” Majumdar had said after the meeting.

The organising secretary

Thakur and Majumdar did not name anyone but all the grievances of disgruntled leaders appear to be directed at Amitabha Chakraborty, the Bengal BJP’s general secretary (organisation), a post popularly referred to as organisational secretary.

In the BJP, the organisational secretary is a crucial position reserved for RSS pracharaks (whole-timers) to look after organisational affairs and continuity. While the state committee is to be reconstituted every three years and a state unit president can occupy the chair for a maximum of six years, there is no such rule for the organisational secretary. In fact, he is entrusted with taking the party through transition when committees change.

Now that the BJP’s state committee and district committees were reconstituted in December, those who have been dropped allege that Chakraborty influenced the new state unit president, Sukanta Majumdar, to make these moves.

“Chakraborty has filled the party’s state committee and district units with his own people in this new reorganisation,” said an MLA from North 24-Parganas district who did not want to be quoted.

In what has been described as unprecedented, banners and posters emerged last week at various places in Kolkata and in train compartments in North 24-Parganas branding Chakraborty as TMC political advisor Prashant Kishor’s ‘agent’ and ‘Vibhishana in the BJP’, among others.

Notably, the rebel state-level leaders are all BJP veterans and have mostly been with the same party all their life.

Bengal BJP’s trouble with organisational secretary is not new. Amalendu Chatterjee, who served in this post from 2004, was removed in 2014 after he expressed his interest, before the national leadership, of himself leading the party in the state. The national leadership thought he was getting ‘over ambitious’ and replaced him with his new deputy, Subrata Chatterjee. Similarly, complaints started piling up against Chatterjee from 2019 onwards, as a result of which the RSS called him back in 2020.

“Dilip Ghosh enjoyed leading from the front and he was also the most popular leader of the party. So, his schedule was full of public meetings. He, therefore, depended heavily on Chatterjee for organisational affairs. As a result, Chatterjee’s words became the final words in the party’s district-level organisation,” said a Bengal BJP veteran who is unhappy with the recent changes but has not joined the rebel group.

The leader added that Majumdar, an assistant professor who entered active politics only in 2019 after being named a Lok Sabha candidate, has little or no experience of state-level political organisation. “Even after 2019, he remained active only in his home district of Dakshin Dinajpur. So, he depended heavily on Chakraborty while finalising the new committees,” said another state-level leader of the party.

Like most organising secretaries, Chakraborty rarely faces the media or addresses public gatherings. The Wire tried to reach him over the phone but could not.

BJP national president J.P. Nadda addresses MPs and BJP Legislature Party meeting of Goa Pradesh on July 24, 2021. Photo: PTI

The party’s response

Majumdar, the state unit’s chief spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya and former state unit president Dilip Ghosh, who is now a national vice-president, have all tried to downplay the rebellion. Bhattacharya even said that the disgruntled leaders were the “flesh and blood” of the party and were working only in the interest of the party. However, after the poster episode, Ghosh thought some were crossing limits.

“Some big changes are happening. Some people will take time to adjust. But calling a leader a drunkard or crazy does not go with our party’s culture,” Ghosh told the media.

According to a BJP leader who has found a place in the new state committee, the party’s national leadership is at present busy with elections in Uttar Pradesh and four other states and did not have time for internal dissent in Bengal. “The state leadership has been asked to be patient and avoid creating provocations for the rebel leaders. The issue will be looked into after these elections are over,” the leader said.

The tweets of former Meghalaya and Tripura governor Tathagata Roy, who of late calls himself a whistleblower with regard to the Bengal BJP, throw some light into the state of the organisation. After the state unit president Sukanta Majumdar dissolved all cells and departments of the party, Roy wrote in a tweet, “Course correction by Sukanta at last, after murder of the party by the KDSA gang? If so, let it not be too little, too late. Also remember: shaitan bhaga, par aulad chhor gaya.”

The Hindi sentence in Roy’s tweet means ‘the devil has run away but has left his children behind.’

KDSA is a term Roy has been using for several months now. The party’s Bengal unit leaders explain it as an abbreviation for Kailash (Vijayvargiya)-Dilip (Ghosh)-Subrata (Chatterjee)-Arvind (Menon). While Vijayvargiya has been the party’s Bengal in-charge since 2014, Ghosh served as the state unit president from November 2015 to September 2021, Chatterjee served as the party’s organisational secretary from 2014 to October 2020 and Menon served as Vijayvargiya’s deputy from January 2019.

Vijayvargiya and Menon have not been seen in any active role regarding the party’s Bengal unit since their assembly election hopes fell flat on the ground. Instead, the party’s national organising secretary, B.L. Santosh, and Bengal unit co-observer Amit Malviya played a more active role.