The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is faced with a crisis in Bengal.
A crisis that can mar its performance not only in the panchayat polls scheduled early next year, but also the Lok Sabha polls in 2024.
The BJP leadership has discovered that most of its workers at the grassroots level have either resigned or dissociated themselves from the party. And quite a number of them are reluctant to return to the saffron party’s fold.
While infighting in the top levels of the party’s state unit has led to severe disillusionment among the workers, the primary reason for this erosion from the party’s ranks, is the party leadership’s failure to stand by and protect the workers from the Trinamool’s brutal attacks after the Assembly polls last year.
The extent of the attrition at the grassroots level has taken the party leadership by surprise. Save for a handful of state BJP leaders who have a grassroots connect, none of the others had any idea of the flood of workers who left or distanced themselves from the party.
A recent internal survey carried out by the party revealed that 40 per cent of the BJP’s booth-level committees are non-functional or barely functional. That’s because there is a severe shortage of workers at the ground level to man these committees.
Recent visits by state party leaders to the rural areas, especially in south Bengal, have not only corroborated the findings of the survey, but have also revealed that the rot is much deeper.
“Of the 80,000-odd polling booths in Bengal, we don’t have an organisational presence in the areas catered to about 25,000 booths, and just a marginal presence in another 10,000. We don’t have workers in most of these since those who worked for the party in the 2021 Assembly polls have either resigned from the party or distanced themselves,” a top BJP leader told Swarajya.
What’s more, very few of those who have left or dissociated themselves from the BJP are willing to return.
“They are still fearful of the Trinamool and do not want to risk life or limb for the party. They are unwilling to accept our assurances that they will be protected from now on,” the leader, who is also an MLA, said.
Another reason for the workers’ reluctance to return to the party fold is the infighting in the party’s state unit.
“This has demoralised and disillusioned even the remaining workers. The ones who have left, feel that unless the infighting among the top leaders ends, there is little hope for the BJP in Bengal. And so they are unwilling to return,” said a senior functionary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) who works and tours extensively in South Bengal.
What has alarmed the BJP top leadership is reports that the opposition space ceded by the BJP is being slowly filled by the Left. There has been a silent revival of the Left, especially in South Bengal.
This was reflected in the civic polls in Bengal earlier this year.
While the Trinamool swept the polls by winning 1,871 of the 2,171 seats in 108 civic bodies across the state, the BJP bagged 63 seats and a vote share of 12.6 per cent. The Communist Party India (Marxist)-led Left Front got 47 seats and a vote share of 12.4 per cent.
Support for the Left has, confess BJP leaders, been increasing over the past few months. The primary reason for this, say BJP leaders, is the tacit understanding between the Trinamool and the Left.
“This understanding is aimed at dividing the opposition in Bengal and further weakening the BJP. Many of our workers and supporters have found shelter (from attacks by the Trinamool) with the Left," explained the BJP MLA.
"Over the past few months, Trinamool has not been disturbing the Left and its goons have stopped attacking Left functionaries or their homes and establishments. The attacks are now solely directed at BJP workers and supporters. Hence, our workers and supporters who are opposed to the Trinamool are finding safe refuge in the Left,” he added.
Also, the infighting among the top leaders of the BJP’s state unit has led to factionalism and percolated to the lower levels.
This has left honest and serious party workers and supporters disillusioned and they have become reluctant to work for the party.
The BJP’s central leadership is well aware of all this and has, thus, initiated the urgent process to stem the rot in the party’s state unit.
While Union Home Minister Amit Shah met the state leaders in Kolkata on 16 and 17 December, party president JP Nadda, met leader of opposition Suvendu Adhikary, state president Sukanta Majumdar and former state chief Dilip Ghosh on 19 December.
The central leadership asked the leaders to sink their differences and start working unitedly. They were told that they have to either join ranks or be prepared for ‘harsh measures’.
The entire state leadership was also asked to start working immediately to reactivate the organisation at the grassroots level. BJP functionaries have been asked to start touring the areas they have been put in charge of and carry out door-to-door campaigns.
“We have been expressly asked to visit a fixed number of households every week and get in touch with all existing workers as well as those who have left or distanced themselves from the party. We have to submit fortnightly and monthly progress reports that are then vetted by others. The central leadership means business,” a senior BJP office-bearer told Swarajya.
Union Ministers Dharmendra Pradhan, Bhupendra Yadav and Smriti Irani have been given the responsibility of overseeing the project to strengthen the party organisation structure at the grassroots level.
And the party’s central minders have also been asked to involve themselves more intensively in Bengal.
But all this will only work if the top state leaders discard their egos and bitterness, and start working unitedly. And also if the party leadership can instil confidence among party workers.
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