BJP leaders in West Bengal face wrath of party workers over choice of candidates for third and fourth phases of Assembly election

Published : March 16, 2021 23:24 IST

Activists of the BJP protest against party leaders and the choice of candidates for several constituencies, in front of the party office in Kolkata on March 16. Photo: DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP

Strident agitations have rocked the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in West Bengal for the past two days as hundreds of party workers came out on the streets in different parts of the State protesting against the selection of candidates for the third and fourth phases of the eight-phase Assembly election. On March 16, a large number of party workers who had gathered outside the BJP headquarters in Kolkata resorted to violence and even alleged that several leaders had taken money from the Trinamool Congress to push for undeserving candidates.

The workers seemed to accept the selection of candidates for the first two phases, but their reaction to the choices made for the third and fourth phases exposed not only the lack of discipline and cohesion in the saffron camp but also bitter factionalism. Angry scenes were witnessed outside the BJP office at Hastings in Kolkata from the afternoon of March 15 onward, and party activists were seen holding aloft banners denouncing several of the chosen candidates. They jostled with the police and even heckled senior leaders as they tried to make their way into the building. The BJP list included quite a few new members who had defected from the Trinamool, and most of the protests were against these persons getting preference over party old-timers. BJP workers from Panchla, Udaynarayanpur, Raidighi, Singur and other constituencies demanded that the chosen candidates, preferred over those who have shed blood for the party over the years, be removed.

The present situation, embarrassing as it is for the BJP, is not unexpected. Tensions between the old BJP and the new inductees have been brewing ever since the saffron party adopted the strategy of breaking the Trinamool by engineering large-scale defections from the Trinamool both at the top level and at the grassroots. It was only a matter of time before the resentment expressed itself in violent confrontations and bitter inner-party clashes.

After the violent demonstration on March 15 outside the BJP State headquarters, Union Home Minister, Amit Shah, who was campaigning in West Bengal at the time, reportedly held an emergency meeting in Kolkata that night. The protests, instead of dying down as assured by the BJP leadership, continued on March 16, and even began to spread to other parts of the State, including north Bengal. The BJP, which prides itself in being a “disciplined” party that implicitly follows orders from higher up, is finding it hard to live down the emerging situation. While several district-level leaders and workers have already resigned from the BJP, there are quite a few who have threatened to consider “other alternatives” if their demands were not met.

The protests have given the ruling Trinamool Congress a handle to attack its main opponent with. Lok Sabha MP Mahua Moitra said on social media: “Loving this slow unfolding of the WB BJP Candidate List soap opera. When ‘largest global political party’ lacks enough faces & strength to announce 294 names in one go for a State it claims it will sweep!” Senior Trinamool leader Sougata Roy said, “This was bound to happen. What is taking place is an implosion within the BJP.”

On May 15, former Trinamool Minister and ex-Mayor of Kolkata, Sovan Chatterjee, and his friend Baishakhi Banerjee quit the BJP after being denied the party ticket. The same day movie star Debasree Roy, who is the Trinamool MLA from Raidighi, quit the party and said she was open to joining the BJP. Interestingly, Sovan and Baishakhi had reportedly joined the BJP on the condition that Debasree would not be taken into the party. The very day that Sovan and Baishakhi quit the BJP, Debasree too left the Trinamool.