By early 2017, the state BJP organisation was divided into five zones – north Bengal, Rarh (south-western), Nabadwip (south-central), Hooghly-Midnapore (southern) and Kolkata. Each zone was to have a committee which would be convened by a state executive member. At the next level of organisation were the district committees. Some of them were partitioned into two and some into three.

Overall, the district committees were shaped to correspond with Lok Sabha constituencies. This was done in phases. As a result, while the state had twenty-three districts, the BJP created thirty-eight organisational districts.

At the next level, the mandal committees were split into two to three mandals each. Whereas previously, mandal committees looked after 210–270 booths, after 2017 they had only sixty to ninety booths under them. Thereby the number of mandals rose, from 464 in 2016 to over 1,200 by 2018, according to Dilip Ghosh.

The other focus was on creating shakti kendras, comprising five to nine booths. For this purpose, vistaraks were appointed. The BJP state leadership was asked to find one vistarak each for the state’s 294 assembly and 42 Lok Sabha seats. They would have to take responsibility in a district other than their own district of residence and live in the new place for several months building booth-level organization and shakti kendras.

The party would provide for their monthly expenses. Finding dedicated workers who would live in a different district from their own for months together doing organisational work as whole-timers – that too, for a minimal monthly payment – was not easy. By early 2018, only 200 vistaraks had been identified. A good number of them were also swayamsevaks and ABVP members.

Vijayvargiya and Shiv Prakash, along with state leaders Dilip Ghosh and Subrato Chattopadhyay and the general secretaries, travelled Bengal’s length and breadth to build the shakti kendras and reorganise mandal committees. They knew that reaching the level of panna (or prishtha) pramukh would take time, as the party did not have functional committees in a majority of the state’s polling booths. Under these circumstances, shakti kendras could hold the key to organizational strengthening at the grassroots level.

The new structure required more organisers and office bearers – many more than the state BJP unit could supply. The RSS played a key role in these times of building the organisation – guiding the state BJP with ideas and aiding them with manpower, most crucially, with skilled organisers with a clean background, that is, with no taint of corruption.

The Left workers who had joined the BJP deserting their respective parties also came of great help. “Left workers knew booth management; they were into it for years. Our workers were never as involved in the elections as to engage in booth-level vote management,” an RSS organiser-turned BJP leader in Jhargram district told this author while explaining the party’s speedy growth in a very short span of time.

It was, however, the swayamsevaks who were shaping the Bengal BJP organisation at various levels. Till the 2016 assembly elections, the state unit had three pracharaks – Dilip Ghosh, Amalendu Chattopadhyay (general secretary organisation) and Subrato Chattopadhyay, joint general secretary (organisation). After the elections, Amalendu Chattopadhyay was called back to the RSS and Subrato Chattopadhyay stepped into his shoes.

Amalendu’s removal was soon compensated with the induction of Deepanjan Guha, Hooghly district unit secretary of the RSS, in the state committee. He was given the crucial post of secretary (office), popularly called office secretary. So, Dilip Ghosh would lead from the front and Subrato Chattopadhyay and Deepanjan Guha would wield the keys of the organisation staying away from the limelight.

Shyamapada Mandal, a former pracharak from Birbhum district, was appointed as one of the secretaries of the state unit. Later, Guha was made Bengal BJP’s training in-charge”, and Mandal was appointed as his deputy. Mrinal Kanjilal, who served as a pracharak for years, came to the BJP as editor of Kamol Barta (lotus news), the party’s weekly publication in Bengali.

Among the five general secretaries appointed in mid-2017, new entrants Sayantan Basu, Debashree Chaudhuri and Raju Banerjee had their roots in the ABVP. Chaudhuri’s association with the RSS started during her school days as a member of Rashtra Sevika Samiti. Pratap Banerjee, who had been part of the state leadership since the 1990s, had undergone the RSS’s third-year OTC training.

Another general secretary, Sanjay Singh, had been with the BJP since the 1990s and a Howrah Municipal Corporation councillor for ten years. He, too, loved to call himself “a proud swayamsevak’” Debjit Sarkar, who was appointed as the youth wing president in 2017, had been associated with the RSS from the time he was a student of class eight.

In the districts, the first round of change had come soon after Dilip Ghosh took charge in December 2015, when the presidents of twenty district units were changed. Changes kept happening thereafter. Shamit Das, the RSS’s Midnapore district unit secretary, was made the BJP’s Midnapore district unit president. The party’s Jhargram district unit president Sukhamay Satpati came from a family of swayamsevaks.

The 150-odd vistaraks who had been identified till October 2017 underwent the first round of training in Kolkata on 31 October 2017. This was conducted by Shiv Prakash, Dilip Ghosh, Subrato Chattopadhyay, Deepanjan Guha and Shyamapada Mondal – all of them “RSS men”. Next year, in 2018, two more organisers would be sent to the Bengal unit – Kishore Barman, a pracharak from the ABVP, as joint-general secretary (organisation), and Arvind Menon, a pracharak-turned-BJP leader from Madhya Pradesh, as co-in-charge. In 2019, pracharak Amitabha Chakraborty would join the team as another joint-general secretary (organisation).

Mission Bengal: A Saffron Experiment

Excerpted with permission from Mission Bengal: A Saffron Experiment, Snigdhendu Bhattacharya, HarperCollins India.