Much has been written about the ramshackle nature of the Trinamool in West Bengal, with even once-close lieutenants of Mamata Banerjee ready to defect to the other side. However, as we get closer to the Bengal Assembly elections, it seems the organisational chaos in the Bharatiya Janata Party is even worse.
The saffron party in the state has entered into a state of war with itself after names for its candidate list was announced. After the party released names for 148 seats on Wednesday, for example, workers reacted violently across the state.
This came after the central BJP office in Kolkata was gheraoed by its own workers unhappy with ticket distribution on Tuesday. Angry workers even took to stone pelting. The situation was defused by the Kolkata Police, which used a lathi charge to hold back BJP workers. The same day also saw the party’s office in Howrah also get ransacked by angry workers.
Much of this anger was driven by the fact that the BJP is depending to a significant degree not on its candidates but on defectors from mainly the Trinamool – but also from the Left and Congress – to win its maiden Assembly election in Bengal.
This extends right to the top, with TMC defector Mukul Roy being fielded but state president Dilip Ghosh being asked to not contest. This has angered long-time party workers, who feel unappreciated even after the hard slog of taking on the ruling Trinamool.
The BJP’s troubles didn’t stop with the violence of its party workers – the confusion extended to exits.
Since the candidate list was announced, the saffron party has seen major state leaders leave. On March 15, former Kolkata mayor Sovan Chatterjee resigned from the BJP after he was denied nomination from his home seat of Behala East. Chatterjee had himself defected from the Trinamool in 2019, bringing with him a significant political presence in Kolkata – now lost to the BJP. On Thursday, the flow from the TMC to BJP was reversed with the BJP District Vice President of Cooch Behar, Bhaben Ray joining the Trinamool.
To further add to this is the inexplicable fact that three candidates officially announced by the BJP leaders have refused to contest. In two of those, the candidates turned around and denied even being a part of the BJP in the first place.
Weak party organisation
With its emphasis on defectors and in its struggle to find candidates, it is clear that the BJP has an extremely weak party organisation in Bengal. The party has been unable to extend its strong cadre organisation in North India to the state. Notably, the party performed admirably in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections even with this handicap, with around 40% of voters directly choosing Modi or voting against the Trinamool as a way to signal their anger against local corruption.
However, even in 2019, the BJP fell short of winning a majority of assembly constituencies as per voting booth level analysis. The party will therefore be hoping for an even more centralised voting pattern in 2021, with Bengalis for the first time in any Assembly election, completely ignoring local party organisation and voting directly for the party’s central leadership.