BJP makes Bengal moves with one eye on UP polls

BJP makes Bengal moves with one eye on UP polls

Defeated in Assembly elections in Bengal, BJP top brass mulls ways to avenge its defeat against Mamata Banerjee

Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Credit: PTI Photo

A National Human Right Commission (NHRC) team is currently in West Bengal. It is likely to lay bare in reasonable detail the extent of violence on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) workers. It is not clear what step the Centre might take after that, but it could be a headline-grabbing one. The indications are pretty manifest. Something is brewing in the corridors of power in Delhi's North Block, which houses the Union Home Ministry. The target is the government of Mamata Banerjee.

That Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and JP Nadda have more than once summoned Suvendu Adhikari to Delhi is a telltale sign. Adhikari is not only the opposition leader in the West Bengal Assembly. He is somebody who knows his former party, the Trinamool Congress, inside out as he does the state government Banerjee has run since 2011.

Then there is Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar's campaign to highlight atrocities against the BJP workers in the state. He has described the violence as the "worst since 1947". Moreover, the Union home ministry is busy seeking legal opinion on Bengal matters. All this indicates that some planning is afoot.

It is not difficult to imagine the reasons to have provoked this chain of events. Foremost, Banerjee delivered team Modi one of its most humiliating defeats since 2014 in the recent Bengal Assembly polls. Second, Modi's trusted Bengal leader Mukul Roy's return to the Trinamool Congress sent a message in BJP circles that Banerjee outfoxed heavyweights of the Hindutva party by planting among them a Trojan horse. As a result, Modi's stature is diminished even among BJP loyalists in Bengal.

Read | Tensions within BJP prompt troubleshooting

The BJP's top leadership, or team Modi, wants to wreak revenge on Banerjee and plans to somehow humiliate her by bringing sustained pressure on her. First, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) arrested two ministers of the Bengal government — Subrata Mukherjee and Firhad Hakim — days after the polls concluded. The next move targeted Alapan Bandyopadhyay, the then chief secretary of Bengal, for not attending the review meeting of the prime minister. Bandyopadhyay has been show-caused twice under the Disaster Management Act, which entails up to a one-year jail term for bureaucrats found guilty of dereliction of duty.

These actions intend to show the administration and people of Bengal the place of the state government vis-a-vis the Centre. Accordingly, the Centre is now contemplating to pin down the Bengal government on 'atrocities against BJP workers' and is likely to attach a potentially divisive angle to it.

The victory of the Trinamool Congress in the polls was thanks in good measure to the state's Muslim minority. Muslims comprise 30 per cent of Bengal's electorate and voted en bloc for the Trinamool Congress. Of the Trinamool's 48 per cent vote share, as much as two-thirds came from Muslims. They also dominate the cadre strength of Banerjee's party in several places. It is, therefore, not difficult to give communal colour to the Trinamool cadres' attacks on BJP workers, who are nearly all Hindus.

However, the Modi government will probably undermine the Trinamool government's authority without imposing the President's Rule lest it further fans sub-nationalism. A weapon in the hands of the Centre is Article 355 of the Constitution. The provision empowers the Union government to 'protect the states' against 'external aggression' or 'internal disturbance'. The Centre has to ensure that the government of every state is carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. Using this provision, the Centre may assume the 'law and order' related powers of the entire state or a part of it.

Moreover, events in Bengal could help the BJP in the Assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh next year. The BJP is on a sticky wicket in UP, and whenever it is in difficulty, a 'Hindus are under attack' narrative does help the party. Bengal can prove to be a source of such a narrative.

It is significant that Adhikari recently demanded protection for the people of the 'Sanatan Dharma', used synonymously to refer to followers of the Hindu faith. It is a term that Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay popularised in Bengal through his 19th-century novel, Ananda Math.

(The writer is a Kolkata-based journalist)

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox

Check out all newsletters

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox