From 10 to 100: BJP’s wild goose chase in Bengal

Although the BJP added seven MLAs to its pre-existing flock of eight within weeks of the Lok Sabha polls, things have not worked as per plan for it since then.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has succeeded in catching a big fish from the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) in Bengal in Sovan Chatterjee. The Behala East MLA and mayor of Kolkata untill last year, joined the Saffron brigade last week once again fanning talk of mass desertions from the TMC to the BJP.

Unsurprisingly, the TMC-turned-BJP leader Mukul Roy renewed his claim that as many as 107 MLAs from the TMC, Left and Congress were in his contact. If the leadership okayed their names, he bragged, all of them would join the BJP.

It was a claim that should have rattled the ruling party. If the BJP succeeds in snatching 90 MLAs from the TMC, Mamata Banerjee’s government will collapse. But, unlike in the past, this time no one showed any signs of anxiety. The reason: As things stand, it appears that the BJP has undertaken a wild goose chase.

Although the party had added seven MLAs to its pre-existing flock of eight within weeks of the Lok Sabha polls, things have not worked as per plan for the Saffron party since. The process hit a major setback after the induction of Manirul Islam, a Birbhum strongman known for his spiteful speeches and aggression. It brought the rift between Mukul Roy and BJP state president Dilip Ghosh into open. Taking a cue from Ghosh, the district leadership denounced Islam as a pariah in the party. Thereafter – post a series of deliberations over many weeks – it was settled that every induction would have to be okayed by the state and district leadership beforehand. It is only after this long process that Sovan Chaterjee was inducted into the TMC.

Forget about Mukul Roy’s 107, even the 40 MLAs Prime Minister Narendra Modi talked about in his Lok Sabha rally have not left TMC yet. The figure stands at six from the TMC and one each from the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Two other TMC MLAs – actor-turned politician Debashree Roy and Salt Lake ex-mayor Sabyasachi Dutta – may join any day. That takes the number to 10. But, from 10 to 100 is a long, long way. And so Mukul Roy’s plan of poaching sufficient MLAs to pull down the Mamata government and have President’s rule imposed before the Assembly election due in April, 2021, looks like it’s going nowhere at present.

Now, it is not that a sizable chunk of TMC, Congress and Left MLAs are not in touch with the BJP leaders. Also while in any other state, poaching of hundred MLAs may appear an impossible mission, but not so in Bengal. This is simply because the state’s MLAs do not resign after changing sides. Nor is their membership challenged and revoked under the anti-defection law!

In the last Assembly, when TMC had 184 MLAs (in a house of 294), they poached an additional 11 MLAs from the Congress and five from the Left. In the present Assembly, despite winning two-third majority (211 seats) in 2016, TMC has added nearly 30 more to their numbers. None of these MLAs have ever cared to resign and get re-elected. This game was started by Mukul Roy. Now, the same Mukul Roy is in the BJP and he is still at his old job.

So why should 107 be out of reach for Roy? For several reasons.

Firstly, TMC leaders – MPs, MLAs, or councillors – know Mamata Banerjee as a great fighter who can turn the tide. So, they would prefer to wait and watch, at least till the elections are held in more than 83 municipalities, including the Kolkata corporation, in May, 2020. Secondly, many of these MLAs have a sneaking suspicion that if the BJP can really topple Didi's government, it will impose President's rule in the state, and their re-nomination for the Assembly election will not be automatically guaranteed. Thirdly, the newcomers are not being wholeheartedly welcomed by old hands in the BJP and the RSS. Many councillors and panchayat members who joined the BJP after Lok Sabha elections have gone back to TMC precisely for this reason.

There was resentment about Sovan Chaterjee’s entry too because CBI is probing him for corruption. After his induction, Dilip Ghosh endorsed the move with a rider. While conceding they would have to poach ‘both the clean and the tainted’ from the TMC to make up for their organisational weakness, he added that Sovan would be shown the door if corruption charges against him were proven correct.

Ghosh and RSS are not in favour of engineering a mass exodus from the TMC. But they are allowing Mukul Roy to move ahead for two reasons: First, it would help demolish the organisational capability of the TMC. They need more people like Arjun Singh, the Barrackpore MP, who has single-handedly knocked down the TMC organisation that he himself built in the area over years. The second reason is that it will keep Mamata Banerjee on tenterhooks and create mistrust among her party’s leaders, who have already started suspecting each other. On the face of it, Dilip Ghosh’s strategy appears good. Mamata will need to work very hard to counter this move.

(Diptendra Raychaudhuri is a Kolkata-based journalist and author of books including, A Naxal Story. He is a deputy editor at the Bengali daily, Aajkal)

(The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH)

 

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