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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 30, New Delhi, July 10, 2021

Union Cabinet Reshuffle and Its Impact on Bengal BJP | Barun Das Gupta

Friday 9 July 2021, by Barun Das Gupta

The Union Cabinet was reshuffled on Wednesday. Four new Ministers of State were inducted from West Bengal and two sitting MoS were sacked. But this time also, West Bengal did not a get a cabinet rank minister in Modi’s team, though the State had sent a dozen and a half members to Lok Sabha in 2019. The new ministers from West Bengal have obviously been chosen with an eye on 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

The inclusion of John Barla from North Bengal has raised many eyebrows even in the State BJP because Barla is a vociferous supporter of making North Bengal a separate State, to be carved out of West Bengal. Even the State BJP leadership is against division of Bengal. But Barla has asserted that he sticks to his demand for a North Bengal State. By taking him in the Union Cabinet, what message the BJP central leaders have given West Bengal?

Another Bengal BJP leader who wanted the Jangal Mahal region of West Bengal comprising three districts to be dismembered from the State and made a separate State is Saumitra Khan, a Trinamool Congress defector. He was keen on getting a berth in the Union Cabinet reshuffle and had lobbied in Delhi. But he has been left out. His immediate reaction was to raise the banner of revolt and resign from the presidentship of the State unit of the Bharatiya Jananta Yuva Morcha. But the revolt was momentary. He has since withdrawn his resignation and declared that he will be in the BJP.

But the real problem of the Bengal BJP is Subhendu Adhikari, a former lieutenant of Mamata Banerjee, who defected from Trinamool Congress to the BJP on the eve of the assembly elections and somehow managed to defeat Mamata by a slender margin. Defeating Mamata has raised his political stock very high in New Delhi. He has been made the Leader of the Opposition in the State Assembly and he has made it clear from the very outset that henceforth he will call the shots in Bengal BJP. According to him, Dilip Ghosh, as State BJP president, will look after the party but he, Subhendu, will liaise with the Centre.

And this is what is happening. Keeping the Bengal party leaders in the dark he goes to
Delhi, meets Modi, Amit Shah and party president J. P. Nadda. Dilip Ghosh has openly stated that he has no knowledge of when Subhendu is going to Delhi, whom he is meeting and what he is discussing with them.

The Bengal BJP is already riven with factionalism. There are four to six factions in the party. But now all the factions have joined hands against Subhendu who has descended on the party from nowhere and is trying to dominate the State party. The bickering within the Bengal BJP is bound to grow, to the advantage of the Trinamool Congress. Many who had deserted the TMC on the eve of the assembly polls and joined the BJP in the hope that the B JP was coming to power are now demoralized, disillusioned and crestfallen. They want to come to back to the TMC. But the TMC has asked them to cool their heels for at least six months before any decision is taken about them. So, from November onwards the TMC may see a “:ghar wapsi” from BJP.

But Subhendu has also taken a risk. The central leaders of his party has high hopes about him. They think Subhendu will be able to help win a large contingent of BJP members to the Lok Sabha in 2024. But it will not be easy. In 2019, the BJP could win 18 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal, thanks to the organizational skill of Mukul Roy and the support of the CPI-M voters to the BJP.

But Mukul has now come back to the TMC and the CPI-M, to all appearances, have decided not to support the lotus any longer. They are trying to consolidate their support bases behind their own candidates, as was seen in the recent assembly elections. This has already made things difficult for the BJP as far as 2024 LS elections are concerned. There is another imponderable. If the BJP loses the assembly elections in UP next year, it will have a negative impact all over India. Will Subhendu be able to deliver in 2024? If he fails, the old and now sidelined leaders of the Bengal BJP will start baying for his blood. Meawhile, factionalism will continue to bedevil the Bengal party.

The recent assembly elections have shown that the BJP-s politics of dividing the electorate along communal lines has miserably failed in West Bengal. If the BJP does not give up its communal politics it will have no chance in West Bengal in futue also. But can a leopard change its spots? And if it does, will it not cease to be a leopard?

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