BJP losing its appeal in West Bengal? (News Analysis)

Kolkata, June 29 (IANS) Intense factionalism, a perceived tilt towards the Trinamool Congress and a flop show in civic polls threaten to confine the BJP to its traditional role of a fringe player in West Bengal – a far cry from the promise it held out after the Lok Sabha election.

Buoyed by its 2014 Lok Sabha performance when it nearly trebled its vote share to 16.8 percent from 6 percent in 2009, the BJP had been talking big about winning next year’s assembly polls in Bengal.

The BJP scored another success in September when its candidate Shamik Bhattacharya became only the second BJP legislator in the state – 15 years after Badal Bhattacharya entered the assembly by winning the Basirhat (South) seat in a by-election.

BJP president Amit Shah and other leaders had since been claiming that the countdown for Trinamool’s departure had begun.

Amid a clamour to project it as the only viable alternative to the Trinamool, the BJP got a rude jolt in the municipal polls when it won just four percent of the state’s 2,090 wards, failing to take control of even a single municipality out of 91. It won only seven of the 144 wards in the Kolkata Municipal Corporation.

The BJP garnered nearly 25 percent of votes in Kolkata and took clear leads in 23 assembly segments, including Mamata Banerjee’s constituency Bhowanipore, in the Lok Sabha polls.

Even as BJP leaders blamed the rout in the civic polls to rigging and violence by the Trinamool, political analysts say the BJP seems to have squandered the opportunity it got to emerge as a major force in the state.

Political commentator Biswanath Chakraborty attributed the BJP’s diluted stand on the Saradha scam as one major reason for its dipping appeal.

“It was the Saradha issue that led to the BJP emerging as an alternative. It is the same scam which has played a lead role in the BJP losing its significance as well,” Chakraborty, a political science professor of Rabindra Bharati University, told IANS.

“BJP’s USP has been its anti-Trinamool stand. But its decision to hobnob with the Trinamool has dented its image,” he added.

While the Central Bureau of Investigation’s probe into the Saradha scam led to the arrest or interrogation of many Trinamool leaders and MPs, of late very little is heard about the progress of the case from the central agency, fuelling speculation about a “deal” between the BJP and the Trinamool.

The BJP’s strategy of only harping on Trinamool’s failings has backfired, analysts say.

“Unlike Narendra Modi who came to power on the twin planks of development and good governance, the state BJP has failed to harp on any constructive issue. Relentlessly attacking Mamata could be productive only in the short run,” insisted Chakraborty.

Political analyst Anil Kumar Jana said the BJP central leaders’ silence on the Saradha scam, about which it was so vocal earlier, reflected their keenness to win over Mamata Banerjee to pass key bills in parliament.

“Moreover, the BJP realises that unless its base reaches the rural belt, it can never be in the reckoning in Bengal. So it is hoping to ride on a tacit understanding with the Trinamool until it has the requisite organisational might,” Jana told IANS.

West Bengal’s ruling party apparently returned the favour by helping the BJP-led NDA pass a number of bills in the Rajya Sabha apart from maintaining a stoic silence when the opposition has been going hammer and tongs over External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s alleged links with former IPL chief Lalit Modi.

In addition, the run up to the municipal election brought out factional feuds in the state BJP into the open as leaders dissatisfied with the selection of candidates created a ruckus outside the state headquarters.

The bickering continued after the polls, with new entrant, actress Rupa Ganguly, attacking central Minister Babul Supriyo for praising the chief minister at a time her party workers were under attack by the Trinamool.

The BJP leadership rubbished such allegations.

“The BJP government has been endeavouring to strengthen the federal structure. How can anyone expect Prime Minister Narendra Modi or the home minister to rake up political issues during official visits?” argued BJP leader Siddharth Nath Singh.

Singh told IANS that the CBI would soon bring the probe into the Saradha scam “to a logical conclusion ensuring punishment of the guilty”.

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