At the two-storied sarkari bungalow at 8, North Avenue, in central Delhi, there is a flurry of political activity between masked men fighting a global pandemic and a state election. Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh is in a meeting with his predecessor Rahul Sinha, BJP general secretary tasked with Bengal Kailash Vijayvargiya and other leaders from the state. Conspicuous by his absence is Mukul Roy, formerly Mamata Banerjee’s number 2 and now in BJP to take the party to the number 1 spot in Bengal.
As I wait in the next room for Ghosh, a news alert on my phone tells me BJP leader Mukul Roy is unhappy with the party and may be considering a move back to Banerjee’s fold. For Bengal, this is big news because Roy is not only a treasure trove of inside information on Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress but has also been instrumental in the BJP’s stellar performance in last year’s Lok Sabha polls.
The induction of cricket legend Sourav Ganguly may not necessarily be the answer for the BJP in Bengal. (Photo: Reuters)
“Everything is okay,” Ghosh tells me as he steps into the room. But isn’t Bengal BJP a divided house? I ask Ghosh. After all, Ghosh and the men in the other room are not always on the same page. And now there is news of a disgruntled Roy rushing back to Bengal in a huff after removing Modi’s picture from his Delhi home. “Everything is okay,” Ghosh reiterates. “The real issue is Bengal can’t even wait for May 2021 to dislodge Mamata Banerjee. From mismanagement of the Coronovirus situation to stealing money from Amphan relief, Mamata has messed it up completely.”
But BJP doesn’t have a chief ministerial face yet. Won’t Bengal ask if not Mamata Banerjee who? “No, Bengal wants Mamata Banerjee to go. Every square inch of the state is crying for change.”
As the news cycle turns the next day and Mukul Roy tells the press that his future is safe in the BJP, I think back at what Ghosh had told me last Saturday.
Everything is not okay with Bengal BJP, irrespective of Ghosh’s optimism or Mukul Roy’s clarification. Like every other state unit of any big party, there are factions and frictions. But the induction of cricket legend Sourav Ganguly may not necessarily be the answer for the BJP in Bengal. In fact, the crying need for Ganguly at certain quarters lays bare the Bhadralok’s deep-rooted caste and class bias, something the BJP, which has made significant inroads among the lower castes in the state, should be cautious about.
Take the example of Ghosh. A grassroots leader, he is the subject of routine ridicule by the regional and national press for his subaltern speak that sometimes borders on the outrageous. It doesn’t help that Ghosh is a Sadgop by caste, an OBC, and Bengal has never had a lower caste chief minister — right from the Kayastha Prafulla Chandra Ghosh in 1947 to the Brahmin Mamata Banerjee today.
The big lie about Bengal is that caste and class don’t exist. One of the reasons the Communists could engineer independent India’s worst massacre in Marchjhapi in 1979 was because the inhabitants of the island were not Bhadraloks but Namashudras, or Dalits.
Yes, we do not sit at a chai stall and casually ask the next man his caste. Or lynch a Dailt for drinking from an upper caste well. But an Outlook report says that a third of the SC/ST population of Kolkata stays in a cluster of only eight wards in the eastern part of the city with a total of 141 wards.
And this is where the RSS has made deep inroads in the state by ignoring the Bhadralok and working among SCs and OBCs not just in the city but in the hinterlands, trying to mainstream them, establishing shakhas, giving tickets to SC/ST candidates in assembly polls.
Among this section of the population, Dilip Ghosh is crazily popular. But a certain section of the media and intelligentsia feels that Bengal’s heartthrob Sourav Ganguly, with the right caste and class, is a better fit as the next Bengal CM, even though he is yet to step into politics.
The issue here is not Dilip Ghosh or Sourav Ganguly as BJP’s chief ministerial face, or someone else for that matter. But whether there is a need at all to fall into Mamata Banerjee’s trap of turning the assembly election in Bengal into a presidential one. Or concentrating on the ground that may well be fertile for change.
From caste to Coronavirus, Bengal needs a new gaze. As this year has shown more than ever, there has been a complete breakdown of the healthcare system in the state. Hospitals became horror stories as Covid struck. Healthcare workers without protective gear, Covid patients sharing rooms with the dead, pathetic condition of hospital premises, healthcare has become a joke in Bengal.
Even a natural disaster in Bengal becomes a scam. After Amphan cyclone stuck, in Garalgacha gram panchayat in Hooghly, Pradhan Manoj Singh had listed his own phone number against more than 100 beneficiaries’ names, out of a total list of 166. His wife’s name was also on the list. When the story broke, the pradhan lost his job, before other cases came up.
This is just this year. Mamata Banerjee who rode into power defeating the mighty Left is now widely believed to have squandered her historic mandate in two successive terms. From deteriorating law and order situation to minority appeasement, from muzzling of the press to breakdown of the education system, it is these issues that the BJP needs to focus on to win Bengal. It needs to counter Mamata Banerjee’s charge that it is essentially a north Indian party and does not understand the Bengali ethos. It needs to remind Bengal of its Hindutva lineage, from Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay to Syama Prasad Mookerjee.
With or without Sourav Ganguly.