A Bitter Aftertaste
After a spate of inductions of TMC leaders with a dubious past, the BJP is forced to rethink
It was July 15. BJP leader Mukul Roy was scheduled to hand over party flags to a handful of Trinamool Congress (TMC) councillors during an induction scheduled at the BJP’s new office at Hastings House, Kolkata, when the central leadership abruptly put a stop to the event. The turncoat councillors were told to leave and Roy was sent a clear message that any and every TMC leader willing to join the BJP was not welcome. Roy had intensified efforts to woo TMC leaders following the BJP’s impressive 18-seat haul in the Lok Sabha election in Bengal. However, his focus was on numbers, and the party leadership was uncomfortable with the dubious backgrounds of several leaders he was trying to bring on board. They included TMC leaders under
the lens in the Saradha financial scam and those who had criminal backgrounds or openly propagated violence. What also annoyed the leadership were complaints that some TMC recruits were throwing their weight around in the party and giving rise to bad blood. The Lok Sabha election saw the BJP open its doors to any TMC rebel who offered the party victory. Roy is considered to have rehabilitated many without the necessary checks and balances. Among the controversial inductions were TMC general secretary Shankudeb Panda, who has been questioned by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in the Saradha financial scam, and Monirul Islam, who has allegedly made hate speeches against political rivals. In all,
With an eye on the 2021 assembly poll, the BJP wants to project itself as a party with a difference. Hence the caution with inductions from the TMC
five TMC MLAs and some 50 councillors defected to the BJP after the Lok Sabha result, though some councillors have since rejoined their original party. Things came to such a pass that BJP old-timers, who worked for years to build the party in Bengal, felt slighted. With tensions rising, leaders like Shiv Prakash and Kailash Vijayvargiya made their displeasure known. “Whoever joins the BJP will have to imbibe the party’s philosophy. They will have to be conscious about what they say and do,” said Prakash, the BJP’s national joint general secretary (organisation). Vijayvargiya, national general secretary and Bengal in-charge, made it clear that only TMC turncoats with a clean image and acceptability at the local level would be accepted. Also, the switchover would not be conditional to promises of party positions or tickets in the forthcoming elections. “We will have nothing to do with anybody facing ‘cut-money’ (bribery) allegations,” Vijayvargiya declared. The BJP leadership’s new-found insistence on filtering the inductions from TMC is also based on its strategy of projecting itself as a party with a difference, as it fancies its chances of unseating Mamata in the 2021 assembly election. “Expanding the party base with a bulk of TMC members risked turning it into a shelter home for TMC rebels,” says Presidency University professor emeritus Prasanta Ray. “And with a disciplinarian like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh overlooking, there was bound to be opposition to such moves.” Another reason is that the BJP wrested its 40 per cent vote share in the Lok Sabha election primarily through the transfer of Left votes. “The BJP gained from the floating vote of the Left parties. The only way to secure this vote would be to not induct tainted TMC leaders,” says Diptiman Sengupta, a BJP leader from Cooch Behar.
BAD APPLES The TMC’s Monirul Islam (fourth from left) joins the BJP