BJP focused on strengthening party organisations ahead of Bengal panchayat polls | Kolkata - Hindustan Times
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BJP focused on strengthening party organisations ahead of Bengal panchayat polls

Apr 20, 2023 05:30 PM IST

Leaders in the state’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) unit hope to strengthen party organisations, exercises essential to winning the upcoming elections

As West Bengal readies itself for the upcoming panchayat polls likely next month, leaders in the state’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hope to strengthen party organisations, exercises essential to winning the upcoming elections.

Workers campaigning for the Bharatiya Janata Party in the state. (BJP Bengal | Twitter)
Workers campaigning for the Bharatiya Janata Party in the state. (BJP Bengal | Twitter)

“There are around 80,000 polling booths in Bengal. In December 2022, a survey showed that our committees at polling booth level were either very weak or existed only on paper in around 40% booth areas across the state. The survey showed the party had lost ground in several of the 18 Lok Sabha seats won in 2019,” a state BJP leader said on condition of anonymity.

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Union home minister Amit Shah, who was present at the December 2022 meeting where these findings were discussed, emphatically said permanent polling booth committees must be set up. A reality check recently showed that in south Bengal, which accounts for majority of state’s voters and where we are still weak, our booth committees exist in only 5-15% areas in some regions,” the leader added.

In the last 2018 panchayat polls, TMC bagged around 90% seats, amid reports of violence and murders, of which 34% were uncontested.

In the three-tier panchayat system, the fiercest contest was fought in the gram panchayats, the first tier accounting for maximum number of seats and candidates.

The BJP however made a comeback in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, winning 18 of Bengal’s 42 seats.

It was found that unprecedented support from Left voters accounted for this victory.

The situation has changed since then with the CPI(M) coming second in the 2022 municipal polls.

The Congress, too, recently won the assemby bypoll, defeating the TMC.

Trinamool Congress (TMC) vice-president Jay Prakash Majumdar said, “BJP’s organisation in the districts is limited to the district presidents and, in most places, fractured district committees. Below that level, there is no organisation.”

Majumdar said, “BJP central leaders are aware of this. At his April 14 rally in Birbhum, Shah did not waste a single word on panchayats. He only talked about Lok Sabha seats. They think Lok Sabha seats can be won because of the so-called Narendra Modi magic. If Bengal BJP does very bad in the panchayats, can it expect to do a miracle in the Lok Sabha? That’s a utopian idea in the current scenario.”

At the April 14 rally, Shah said the TMC government will collapse automatically if voters can ensure his party’s victory in more than 35 Lok Sabha seats in 2024.

Bengal BJP’s chief spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya argued that his party’s booth-level committees are in place, but the details cannot be shared with the media.

Asked if such committees are operational in at least 90% of polling booth areas, Bhattacharya said, “I will not go into percentages. All I can say is BJP will field candidates in maximum number of seats and contest earnestly. If the polls are fair, TMC will not be able to form zilla parishad (the top tier) in any district. The ruling party has been alienated from the masses because of the corruption charges its leaders face.”

“Shah’s pan-India agenda right now is to focus on Lok Sabha polls. He came to Bengal only for that. Why would he talk about panchayats? Results of the Lok Sabha polls can already be predicted. TMC won’t have a cakewalk in the rural polls,” Bhattacharya said.

Citing recent public speeches of Suvendu Adhikari, the leader of the opposition (LoP) in the legislative assembly, TMC’s Majumdar claimed the BJP’s panchayat poll strategy, too, exposes organisational weakness.

“At his recent meetings, Adhikari asked people to cast their votes against Mamata Banerjee. He told people not to see if their votes were going to the Left, Congress or BJP. This means he is campaigning only for anti-TMC votes. This is not his party’s official line,” said Majumdar, who was the state vice-president of the Bengal BJP till January 2022. He joined TMC in March last year.

Congress and CPI(M) have reacted to Adhikari’s public posture saying it cleverly hints at an unwritten opposition alliance against TMC.

“Voters cannot be fooled with such tactics. The question of having BJP as an ally in any form simply does not arise. Our allies are the Congress and other secular forces. TMC and BJP are our adversaries,” CPI(M) central committee member Sujan Chakraborty said.

Adhikari’s strategy has been a topic of discussion among the BJP leaders.

Requesting anonymity, a BJP functionary said, “Adhikari’s slogan, ‘No vote to Mamata’, was questioned at a closed-door meeting held on April 13 to analyze the panchayat poll preparations in the presence of central observers Sunil Bansal and Amit Malviya. Lok Sabha member and convenor of the committee on panchayat poll preparations, Debasree Chaudhuri, said at the meeting that BJP will contest alone.”

“Chaudhuri said if any party wants to have any electoral understanding with BJP at village level, then its candidate will have to contest with the BJP’s election symbol. Even a child knows that Congress and CPI(M) will never agree to that,” the BJP leader added.

Though BJP bagged 77 of Bengal’s 294 assembly seats in 2021, its tally has effectively come down to 70 since it lost two seats in by-polls and five legislators have joined TMC without officially quitting the BJP.

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