Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Does the BJP have a strategy for West Bengal ?

Does BJP have a strategy for West Bengal ? Bengalis want ‘deliverance’ not just delivery


Photo Courtesy - ABP


Article first published in +ABPLIVE (Click here to read)

The Sunday Kolkata newspapers carried a photo of actor turned would-be politician Rupa Ganguly – tripping on a ‘padyatra’. This could be symbolic of BJP’s journey in West Bengal.

After the Lok Sabha polls – the BJP was on a high buoyed by its 17% vote-share and lead in 20 assembly constituencies despite winning just 2 seats out of 42.
This tied in with Narendra Modi’s  “Look East” strategy – by which he wished to hedge BJP’s over-dependence on the Hindi heartland through securing a sizeable presence in Bengal and the North-East. His rhetoric of how – India could not progress by leaving the East behind – resonated well with large sections of the communally not-partisan and ideologically neutral middle-class especially the aspirational youth.

In Bengal, BJP’s overdrive got off to an impressive start with a lot of bluster: the famous ‘3M’ call of Siddharth Nath Singh – the party’s ‘minder’ for the state – threatening to pack Madan (Mitra), Mukul (Roy) and, finally, Mamata behind bars. To follow through, momentum was built over the Saradha Scam - only to fizzle out  all too soon.

The Kolkata Municipality and other local body elections – including some assembly by-polls - were a wash out frittering away the gains of 2014. That BJP central leadership knew little of Bengal was apparent from their choice of the state President. At least Siddharth Nath Singh could boast of having his “sasural” in Kolkata. How Kailash Vijayvargiya and Nirmala Sitharaman were given charge of the state was intriguing. Finally, the RSS seized control by placing its long-time “Pracharak” – Dilip Ghosh at the helm. But, have they got the diagnosis right?

Surely, the RSS may help build a grass-root organization without which elections cannot be won – especially in a state of two strong cadre based parties, namely Trinamool and CPIM. In fact, RSS has been on the job for a while with some success in a few districts of Central Bengal. However, to fight an election purely on anti-incumbency sentiments and backlash against growing communal fault-lines may turn-out to be a shortsighted strategy yielding low dividend.

What Bengal needs is a comprehensive political and economic paradigm shift. This could be a genuine right-wing resurgence – shaking off the hangover of five decades of faux Leftism – that was only a ruse for blatant lumpen-raj. The anger of the middle-class is getting directed at minority appeasement largely because of lack of development in the state. The ethnic Bengalis of West Bengal are pained to see resources of an already impoverished economy appropriated by ‘trespassers’ (read illegal immigrants) – while their own children are constrained to leave home for higher education and jobs in other states. Besides, the beneficiaries of state benevolence do not make any positive contribution to the economy accruing to the benefit of the native population. Instead they are threatening the very foundation of Bengal’s socio-economic value system.

The answer is not an alternative ‘ideology’ but “Vision”. Narendra Modi had raised that hope – but he does not have a leader on the ground (like say Fadnavis or even a Raghubar Das) to translate it into action and the BJP central leadership have no clue about what needs to be done at the state level.

The coming Assembly Election is too close at hand for making any major mid-term course correction. The strategy now should be one of damage control and setting the house in order to avert a complete rout – because it will be so much more difficult to start construction afresh over a heap of rubble.

What Bengalis are looking for is ‘deliverance’ not just delivery. Modi can build confidence on the latter if he performs at the center. However, for the former BJP has to eschew the conservative Hindutva plank and offer a pragmatic alternative with a credible and inspirational face in front – not just an actor with no political experience.


(The writer is Media and Marketing professional who views life and politics from the right. Twitter @SandipGhose)