New Delhi: When Dilip Ghosh was removed as the BJP’s Bengal chief Monday and appointed as a national vice-president of the party, the leader said the shift to national stage was a “recognition” of his “work and contribution”.
However, sources in the party point to Ghosh’s “style of functioning” as one of the primary reasons he was stripped of power in Bengal and moved to the relatively low-profile post of national vice-president.
While BJP leaders say he was instrumental in the party’s 2019 outing in Bengal, his alleged “inability” to work with party members is seen as a factor in the exodus it has been grappling with since this year’s assembly elections.
The BJP has made giant strides in Bengal since 2014. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, its tally went up to 18 (the state has 42 Lok Sabha seats), from 2 in 2014. However, despite putting up an aggressive campaign spearheaded by its most prominent leaders, it couldn’t defeat the Trinamool Congress in the 2021 assembly election.
It won 77 seats, up from three in 2016, in an assembly of 294 members.
There has been a deep churn in the Bengal BJP since the party lost the assembly election. The reasons stoking resentment include grant of tickets to Trinamool turncoats over BJP old-timers, a gameplan attributed to Ghosh and the BJP’s West Bengal in-charge Kailash Vijayvargiya.
The party’s primary concern right now is to stop the poaching of its MLAs and MPs by the Trinamool Congress, and iron out differences for a new start ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
The BJP has lost four of its newly sworn-in MLAs since results were announced in May. Asansol MP and former Union minister Babul Supriyo, who switched to the Trinamool Congress last week, had an acrimonious relationship with Ghosh, and the former Bengal BJP chief’s leadership also came under the scanner when Mukul Roy, a BJP vice-president, returned to the Trinamool Congress in June.
Leader of Opposition in the assembly Suvendu Adhikari also complained to the national leadership about his “non-cooperative attitude” and “mismanagement”, sources in the BJP told ThePrint.
“Dilip Ghosh’s style of functioning, inability to work along with others in the party created factionalism and many leaders did not work in tandem during the assembly elections, which resulted in the BJP’s loss in West Bengal despite deploying all resources and PM Modi’s hectic campaigning,” said a senior leader.
“His people’s management was a huge complaint among party members. His fight started with Rupa Ganguly, later with Mukul Roy, he then annoyed Babul Supriyo. He was not on good terms with Kailash Vijayvargiya, lately he started having problems with Suvendu Adhikari,” the leader added.
Ghosh, who had announced last month that his tenure as Bengal BJP will end in 2022, will be succeeded in the post by Sukanta Majumdar, a Lok Sabha MP from the state’s Balurghat constituency.
Speaking to ThePrint, BJP national secretary Anupam Hazara said Majumdar “is a grassroots leader and comes from a very small place”. “He has the ability to work with everyone and prepare a robust BJP organisation for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. He has no ego, and good people management skills.”
Decision was ‘rushed’
Ghosh is an RSS alum who was appointed as BJP Bengal chief in November 2015.
Talking about Ghosh’s style of working, a West Bengal MP said he and Vijayvargiya “unilaterally” took decisions during distribution of tickets, and inducted turncoats without checks and balances.
Vijayvargiya, sources said, told the BJP high command many times that Roy will leave the party because of Ghosh, which ultimately happened. “Many leaders deserted the party due to Dilip Ghosh’s style of functioning,” said a source.
When Roy left the party, sources in the BJP added, his son complained that a camp in the party worked to defeat him in the 2021 election. Roy, they said, also complained that the party didn’t give him his due — he was neither inducted in the Union Cabinet, nor given a Rajya Sabha ticket — even as he reported to Ghosh who was state BJP president.
He was appointed vice-president only when the BJP high command sensed that he is ready to jump ship to the Trinamool Congress before elections, the sources said.
After the election fiasco, said another BJP MP, many party leaders complained to the BJP leadership about Ghosh and Vijayvargiya.
BJP national president J.P. Nadda, the leader said, had to call up MP Saumitra Khan and a few other members to convince him to continue in the party. The BJP also inducted four MPs from the state in the Union cabinet to stop defections, the leader added.
Supriyo’s defection came at a time when he had been named star campaigner for the Bhawanipur bypolls, where Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is the Trinamool candidate.
This, sources said, forced the BJP high command to rush their decision on Ghosh’s removal. The party was planning to remove him in November, when his term ended, but instead decided to replace him immediately to stop “further loss”, the sources added.
“The message is clear. The BJP is starting afresh. The party now wants to start with a new leadership that has risen from the ranks, is ideologically committed and, most importantly, will work with everyone,” said a BJP leader. “There is no resistance and anti-incumbency against Majumdar. He and Suvendu Adhikari will be a good team to lead the state and prepare for the 2024 Lok Sabha election.”
A senior leader in Delhi said Ghosh’s removal was “imminent”. “After an election debacle, how can you continue with the same set of people? The BJP high command was not happy with the way Ghosh handled the party during the polls and after that. Their feedback was wrong and they did little to stop people deserting the BJP,” the leader said.
“It is also a message that the party will learn in inducting turncoats the next time and it has time to promote new leadership before the Lok Sabha election to give a close fight on all seats. However, right now, it is time save own house.”
Another senior BJP functionary said Majumdar had been recommended by Ghosh. “Although Ghosh was appointed Bengal BJP president in November 2015 and his second term was to end in November, the party high command had in July asked him to suggest a successor, to which he recommended Sukanta Majumdar’s name to lead the state. He tweeted in July that it is important to cherish the sunset.”
By appointing Sukanta Majumdar, the BJP is also attempting to strike a balance vis-a-vis geographical representation. Adhikari is from south Bengal but the BJP’s stronghold is Bengal’s north. The selection of a leader from north Bengal is a message for greater concentration on north Bengal, to at least retain the party’s lead in north Bengal in 2024.
A Bengal bjp leader said Majumdar had “no friend or foe in the party, and he can work with Suvendu without ego”.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.