BJP boosts membership drive in poll-bound Bengal as TMC welcomes deserters

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The Bengal unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Wednesday gave a fresh boost to its membership drive using new slogans and photographs of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on social media while the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) focused on the return of turncoats who switched over to the saffron camp in the rural belts.

Fifteen BJP leaders, including Union ministers of state (MoS) Babul Supriyo and Debasree Chaudhuri, several Lok Sabha members and national joint-general secretary Shivprakash, who is in charge of West Bengal, tweeted on Wednesday, highlighting different issues and asking people to join the BJP.

The flurry of activity did not appear to be a routine one, political observers said.

Following TMC chief Mamata Banerjee’s July 21 call to deserters to return home, the TMC, in the last two weeks, managed to ensure defections in some pockets where the BJP has risen significantly since the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in which it won 18 of the state’s 42 seats.

Also read: Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee gets 2nd office as precaution amid Covid concerns

The BJP grew exponentially in north Bengal and won seven of the region’s eight Lok Sabha seats in 2019 while the Congress, despite its limited presence, bagged one seat. The BJP has also grown in the western districts of Purulia, Bankura and Midnapore where its popularity among tribal people, who comprise a big chunk of voters, pose a challenge to the TMC before the crucial 2021 assembly polls.

The TMC lost the Purulia Lok Sabha seat to the BJP in 2019. The panchayat polls in Purulia were also marked by violence in 2018. The TMC also lost the Midnapore and Bishnupur (in Bankura district) Lok Sabha seats.

The TMC on Wednesday announced that in Purulia district, the BJP’s former president and vice president of the Baghmundi unit joined the ruling party. Baghmundi is a tribal area.

On August 9, Baliram Ekka, who unsuccessfully contested the Mal assembly seat for the BJP in north Bengal’s Jalpaiguri district, returned to the TMC along with his followers. “I was unhappy with the BJP ever since I joined it. Didi (Mamata Banerjee) did a lot for the welfare of local tea garden workers. I decided to return,” Ekka said.

On the same day, Jaidev Purkait, a former CPI (M) leader from Canning in the South 24 Parganas district, joined the TMC along with some booth-level workers of the BJP.

On August 3, Sandip Ekka, a BJP leader from Kalchini in north Bengal’s Alipurduar district joined the TMC along with the heads of six gram panchayats and eight BJP office-bearers.

On July 31, Biswarup Ghosh, president of BJP’s Berhampore town unit in Murshidabad district and two local leaders from South Dinajpur district in north Bengal joined the TMC.

The TMC announced these defections on social media, giving credit to the “able leadership” of the chief minister.

The BJP state leadership says it is not giving any importance to these incidents.

“TMC is desperate to project before the media that erosion has started in the BJP before the elections. The fact is that none of these people are heavyweight leaders. Moreover, if 50 people are returning to the TMC, 500 are joining the BJP to replace them. Our numbers are growing by leaps and bounds,” said Rahul Sinha, BJP national secretary.

“None of these people returned to the TMC willingly. They faced threats and intimidation,” Sinha added.

TMC veteran and minister of state (MoS) for parliamentary affairs Tapas Roy alleged that the BJP central leadership’s “stepfather-like attitude” towards people of West Bengal disillusioned the turncoats.

“Those who came back could not tolerate the BJP’s culture anymore. The defections have nothing to do with the coming elections. They would have left the BJP even if there was no election,” said Roy.

Kolkata-based political science professor Udayan Bandopadhyay observed that the TMC has used the Covid-19 lockdown to engineer the exodus since the BJP leaders cannot work on the ground.

“During a pandemic, a state’s ruling party will always enjoy some advantage. It is easier for TMC leaders and workers to work on the field. BJP leaders should be working at the grassroots level to stop this exodus but their movement is restricted,” said Bandopadhyay.

TMC leaders said Banerjee is especially keen on getting youths and tribal people back from the BJP camp.

On 9 August, chief minister Banerjee tweeted, “Today is #InternationalAdivasiDay. #Bengal Govt launched Jai Johar scheme to help our brothers & sisters belonging to scheduled tribes. We have also given recognition to Ol Chiki script & Santhali language as medium. We are committed to welfare of all sections of society.Jai Johar.”

On Wednesday, she tweeted, “Today is #InternationalYouthDay. #GoWB is committed to empowering the youth. A new scheme ‘Karma Sathi Prakalpa’ was launched by #Bengal Govt. One lakh unemployed youth will be provided soft loans and subsidies to make them self-reliant.”

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