New Delhi: The 119th birth anniversary of nationalist leader Dr. Syama Prasad Mookherjee, the founder president of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh, which led to the birth of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) in 1980, was used as a platform by the party president JP Nadda to target the Mamata Banerjee-led government in West Bengal.
However, the policies of the Congress and the country’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, particularly in the context of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), were the mainstay of his speech.
Addressing a digital rally on Monday, Nadda dubbed the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) government as an impediment to Bengal’s development and called for dismissing it “lock, stock, and barrel”.
As the Bengal assembly polls, slated to be held next year, draws near; the BJP has been sharpening its attack against its main rival, the TMC.
From accusing it of fostering policies of appeasement to shielding those involved in financial scams; the BJP has recently begun blaming the Bengal government of not taking the Centre’s help in its battle against the raging coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic and “depriving” the people of the state of benefits of Central schemes such as Ayushman Bharat.
However, it was Dr. Mookherjee’s clarion call of “ek desh, ek nishan, ek vidhan” to scrap the special status of J&K that has set the tone for the BJP’s battle royale in the state in next year’s assembly polls.
On Monday, Nadda trained his guns on the TMC government by accusing the party of being power-hungry and chose Dr. Mookherjee as an arsenal.
He said Dr. Mookerjee, who was instrumental in ensuring that Bengal and Punjab were not merged with Pakistan during the Partition in 1947, had opted to resign from the Nehru cabinet, when he had felt ideologically distanced from the government.
“West Bengal has always given the country a new vision and a new direction, however, under the current dispensation, the state’s condition is pitiable. The current West Bengal government has not only ruined education in the state, manufacturing, and trade has also been severely affected. For the sake of the country and West Bengal, Dr. Mookherjee had resigned from a position of power. However, to the current government clinging to power is all that matters,” Nadda said.
The party is relying on the J&K issue to stitch its Bengal strategy for the next year’s assembly polls.
By bringing up Dr. Mookherjee’s stand on the Kashmir issue it has drawn a comparison between the Bharatiya Jan Sangh founder’s push for national integration versus CM Banerjee’s constant tussle with the Centre.
“The state government has adopted the policy of appeasement and violence in the state. It is not even cooperating with the Centre in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, whereas PM Narendra Modi has been speaking about cooperative federalism. The West Bengal government has not allowed BJP MLAs (members of legislative assembly) and MPs (members of Parliament) to participate in the war against the viral outbreak. The TMC government is busy filing cases against BJP lawmakers in a bid keep them under house arrest,” Nadda said.
In Bengal, where the BJP had won a record 18 of the 42 Lok Saba seats in last year’s parliamentary polls, the party is assiduously trying to dislodge the TMC government from power.
It recently rejigged its state unit and expanded the roles of known Banerjee-baiters.
And while its political opponents have accused it of trying to appropriate the legacy of Dr. Mookherjee, social reformer Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and renowned poet Nazrul Islam; the BJP has found ways of linking the current discourse to its ideology.
For instance, the issue of stripping J&K of special status, which has a pan-India resonance, has been particularly cited in the context of Dr. Mookherjee’s sacrifice.
“Dr. Mookherjee’s three contributions in the national interest can never be forgotten -- the partition of Bengal before the Independence, the establishment of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh and the J&K movement,” Nadda said.
Will the BJP’s gambit of making Dr. Mookherjee and J&K the focal point of the Bengal polls pay off?
Ajay Gudavarthy, a political commentator and a faculty member at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), said the BJP could benefit from linking the polls to the reading down of Article 370 of the Constitution.
“Dr. Mookherjee is not part of the popular discourse or culture of Bengal in the way, say, Swami Vivekananda is. His name may resonate with the urban middle class, but the issue of J&K and the scrapping of Article 370 is an emotional issue that people support,” he said.
BJP’s national vice-president Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, however, said it is a matter of interpretation, if the party is reviving Dr. Mookherjee’s legacy for its own political gains.
“Dr. Mookerjee’s legacy is an inseparable part of national politics. He has been an icon of our ideology and our political journey; and consequently, bound to figure in our narrative,” Sahasrabuddhe said.
“We cannot help if people find that there are many similarities in the current situation in West Bengal and those during the times of Dr. Mookherjee. If there is any party that is talking about his legacy, it is the BJP. Although he was a Congressman, the Congress has forgotten him. It is the BJP that tried to translate his ideals into reality. For example, his dream of keeping secessionist forces in J&K at bay by abrogating Article 370,” he added.
Saugata Roy, TMC’s Lok Sabha MP from Dum Dum constituency, said the BJP is banking on Dr. Mookherjee since the party doesn’t have an icon in the state that it can call its own.
“Dr. Mookherjee never had a deep political base in Bengal...while he enjoyed respect because of being the son of Sir Ashutosh Mookherjee, Syama Prasad was never a freedom fighter and never went to jail... the BJP is projecting him because it doesn’t have an icon In Bengal. The state’s true icons such as Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Rabindranath Tagore, Dr. Chittaranjan Das, and many others, spoke of Hindu-Muslim unity and not Hindutva. Unfortunately, Nadda doesn’t know Bengal’s rich history,” said Roy.