Column | Inflow of defectors unsettles BJP units in major states

Column | Inflow of defectors unsettles BJP units in major states
Former Union Minister Mukul Roy.

Shadow boxing and sometimes open warfare between the original members and new imports of a political party are not unheard of especially when a big party like the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) grows both through new membership as well as by engineering big defections from rival parties. Though it is a phenomenon witnessed in national and regional parties, the resentment by the original members of the BJP against uncontrolled admission to defectors from the opposition has burst into the open. The problem is acute especially in Bengal amid inflow of new members from to the saffron party from Trinamool Congress, the ruling party in the eastern state.

Starting from Bengal unit president Dilip Ghosh, there is huge resentment against the prominence given to former Union Minister for Railways Mukul Roy, who was the number two to state Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee until they fell out. Roy, facing serious corruption charges, became the blue-eyed boy of the BJP central leaders including party president Amit Shah, and began the "destroy Trinamool" operation before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Three Lok Sabha members, a dozen MLAs, corporation mayors and other prominent Mamata followers were persuaded by Roy to join the national ruling party. There were also defections from the Congress, but the main target was Mamata.

There was even competition from other central leaders to bring their own catch, but Ghosh, an ideological hardliner, was not amused. He had several reasons to be angry. Firstly, he did not want to cede control to Roy and his patrons in Delhi. Ghosh was also convinced many of the imports brought by Roy did not add any value. He even openly said some of them were tainted. Though he said BJP would cleanse them, in private, he thought there was too much rubbish tarnishing BJP's clean image, since the party had never wielded power in the state. In fact on one day, it became a theatre of the absurd, as Roy brought Sovan Chatterjee, former Kolkata mayor and once the right hand man of Mamata in the eastern metropolis, to the BJP headquarters. But Ghosh's team which had hurled serious corruption charges against Sovan, canvassed central leaders not to admit him. Even as Roy and Sovan waited to meet the media, they suddenly discovered a rival of Sovan had been brought to the BJP headquarters by the anti-Roy faction. Sovan as upset with the bad reception, even as Mamata severely curtailed his security detail.

Sovan got some relief as central government gave him central police guards. Mamata Banerjee's government, whose police is at odds with the CBI and Enforcement Directorate objected to this intervention. But BJP was quick to point out that when Mamata, as Union railway minister had problems with the then CPM chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, she had refused state police cover for her when she visited her native state and instead depended on the commandos of the Railway Protection Force directly working under her.

Inflow of defectors unsettles BJP units in major states
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee

As BJP district units are shunning some of the new entrants, several leaders are disgruntled and are talking of going back to the Trinamool fold. Mamata is in a mood to welcome their homecoming.

On the west coast too there is resentment brewing. Old-time BJP leaders are fuming at Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis for his aggressive campaign to lure prominent leaders of the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party, and giving them important positions. Former revenue minister Eknath Khadse, who was dropped over a land registration scandal, is upset that Congress turncoat Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil, who was leader of the opposition, has been welcomed, and made revenue minister, without even serving a month's as a party member.

Down south, in Karnataka too Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa's attempt to form a cabinet got delayed as there was strong opposition from party MLAs about giving any ministerial berth to the relatives of 17 defector legislators, who had brought down H D Kumaraswamy's Congress-Janata Dal secular government. As these legislators were disqualified by the Speaker, they had petitioned Yediyurappa to honour his promise by giving ministership to their nominees. But the pressure from MLAs meant no top central leader was giving even appointment to the defectors, when they rushed to Delhi.

The BJP high command, which is riding high on electoral success and the absolute power enjoyed by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah duo, still needs to look hard at the side effects caused by the non-stop admission of defectors, even controversial ones, from other parties.

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