KOLKATA: A BJP MLA in West Bengal's North 24 Parganas district has courted controversy by allegedly stating that "TMC goons will have to face police encounters" as and when his party comes to power in the state.
Condemning the statement, the ruling TMC said the saffron party will never get to rule the state.
In a purported video clip, which has gone viral on social media, Bongaon South MLA Swapan Majumder was heard telling supporters at a meeting in Gaighata area that his party members would give a "befitting reply to TMC goons if they do not stop carrying out attacks on them".
"We will not suffer silently if the harmads (goons) of Trinamool continue with the atrocities. Our Nadia district unit president was attacked by the goons in Gayespur, his car was damaged right in front of the police. We will not tolerate such attacks. The BJP has mass support, we will give them a befitting reply," he said during a meeting on Tuesday evening.
"Trinamool men who are carrying out Taliban-type attacks on our members will not be spared. When we come to power, they will have to face police encounters," he added.
The video clip, which was not independently verified by PTI, has earned the wrath of TMC leaders.
"This is the true face of the BJP, a party that doesn't believe in rule of law. They want to emulate the encounter raj of UP in Bengal. But their dreams of coming to power in Bengal will never be realised," TMC spokesperson Kunal Ghosh asserted.
BJP state president Sukanta Majumdar, when approached, said he was yet to find out what exactly the BJP MLA had said.
In response to Ghosh's remark, however, the state BJP chief claimed that "UP is far ahead on the development ladder when compared with Bengal".
"The TMC has unleashed a reign of terror in the state. Its activists have been attacking our men since May last year (following the declaration of assembly poll results). Not a single accused has been prosecuted thus far," he added.
Plagued by infighting and exodus, the West Bengal BJP, which is still licking its wounds after the assembly poll defeat, is staring at bleak prospects in the state as senior leaders engage in feud off and on social media, leaving little time for the party's growth.
Churnings in the Bengal BJP had started after the recent organisational revamp, with several senior leaders and party legislators openly criticising the top brass over its decisions.
All damage control efforts seem to be hitting the wall of late as the house stands divided.
"Yes, there have been some issues, few people are not happy, but we are hopeful that the problems will be sorted out very soon," BJP state spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya said.
Sources in the BJP said that the party, which had been fighting hard to keep its flock together after former union minister Babul Supriyo and five legislators, including its national vice president Mukul Roy, switched over to the TMC, is facing an "inner-party rebellion" as leaders angered over being dropped from key posts are organising separate meetings.
Leading from the front is prominent Matua leader and union minister Shantanu Thakur who recently quit the WhatsApp groups of the party, accusing the state leadership of sidelining leaders from his community for newcomers in the camp, according to the sources.
Nine BJP MLAs from the community, including Asok Kirtania, Subrata Thakur and Mukutmani Adhikari, have exited BJP legislators' Whatsapp group in the last one month.
"It seems the BJP no longer acknowledges the role played by Matua community in the party. The way the party is being run by a handful of leaders is totally unacceptable. The state office bearers' committee was formed without any proper consultation," Shantanu Thakur said.
Although the state leadership has taken note of the resentment and given assurance that things will be sorted out, tempers are still frayed.
The group of irate leaders is apparently in touch with other incensed members across districts, trying to bring them under one platform, the sources said.
"What did Matuas get by supporting the BJP? Nothing. Neither the CAA was implemented nor were we given minimum respect in the party."
"We want to build a platform for disgruntled leaders so they can air their views. We will wait for the central leadership to act, hopefully once the UP polls are over," a leader from the Matua community told PTI.
He, however, warned that the group might think of forming a separate outfit if their grievances are not addressed ahead of the panchayat polls next year.
Some of the senior leaders who have been dropped from the office bearers' panel, including Jai Prakash Majumdar, Ritesh Tiwari and Sayantan Basu, are also learned to have held meetings with Shantanu Thakur.
"The committed and old-time workers are being sidelined, and new entrants, who hardly have any organisational experience, are being promoted.
Those who have slogged to ensure the party's vote share increases from four per cent vote to 40 per cent have no place," Majumdar said.
A section of disgruntled leaders claimed that more than the new state president Sukanta Majumdar, who took over in September last year, it is state BJP general secretary (organisation) Amitava Chakravorty who is facing the ire of party members.
"The team of office bearers that took the BJP to great heights in Bengal was disturbed with the removal of general secretary (organisation) Subrata Chatterjee in 2020, just six-seven months before the elections, at the behest of Mukul Roy, Babul Supriyo and few central leaders. Then imports from TMC were given tickets and old-timers ignored. The result is known to all," a BJP leader said.
He pointed out that the strike rate in the 149 seats, where the party fielded newly joined members, was just nine, while old-timers managed to bag 68 of the 77 seats they contested.
"The ongoing tiff among the state leaders is badly affecting the morale of the party workers, and it did lead to a drop in vote share, as was evident during the last few bypolls and the KMC elections," the BJP leader, who did not wish to be named, stated.
In the just-concluded KMC elections, the TMC bagged nearly 71.95 per cent of the votes polled, whereas the Left Front and the BJP garnered 11.13 per cent and 8.94 per cent respectively.
State BJP Chief Sukanta Majumdar, who did not want to divulge much about his party's next plan of action, said all the issues will be sorted out through discussions.
The party's national general secretary B L Santosh had visited the state last month, aware of the rumblings of discontent, and promised to look into the grievances of members.
Saffron camp sources said the central leadership is waiting for the elections in five states to be over before making a move in the state.
It is apprehensive that any action taken against rebel leaders may further hurt its popularity among the backward communities, given the fact that several OBC leaders have quit the saffron camp in Uttar Pradesh ahead of the elections there.
Matuas, who make for a large chunk of the state's Scheduled Caste population, has been with the saffron camp since the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
With an estimated three million members in the state, the community, which traces its ancestry to Bangladesh, holds sway in at least five Lok Sabha seats and nearly 50 assembly seats in Nadia, North and South 24 Parganas districts.
Thakur and his supporters, in its bid to exert influence on the BJP top brass, have now demanded quick implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which was passed in December 2019.
CAA seeks to provide citizenship to persecuted minorities from neighbouring countries of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
BJP national vice-president Dilip Ghosh, when approached, said that the situation would be brought under control sometime soon.
"A new team has taken charge, and we need to give them some time, allow them to work. Obviously, if someone is dropped, he may feel bad, but they can always be accommodated later. No one will be left out. Everybody who has fought for the party is an asset," Ghosh, the two-time state president of Bengal BJP, said.
Political pundits, however, feel that the infighting and squabbling are the results of central leadership fast losing its grip over the state unit.
"There have been previous instances where the BJP has cracked the whip to maintain inner-party discipline. But its stoic silence this time is a reflection of two things the leadership is fast losing grip over the party, and it doesn't want to send out a wrong message to its SC vote bank before UP polls," political analyst Suman Bhattacharya said.