Several candidates of the Bharatiya Janata Party who won in the recently concluded panchayat elections in West Bengal and were looking for support from the party’s state and central leaderships to withstand the enormous pressure that is being exerted on them by the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) to switch sides, feel disappointed as they have been left to fend for themselves.
The tenure of these newly elected panchayat members will not start before August, which will give ample time to the TMC to “win” them over to its ranks, BJP leaders in Bengal say.
On the condition of anonymity, a BJP winner from North 24 Parganas district told this correspondent, “As soon as news of my victory broke, I started getting calls from the local TMC leaders to leave BJP and join their party. But I told them that I would not be able to do so. A TMC leader from my area offered me lucrative posts. But when I refused to budge, the police started threatening me that I would be arrested. I went to my district leaders for help, but the only help they could offer was to ask me, along with other candidates, to leave my area for a while.”
Some victorious BJP candidates from Birbhum district also complained about facing a similar situation—they approached their senior leaders, but did not get any support.
A district level BJP leader from Birbhum said: “TMC leaders are trying to buy the BJP winners all across the state. They are even threatening us with dire consequences and using the police and administrative machinery to mount pressure on us to quit the BJP and join them. Although the state BJP leadership has assured us that they would do everything possible to protect us, they have done nothing. If this continues, we will not be able to retain many of our winners.”
A panchayat member, who recently won his election from a village some 80 km from Kolkata, said, “The situation in my area is very bad. We are living under constant threats. Goons are roaming around us, while the police is just a bystander. We have requested the state BJP leadership to send a delegation here to give some moral support to the BJP members. We are hoping that some senior leaders will visit our area to boost our confidence.”
Jayprakash Mazumdar, senior BJP leader and vice-president of the Bengal unit of the BJP, told The Sunday Guardian, “The BJP is trying to protect its candidates. But the Mamata Banerjee government has unleashed an autocratic rule by using her police and goons. We cannot possibly fight back by resorting to illegal means; then a civil war will break out in Bengal. In such a situation, we have advised our candidates who have won to stay away from their localities until the time the situation subsides. We have adopted this strategy as we do not have any options left. We are trying to give moral support to all the victorious candidates.”
However, the TMC rubbished all such allegations levelled by the BJP.
Speaking to this newspaper, Partha Chatterjee, a minister in the Mamata Banerjee government, said, “All such allegations are false and politically motivated to gain sympathy for the party. People of Bengal know the truth—who is doing what to vitiate the peaceful atmosphere in Bengal.”
Some in BJP’s state leadership also accused the central party leadership of not paying much attention to their plight. Requesting anonymity, a senior BJP leader said, “The central BJP leadership seems unsure about Bengal. People of Bengal want a local leader who can connect with the masses. Instead, Delhi is taking one step forward and two steps back. This attitude will harm the BJP in the state and give the ruling party more opportunity to unleash attacks on party members.”
The BJP, which contested for the first time in the local body polls in Bengal managed to win around 6,000 seats. It performed well in districts such as Purulia, Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar, Jhargram, Birbhum, and parts of West Midnapore. According to this result, the BJP can cause major troubles for the ruling TMC in at least six Lok Sabha seats during the general elections.
The BJP has accused the TMC of holding the panchayat election much before the tenure of the panchayat bodies expire, as a means to poach more members from the Opposition into its fold due to a huge time gap between the declaration of results and the oath-taking ceremony.