Preparing to take on the TMC in the upcoming 2021 assembly elections, the BJP is now working on strengthening its organisational structure by waking up its otherwise “sleeper supporters” and increasing its membership base right from the booth level.
Both, party veterans and political observers note that the BJP’s biggest disadvantage in West Bengal is the lack of active members and leaders, and its reliance on crossovers from hostile parties including the TMC, Congress and the Left Front.
“In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, we could not field polling agents in many booths. The presence of such polling agents from our party gives confidence to a potential BJP voter. We have already started work to have active members and party workers right at the booth level,” BJP’s West Bengal vice president Chandra Kumar Bose said.
The party is now working to consolidate its voter base across the state for the upcoming state elections and verify the names and identities of dubious and false voters, based on which it will issue voter’s slip. This activity, the party feels, can be undertaken at each assembly seat level once it has sufficient candidates.
“For example, we tried to have polling agents for at least 1,600 booths but ended up with agents for only 900. This issue needs to be addressed and the party is working on it in the right direction”, Bose said.
While BJP leaders feel the Modi wave and the anti-incumbency factor against the ruling TMC will help it bag votes from the rural pockets and tribal zones, it needs to have a strong visible base of supporters and party men to earn voter’s confidence in urban centres, including the state’s capital, Kolkata.
In South Kolkata, the BJP lost to the TMC by a huge margin of 136,339 votes while the TMC retained the North Kolkata seat by a margin of 96,226 votes. However, despite the loss, the saffron party was able to get a lead in Rashbehari in south Kolkata and Jorasanko in north Kolkata.
On the other hand, with a win across 18 seats from its previous tally of only two, the state’s BJP leadership is now asking all its members to become active and spread the party’s message and propaganda, as well as get fresh joinees.
“We have more than 150,000 members in the state but we can’t claim most of them are active”, a BJP leader said.
These “sleeper supporters” or inactive members, as the party calls them, vote for the BJP, but do not associate themselves with party activities, fearing a backlash from the TMC.
“The TMC often resorts to intimidating our members who, fearung harm to them and their family members, bow down to TMC’s pressure. Now that we have grown in strength, we are asking these sleeper supporters to wake up and work for the party,” Bose said.
For a cadre-based party like the BJP, a show of membership strength isn't just crucial to get votes but is also required for smooth functioning of the party.
On the other hand, the BJP is also strengthening its membership drive and is open to inducting both, freshers and dissenters from hostile parties, who are flocking to the saffron outfit in large numbers.
Political observer Biswanath Chakraborty noted that the BJP will have to rely on crossovers majorly from the TMC to gain muscle in this state, but has to use these defectors strategically to gain advantage.
He said that alongwith defection of MLAs or MPs or Councillors, their bandwagon of political supporters will also do a crossover and the BJP needs to know how and where to field them to counter political backlash from the TMC.
Besides, Chakraborty felt that a lot of BJP’s perception as an alternative government to the TMC in West Bengal depends on how the Modi administration fares at the Centre and how the local BJP leadership and its MPs are able to reap benefits therefrom.
“In the coming days, the people of West Bengal will keep a close watch on how the BJP is able to get them benefits of Central schemes and the party’s governance”, he said.
With anti-incumbency being strong against Banerjee’s government owing to alleged political mismanagement, intimidation and corruption at the grass-root level, the BJP has projected itself as a saviour of the people in this state.
At the current juncture, the BJP now has to walk the talk since it now has a substantial number of 18 MPs from this state – its best tally ever; even beyond its own expectations.