Why Amit Shah’s upcoming visit to West Bengal will be keenly watched

Shah’s visit comes amid rising violence in Bengal. The BJP state unit will be looking to him for a moral boost following a string of electoral defeats in the state

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Union Home Minister and BJP leader Amit Shah during his door to door election campaign in favour of party candidate from Bhawanipore Assembly constituency Rudranil Ghosh (R), in Kolkata, on April 9, 2021; (PTI Photo)

In April 2021—the last time he was in West Bengal—Amit Shah made several promises. The most striking one was about turning the state into ‘Sonar Bangla’ (Golden Bengal) and celebrating ‘victory day’ if the BJP won the 2021 assembly election. While the BJP lost the election, Bengal has remained on Shah’s mind, he being the Union home minister.

Speaking in Parliament recently, Shah raised the issue of ‘deteriorating law and order’ in Bengal. “If you go to Bengal, you will get killed,” he said. Shah, now, is slated to make a trip to West Bengal in the second half of April, by when the results of the April 12 by-elections in the state will be out. First, of resuscitating the state BJP, which has been going downhill since the assembly election loss. The party had secured 38 per cent of the votes in the assembly polls. In the September 2021 assembly bypolls for Bhowanipore, Khardah and Dinhata, the party’s vote share was 13 per cent. In the Kolkata Municipal Corporation elections held in December 2021, it was 9 per cent, and about 13 per cent in the recent elections to 108 civic bodies.

The BJP’s assembly tally has also shrunk from 77 MLAs to 72 due to desertions, and there’s always a buzz about more MLAs eyeing an exit. Besides, the Bengal unit of the party is heavily faction-ridden. From being the principal opposition party cornering the TMC government on various issues, the BJP appears to have lost its bite. One of the reasons is that the BJP was focused on the recent assembly polls to five states; there is also the central leadership’s apparent discretion to keep Bengal out of their radar till the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

Shah has been requested by the BJP state unit to hold a couple of meetings in between his schedule of government programmes, such as visiting the Tin-Bigha corridor in Cooch Behar district. One meeting has been requested for with party MLAs, another with senior state BJP leaders, and yet another if the need arises. Given that a BJP ‘fact-finding’ team has already submitted its report to party chief J.P. Nadda on the killings in Birbhum district’s Bagtui village in March, law and order is likely to come up for discussion.

BJP state president Sukanta Majumdar insisted on some political meetings in Shah's itinerary to try and boost the party’s morale as well as his position. Since he became party president in September 2021, neither Nadda nor Shah have visited Bengal. Even central ministers, scheduled to campaign for bypolls, have given the state a miss. The first central leader to campaign in the April 12 Bengal bypolls was Ravi Shankar Prasad—for party candidate Agnimitra Paul contesting the Asansol Lok Sabha bypoll.

A perception has gained ground in some quarters of the state BJP that the central leadership is not concerned about the party’s fortune in Bengal, at least in the immediate future. The replacement of Dilip Ghosh with Majumdar as state chief somewhat reinforced this. So, Shah is expected to raise the morale of the state leaders and cadre and thereby try and prevent further disintegration. The belief that the TMC is invincible will also need to be challenged, particularly with central agencies tightening the noose around some key TMC leaders in various alleged scams. Shah will also be looking to reassure the BJP state unit that neither has the central leadership forgotten the humiliating defeat in Bengal last year nor have they given up on the state.

Shah's visit is being seen as both a confidence-building measure as well as a warning for those looking to defect to the TMC for political gains. The deteriorating law and order situation—a spate of murders in a month—is giving rise to some anti-incumbency. Failing to utilise this opportunity will be a big loss for the BJP. It’s time to take up the issues and hit the streets and generate confidence among the people that the BJP is there to play the role of a responsible Opposition. Hence the indirect signal to the fence-sitters that sticking on with the BJP will ultimately be beneficial. Even BJP leaders busy with infighting may be told to fall in line during Shah’s visit. There is a need to project the party as unified, and it may well begin with Shah setting foot on Bengal’s soil again.

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