Vishal Jaiswal at the protest outside the BJP headquarters. Picture by Bishwarup Dutta
March 24: BJP supporters were today forced to beat back a group of dissenters who had laid siege to the party's headquarters in central Calcutta, burnt flags and shouted slogans against state unit chief Rahul Sinha.
The group of protesters was led by Vishal Jaiswal, had been was named as the party's candidate for ward 38 of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) but replaced later.
After chasing away the protesters who had laid a day-long siege to 6 Muralidhar Sen Lane, the Bengal BJP headquarters, the young guns converged on a tea stall. " Bachhe logon ko chai pilao (offer tea to the activists)," shouted Ritesh Tiwari, a BJP state secretary.
As they waited for tea, the party activists discussed tales of bravado in dealing with Jaiswal's supporters. "How dare they shout slogans against Rahulda? We taught them a lesson," said a young man with a bamboo stick.
The mood on the narrow lane was celebratory. The party activists complimented each other for rising up to the challenge of a dissident and his supporters.
Through the day, the scenes, however, were different. Jaiswal's supporters had burnt party flags, shouted slogans and squatted in the courtyard, demanding that Sinha come down and speak to them.
"I have already spent over Rs 5 lakh for campaigning. The party's district committee had suggested my name. Then I was removed. We have come here to seek an explanation from Rahul Sinha," Jaiswal was heard shouting.
The leadership this evening expelled Jaiswal, his associate Mohammad Ali and Calcutta northwest general secretary Manav Sharma for six years. Jaiswal was arrested. After getting bail, he lodged a counter-complaint of assault and wrongful confinement against Tiwari and nine other BJP leaders.
During the protests earlier in the day, Sinha was closeted in a meeting with MLA Samik Bhattacharya and general secretary Subhash Sarkar with policemen guarding the door of the room and CRPF personnel taking position near the stairs leading to it.
Sinha said protests over nominations would fizzle out in a day or two as the campaigning for the civic polls picked up. In the past few days, BJP activists unhappy with the choice of candidates have been organising protests across the state.
The question doing the rounds in the party is whether such public display of dissent would have an impact on the party's poll fortunes. The BJP's Birbhum chief, Dudh Kumar Mondal, has already resigned.
"The party was growing fast and there was a momentum. Not only has the momentum been lost, now its seems we are slipping," a BJP leader said.
According to him, the party had failed to build on the support it got during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, when the BJP's vote share increased to 17 per cent in Bengal.
As the BJP bagged more than 25 per cent votes in both the Lok Sabha seats in Calcutta, besides getting a lead in Mamata Banerjee's Assembly segment Bhowanipore, many had hoped that the party would perform well in the CMC elections.
Such was the expectation that BJP president Amit Shah had announced that he would visit Bengal at least once every month. But he has not been seen in the state in the past two months and party sources linked it to the poor show by the state unit.
"Suddenly, the hopes have vanished. It seems everyone is realising that the expectations were not built on any objective assessment. Organisationally, we are weak," a BJP state leader said.
Sinha admitted lacunae in the organisation. "We could not firm up the organisation. We will start the exercise soon after the civic polls," he said.
"Of over 2,000 seats in the civic polls, there are problems in 30-35. It's a small fraction," the state BJP chief said.
The number may be small but the impact might not be so, a senior BJP leader said.
"The CMC polls are barely three weeks away. Has a campaign plan been finalised?"
Sinha today said strong action would be taken against indiscipline before accepting the resignation of Birbhum district president Mondal.
Mondal had sent in his papers to the party headquarters on Sunday evening to protest against the "dirty politics" in his home district over the nomination of candidates for the civic polls.
The leadership has given the organisational responsibility of Birbhum to Arjun Saha, a former district president.