12/11/2018 8:53 AM IST | Updated 19/11/2018 9:47 AM IST

A BJP Leader On What The Party Is Doing Wrong In West Bengal: Bengalis Don't Care About “Mandir-Masjid” Culture

Chandra Kumar Bose, Vice-President of Bengal BJP and Subhas Chandra Bose’s grand nephew, says there is a disconnect between BJP and Bengal’s voters.

Women activists and supporters of BJP during a Ram Navami procession in Kolkata in March.

KOLKATA, West Bengal — Fifty-seven-year-old Chandra Kumar Bose's Facebook page has plenty of links to articles on his grand uncle, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, and the cover image is a graphic on the freedom fighter, with the words 'Jai Hind' scribbled on it. Bose, an IT entrepreneur based in Kolkata, is the vice-president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)'s Bengal unit. Over the past few months, he has expressed displeasure at how the party has been working in West Bengal.

Bose, who joined BJP in 2016, had not been politically active earlier, though he had travelled widely and campaigned for his father Amiya Nath Bose, who had contested several elections as an independent candidate before joining the Forward Bloc and then the BJP in its earlier avatar. Decades ago, Bose had been approached by Murli Manohar Joshi and late Atal Behari Vajpayee to join BJP and help the party gain foothold in Bengal. However, Bose chose to pursue a career with the Tata Group then.

Modi, Bose said, was the only political leader, who had responded to Bose's queries about the declassification of the files on Netaji's disappearance. "Narendra Modi called back. I had approached Mamata Banerjee as well. She had declassified some files, but she never responded to our many letters," he said.

The BJP's national leadership has been trying to break into the West Bengal vote bank and has now planned a 'rath yatra', named 'Save Democracy yatra' in December.

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While Bose said that the state's chief minister Mamata Banerjee has failed to act on her development promises and has also been 'communal' by positioning Bengalis against Assamese, he admits that BJP has a rather difficult job in hand in West Bengal. Though the party seems to be aggressively pursuing the Hindutva narrative, Bose says that there's no way his party could make that work in Bengal. However, he adds that, at this moment the party is on a correction path and is trying its best to reach out to Bengal's voters.

Edited excerpts from the interview:

The BJP's narrative unfolding in other states, for example, Uttar Pradesh, where Yogi Adityanath is on a spree to rename places perceived as having 'Muslim' names, is very pro-Hindutva. Or Amit Shah making pro-Hindutva declarations around the Babri Masjid and backing the Sabarimala mob. These are people with powerful stakes in the party and don't you think their image will have a bearing on BJP's election prospects in West Bengal?

See, Bharatiya Janata Party is the largest party in the world. You have all types of people and you have to work with all types of people. I am interested in the top leadership — what Narendra Modi is doing, what Amit Shah is doing. There are people who have certain opinion, which is different from the party line. It happens.

But do you think Adityanath is going against the party line and doing it?

No, you see Adityanath is changing a few names, that doesn't mean that he isn't inclusive.

But the names that he is changing are perceived to be 'Muslim' names...

Congress partitioned the nation and created a Jihadi state in Pakistan. All the freedom fighters fought for an akhand Bharat (united India). Now, the people who went to Pakistan and the people who were invaders and intruders, those names might have been changed. The Bharatiya Muslims, who have accepted their home as Bharat, are my brothers and sisters. But jihadis who say that 'Bharat ki barbaadi, and Pakistan zindabad' those people we don't accept and the names which are being changed... although invaders are also part of the history. Certain names are being changed, people who have invaded India, people who have tortured Bharatiyas, those people, maybe some names are being changed.

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But what is the history of torture behind Allahabad or Mughalsarai? Adityanath recently said that they will make a Ram Mandir at Babri, Amit Shah had also said things to that effect. The whole mandir-masjid question has been revived by very powerful players in the party... how does that affect how BJP is perceived in West Bengal?

In West Bengal also, if you see the Trinamool government, they want to change the name of West Bengal. Changing the name is not an important issue. As far as the mandir issue is concerned, it is historically proven that Babur had destroyed the Ram Temple and built the mosque. I think if that's the case, it is just and fair. Of course, it is the Supreme Court which will finally decide.

Chandra Bose (right) with Amit Shah in a file photo from three years ago.

Do you think you can attract voters to the BJP in West Bengal with this narrative?

See, in West Bengal, the political scenario is somewhat different. Here, people are not really interested (sic) ... 'Sabke saath, sabka vikaas' that has to be implemented.

Now, people in West Bengal don't have a religious bent of mind, they are not interested in all that. They want development, they want industry, health infrastructure. My advice to BJP Bengal would be to stand with the people — people of Bengal are not interested in the mandir-masjid culture. They are interested in work culture.

You have constantly written to the BJP's top leadership about the party's Bengal unit and the issues you have with its way of working...

See, my objective is work for the people of Bengal. I have been observing the functioning of the party in Bengal in the past two years. Our problem has been connectivity with people. Somehow, we have been weak at it. Politics is about connecting with people, we have been very weak in that. These booth committee members that we have, how many of them are connecting with the voters?

The CPM's strong point was connecting with the voters, that's why they ruled for 34 years. Mamata Banerjee has mastered that art, in fact, I will call her ultra Left.

Working with the masses — that, somehow, BJP is not doing in Bengal. If we were strong on that point, we would have had the CM in the state.

You had written to Amit Shah, what was his response...

He has given a positive response, he said he will sit with me to discuss the issues again. Mamata Banerjee has mastered the art of electioneering and connecting to voters, that's why she thrives, even though her governance has failed, her industry has failed.

But Narendra Modi is considered the icon of electioneering and that has reaped results for BJP in the past. What's gone wrong in West Bengal?

Let's face it, our organisation is weak. We don't know our people. We don't know our voters. Today we are not able to connect with the majority vote bank of West Bengal. Suppose, you are taking an examination, you have to sit for the entire 100 marks. You can't sit for 50 or 60 marks. You cannot get the first position like that.

The problem in West Bengal BJP is we are not sitting for 100% marks. I'll explain why...

Our vote-bank conventionally was 4-6%. That's been like that for ages, we did not try to increase it. We have been here since the 80s, but Mamata Banerjee came in 1998. In ten years, she could make it, even though we were there from before her because she could connect to the majority vote bank.

To attract a Bengali Hindu vote bank, the party needs to have an inclusive image. For that we need intellectuals in the forefront. At the moment, without that, we are not in a position to fight Mamata Banerjee.

The vote share went up during the Lok Sabha elections to 17%, but the Lok Sabha elections was Modi wave. Though the Modi wave was arrested in West Bengal. Our vote share went down again to 11% in 2016. During the panchayat elections, again, there was a lot of violence. We lost 30 workers. There was a lot of violence, that's another thing TMC is doing, beating anyone who joins other parties.

So where is the disconnect? Why can't BJP connect with the people of Bengal?

The Hindu vote bank in West Bengal is no longer 70%. It's around 60%. Out of this 60%, 45-48% are Bengali Hindus, which is still the majority vote bank in West Bengal. There are lots of Hindi-speaking Hindus, lots. But for a lot of these Hindi-bhashi Hindus, their votes are in other states, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh. They all join our rallies, they wave our flags, they scream our slogans and 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai' and all that, but their votes are elsewhere. But we are not being able to get into the Bengali Hindu vote-bank.

To attract a Bengali Hindu vote bank, the party needs to have an inclusive image. For that we need intellectuals in the forefront. At the moment, without that, we are not in a position to fight Mamata Banerjee.

So, you are saying the strategies that works elsewhere, like UP or Rajasthan, won't work here?

No, they won't. And I have told this to Amit Shah.

But BJP is still following the same rhetoric here. There are not talking about development, they are talking about religion and occasionally about corruption...

No, corruption is not an issue in West Bengal. In 2016, if corruption was an issue, Mamata Banerjee would have lost the polls. I went into the Beltala slum (a prime location in Banerjee's constituency), these people were living in tiny rooms but they have TV. So when I entered into some of those rooms, the Narada tapes were playing on TV. So I told them, 'dekho chor party hai' (see, this is a party of thieves). So I said, don't vote for this party. But they said, 'nahin, nahin saab, isi ko vote dega (no sir, we will vote them only).

So I asked why. So then they said, "They steal from the rich and give it to the poor, and keep some for themselves. That's okay with us. You also do this." The Robin Hood effect works for Mamata Banerjee here.

But the BJP is doing things that works in the Hindi heartland, that gives them a 'saviour of Hindutva' kind of image. What about the Ram Navami procession that was organised where children brandished weapons and the BJP Bengal president led it?

That was a religious procession and I think we should not politicise it. But, you may have noticed, I did not go for that procession.

I think we should not mix politics with religion at all. That was Netaji's ideology. My ideology is Netaji's ideology. I use BJP as a platform to spread Netaji's ideals. If they don't approve of that, I will leave. Simple.

There have been a plethora of religious functions in West Bengal and suddenly, there were these children being paraded with weapons in their hands. A majority of Bengalis felt that was jarring and that also defined BJP as a party to some extent.

Let's give Dilip Ghosh (BJP Bengal chief) the benefit of doubt. He did it from a religious point of view, he was not waving the weapons against anyone or threatening to attack someone.

But that still hit a very discordant note, can you recollect any other party leader in Bengal doing such a thing?

I personally don't agree with it (the incident). It should not have happened. What I feel is, anything religion should be handled by a religious organisation, not a political party. We should refrain from doing anything religious — be it Muslim custom, Hindu custom, or Christian custom.

How do you plan to rope in intellectuals, when outside Bengal, BJP has assumed this image that it's against creative independence. For example, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan governments, both BJP, moved Supreme Court against Padmavaat. This is just one example.

As I said, hot heads are there and we need to keep the hot heads under control. In fact, that is a challenge the party has to face. We cannot drive them out, because they are a substantial number. But we have to contain and control them. We have keep them disciplined.

You also said that one has to keep religion out of politics and you are saying that you want to make the party look more inclusive in the state. But then, the BJP's next grand project is the rath yatra, which will be kicked off from Tarapith, a Hindu pilgrimage site with a famous Kali Temple. It has been reported that Adityanath will be in attendance with Shah.

I think the name has been changed, the 'rath' name has been dropped. I had given them a proposal and said it should be called a 'save democracy yatra' or a 'pragati yatra'. (The rally has been named the former). And it was suggested that the procession be made about 'development'.

Where did the proposal for the 'rath yatra' come from, state or national leaders of BJP?

I think it was a proposal which came on a national basis, but each state is unique. Especially Bengal. So I gave a suggestion.

I said, 'Let's not give it a religious bent. We should give it a development, democracy twist. And say, 'save development yatra'. I think that has been accepted.

But that doesn't change the fact that it's a rath yatra from a Hindu pilgrimage site with Yogi Adityanath in participation. Don't you think people will be able to see through it?

See, Yogi Adityanath has his own views. But that necessarily doesn't mean that those are the views of the entire party. Today BJP is trying to attract the majority vote-bank in Bengal and unless we have an inclusive image, we cannot get that.

Similarly, in Uttar Pradesh, when it comes to the majority vote bank, unless you talk about Hindutva, you may not be able to address that vote bank. And in Bengal, we are working on a completely different vote bank.

That said, I don't know if you know that Yogi Adityanath is a very inclusive person. For vote bank he has to make certain comments, it works in his area.

So, wouldn't getting Yogi Adityanath, who has positioned himself as some sort of a Hindutva warrior, then thwart your attempts to make BJP look 'inclusive' in Bengal?

See, let's be fair on him, just because he wears those saffron robes, doesn't mean he is divisive. He is a mathematics graduate...

It's not what he wears that matters, it is what he has said about Muslims.

No, no, he said all that about 'jihadi Muslims'. We are against them.

But Adityanath has not mentioned 'Jihadi muslims', he said 'Muslims', his government is also considered as somewhat a trophy Hindutva government.

Well, I will convey to him when I meet him then.

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You had said in one interview that there are not as many people on ground in West Bengal from the party as the BJP is claiming.

There are people on the ground, but my question is what are they doing on the ground? You have to connect with the actual voters. What we have been doing is, before the elections, we just go with a flag and say 'vote for us'. Why the hell should they vote for us?

I believe in first developing a relationship. I have suggested, we should do what Narendra Modi does with 'chai pe charcha'. No point in building a huge shamiana and a dais which collapses as well. We need to connect personally.

Don't make a show here. Show doesn't work in Bengal. In other states, probably if you beat the drums and fly the flags, people will vote for you. Here the reverse will happen.

What's happening is, they do a lot of brouhaha, fly a party flag, Amit Shah does rallies. And then the next day, Trinamool goes and beats them up and they join TMC. I'm saying you wave the TMC flag, but vote for us.

Don't make a show here. Show doesn't work in Bengal. In other states, probably if you beat the drums and fly the flags, people will vote for you. Here the reverse will happen.

I think political acumen and knowledge of BJP Bengal is limited, and I am also a part of it. They did not get the kind of exposure that even I got because of my family's background.

Also, we need good people. A lot of people are joining, but they are not good people.

The BJP cadre has go and connect with voters on a personal level, see if someone needs to be taken to the hospital, if some family is facing any issue that they can solve.

So why did the party get Mukul Roy from TMC, who has been implicated in the Saradha scam?

I think Mukul Roy has the political acumen and knowledge, but he also benefitted from Mamata Banerjee's image. Mamata Banerjee's image with Roy's acumen, worked. In BJP Bengal, there could be leaders who could become tall leaders, but they have not got a chance. Mukul Roy is here with his experience, but he is not getting a foothold on how to take the party forward. And we don't have a leader to match Mamata Banerjee, that's a fact.

With the BJP's grand economic schemes like demonetisation and GST facing criticism, it is clear that the the party is now trying to ride the Hindutva wave for the next elections. In the past year, the party has also been blamed for the rise in right-wing Hindutva extremism which led to lynchings of Muslims and Dalits. So how will the Hindutva narrative work out in Bengal?

See, Hindutva is a way of life, this Sanatan Dharma and all that. There are certain people who believe in that who are associated with the BJP.

But it's not BJP who wants to do all this. It is not BJP which is doing lynchings. In fact Narendra Modi said he is against any kind of lynching. You cannot take law into your hands. These are issues we need to tackle, I am sure it will be tackled.

We have to rise above this. Today, why are we not being able to cut into the Bengali Hindu vote bank? Because we are all a bit confused.

So are you saying BJP will not push the Hindutva agenda in Bengal?

That won't work at all. Here, politics is not based on religion at all. It is based on development and connection with the voters.

Many people believe that BJP has appropriated Netaji's legacy, which is strongly secular. How does Netaji's secular nationalism align with the nationalism of BJP?

Netaji's personality is so towering that no political party or leader can appropriate it. They may follow it, but there is no question of appropriation. Netaji's legacy is much above politics. Ideological, or political differences were there, but a party through the ages and years, evolve...

What Jan Sangh was, BJP has evolved into an inclusive party today. Jan Sangh wasn't probably. Jan Sangh was more or less the Hindutva or the Hindu bias thing. But, BJP through the years has evolved. I won't use the expression 'secular', but I will use the expression 'inclusive'. We are an 'inclusive' party. Because unless you are 'inclusive' you are not relevant. Congress is a highly communal party in the sense, it is Congress who divided the nation on the basis of religion. Partition was due to Nehru and Jinnah. But it is also not fair to say that INC and the Congress of Sonia and Rahul are the same. The last elected president of INC, was Subhas Chandra Bose in 1939. After that, barring a few years, the Congress presidentship is always selected from within a dynasty.

The India Today Group via Getty Images
Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a programme in New Delhi commemorating the 75th Anniversary of the Azad Hind Government headed by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.

The 21 October Red Fort event to commemorate the anniversary of Netaji's provisional Azad Hind government, when the invites were sent out, a lot of people pointed out that the invites didn't have Netaji's name, but had Narendra Modi's name on it. Critics say that it is a sign of Modi using the kind of respect Netaji's name commands right in time for the elections.

See, the Azad Hind government was the first government of united undivided India and Netaji was the first Prime Minister of the government. You don't have to keep mentioning his name, Azad Hind government means Subhas Chandra Bose. Narendra Modi is invoking Netaji's ideals in 21st century, don't you think he has a right to use his image? Here we are implementing Subhas Bose's ideals so I think we have a right to use his name.

RSS has an important part to play in the functioning of the BJP and historians have pointed out that RSS ideologue Veer Savarkar had once called Netaji a Hindu jehadi. Don't you think there is a basic disconnect in the philosophies of Netaji and RSS, which controls the BJP?

Absolutely not. See, there were differences in opinion, but there are differences in opinion in families as well. Do you know Shyama Prasad Mookerji had demanded that Red Fort's name should be Netaji Fort? There are hundred examples of the kind of mutual respect that both the leaders had. Certainly there were differences, but they co-existed. Netaji had met and interacted Savarkar, there were differences for sure, but there goals were the same. Development of Bharat, freedom of Bharat and driving the British out. Working relationship was there between Savarkar, Subhash Chandra Bose and Shyama Prasad Mookerji.