Since its formation on April 6, 1980, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was hardly a force worthy of notice in West Bengal for decades. That started to change after Narendra Modi’s ascent to power at the Centre in 2014.
Despite being the home state of Jana Sangh ideologue Syama Prasad Mukherjee, the BJP struggled to make its political space in Bengal during the 34 years of Left Rule from 1971.
Since those days, a nondescript building at Muralidhar Sen Street in Kolkata that houses the BJP’s regional headquarters has seen many changes except one constant: his name is Rahul Sinha.
For the past 40 years, since the formation of the BJP, he has been with the saffron party, and apparently despite some lucrative political offers from others he remained a dedicated soldier for decades.
However, for the first time, Sinha seems unhappy, after the party central leadership decided to remove him as a national secretary to make way for Trinamool Congress (TMC) turncoat Anupam Hazra. In his political career, Sinha has contested ten assembly and Lok Sabha polls across various seats in Bengal, though he never won.
In 2014, he fought the Lok Sabha polls from the Kolkata North constituency against MP Sudip Bandopadhyay and lost. Sinha was the state BJP president at the time. In 2016, he fought the assembly polls from the Jorasanko assembly seat and was defeated again.
Similarly, in the 2019 Lok Sabha Polls, his tenth contest, Sinha was once again defeated by Sudip Bandopadhyay from North Kolkata. Despite his ten losses, he had a position of respect in the party. But this time, considering the crucial Bengal assembly polls next year, the central BJP leadership is not willing to take any chances and has decided to take on the state’s ruling TMC with turncoats.
Sinha served as the president of BJP’s West Bengal unit from 2012-2015 before Dilip Ghosh took over. He led the party during the panchayat polls in 2013 and in the 2014 parliamentary elections he played a crucial role in lifting the party’s vote share from 1.5 per cent to nearly 34 per cent in Bengal.
Speaking exclusively to News18, Sinha said, “I joined the BJP around the time of its formation in 1980. Before that I joined the RSS as a ‘Bal Sevak’ (his uncle took him to a shakha when he was a teenager) and after that I worked for the BJP dedicatedly. I never crossed the party line. I attended my first political conference when I was in the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha in 1978 and Kalraj Mishra was the president. Later, I decided to go back to the RSS, but again in 1980, I joined the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (its president was Satya Deo Singh) and attended meetings with Atal Bihari Vajpayee ji and Lal Krishna Advani ji. I have been with the BJP since those days and yesterday what happened was very unfortunate. It was a sad day for me as I was replaced with Anupam Hazra.”
Claiming his role in the BJP’s rise in Bengal, he said, “When I took charge of the state BJP, the vote share was 1.5 per cent. A lot of people said that I was crazy and that is why I had been given the post of state BJP president as it was difficult to survive those days under Left rule. Despite hurdles, I took on the challenge and when I left the party president’s post (in 2015), the BJP vote share was 34 per cent. After 2015, there was an increase of only 6 per cent (approx) in vote share. It was due to my effort in increasing the vote share in Bengal that leaders like Shamik Bhattacharyya, Babul Supriyo got wins. Unfortunately, after 40 years of dedicated service, I have to step aside because a Trinamool Congress leader is coming. It is the most unfortunate chapter of my political journey. It’s not that I didn’t get a better opportunity but I am not a greedy person. My ideology is more important to me than a chair. I never crossed the party line and I never cheated anyone. I was not involved in any scam and despite that whatever happened with me was very unfortunate.”
After the party’s decision came, Sinha, in a video message (both in Hindi and Bangla), had said, “For 40 years I have served the BJP as a soldier. I have to step aside because a Trinamool Congress leader is coming. There can be nothing more unfortunate than this reward for serving the BJP since birth. I don’t want to comment much in this matter. I don’t want to judge (whether it is wrong or right). In the coming 10-12 days, I will decide my future course of action.”
Anupam Hazra, who replaced Sinha, lost to the TMC’s Mimi Chakraborty in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Mimi is a popular actress, singer and politician. She was listed as the ‘most-desirable woman’ in 2016 in an event organised by a media house. In 2019, she joined politics and contested from the Jadavpur Lok Sabha constituency as a TMC candidate. She registered a landslide victory over Hazra by 2,95,239 votes.
Besides Sinha, Ram Madhav, P Muralidhar Rao, Saroj Pandey and Anil Jain have been replaced by the BJP with new faces. However, strong leaders including Bhupender Yadav, Arun Singh and Kailash Vijayvargiya were retained.
Keeping next year’s West Bengal assembly polls in mind, the party has rewarded Mukul Roy with the post of national vice-president. Once a trusted aide of Mamata Banerjee, Roy was recently in the news amid reports of his differences with the state BJP leadership.
Commenting on Rahul Sinha being sidelined and the elevation of leaders like Mukul Roy and Anupam Hazra, senior TMC leader Colonel Diptanshu Choudhury (retd), said, “This is the BJP’s internal matter and I won’t comment on this. But those who were elevated can’t bring any candies for the BJP. The people in Bengal are still with Mamata Banerjee and we are once again going to form the government in Bengal in 2021.”
Political expert Kapil Thakur feels that the elevation of former TMC leaders in BJP is a message to others in the Trinamool to join the saffron party ahead of the polls.
“The existing leaders in the state BJP don’t have the charisma to challenge the TMC leadership at the district level. They don’t even have good leaders to contest in all the 294 assembly seats," he said. “The central leadership of the BJP understood that if they want to defeat Mamata Banerjee, then they have to break the TMC first. With Mukul Roy and Anupam Hazra’s elevation, they want to send a message that if someone from the TMC will join them, then they will be rewarded.”