DILIP GHOSH, Lok Sabha Member and president of the West Bengal unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is not a stranger to controversy. Whether it be launching a personal attack on Nobel laureate Amartya Sen or claiming that Indian cows’ milk has gold in it, Ghosh has time and again stirred up a hornet’s nest with his unapologetic and sometimes bizarre views. This time, however, when he justified the killing of people agitating against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) in BJP-ruled States, he not only created a furore in political and social circles, but also embarrassed his own party colleagues, who immediately tried to distance themselves from his comments.
At a recent public gathering in Nadia district, he alleged that the State government had not taken any steps against those who destroyed public property during demonstrations against the CAA. He added: “See our governments in Assam, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka have shot these villains [the protesters] like dogs, have apprehended them and slapped cases against them.” Referring to those who destroyed public property during the agitations as “infiltrators”, Ghosh said: “They will come and settle down here, and then destroy the property of the place. Is this their zamindari? Hit them with sticks, shoot them, and put them in prison—that is what our government will do.”
He was referring to the violent protests that had broken out in West Bengal on December 13, when angry mobs in different parts of the State set up blockades, destroyed public property and attacked railway stations. “Is it because they are your voters that you have not taken any action against them?” Ghosh asked. His comments shocked civil society and drew condemnation from all political quarters, including the Left, the Congress and the Trinamool. Criminal complaints were lodged against him and two first information reports were filed. Even some senior BJP leaders spoke out against his statement. Babul Supriyo, Union Minister and Lok Sabha member from Asansol in West Bengal, said on social media: “BJP as a party has nothing to do with what a DilipGhosh may hv said. It is a figment of his imagination & BJP Govts in UP, Assam hv NEVER EVER resorted to shooting people for whatever reason whatsoever. Very irresponsible of DilipDa to hv said what he said.” Later, speaking to a national news channel, Supriyo further said: “This was not a comment that is becoming of a State president. As a party we would not want to relate with any such comment made by Dilip Ghosh.” Supriyo’s comment was retweeted by Swapan Dasgupta, the BJP’s Rajya Sabha member. Locket Chatterjee, Lok Sabha member from Hooghly and chief of the BJP’s Mahila Morcha in West Bengal, was also seen distancing herself from Ghosh’s statement. “The BJP does not want anyone to live in fear. The party wants to provide security to all, and that is the vision of our Prime Minister,” she said.
But an unrepentant Ghosh stuck to his guns. “The party fully supports how the Central government handled the situation. Whatever I have said is what the party stand is. If we get a chance in Bengal, we will handle it in a similar way,” he said. Senior Trinamool leader Om Prakash Mishra said Ghosh’s attitude highlighted the way in which the BJP was “ready to undermine the democratic order and usher in an authoritarian fascist regime”.
Re-elected State president
Yet Ghosh was re-elected, unopposed, as president of the party’s State unit for a second consecutive term on January 14 and is set to lead the party in the 2021 Assembly election, in which the BJP harbours hopes of trouncing the ruling Trinamool. Babul Supriyo greeted him with a tweet: “Congrats & Best Wishes to @DilipGhoshBJP on being elected State President for the 2nd time. While we agree to disagree on a few things we stand united in our fight against the hopeless #TMchhi & it’s uncouth leadership. Together we walk towards our goal to uproot them come 2021.”
The conciliatory overture, however, failed to cover up the obvious factionalism within the BJP’s State unit, which often finds its way to the surface. The Trinamool was quick to seize this opportunity to fan a possible feud. Abhishek Banerjee, Mamata Banerjee’s nephew and heir apparent to her position, said on social media: “Although @DilipGhoshBJP correctly characterized his party, his own MP refuting his stance publicly raises serious doubts over his credibility to lead BJP in Bengal…”
West Bengal has long known political violence, but Ghosh’s unrestrained, no-holds-barred style of politics is something quite new in the State. His direct attacks on not just political opponents but also on anyone speaking out against the BJP, be it Amartya Sen or Kolkata-based intellectuals and artistes protesting against the CAA, create ripples in political and social circles almost on a daily basis. It is perhaps a clever strategy aimed at political polarisation and an effective tool to take on Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s natural combative style of politics. But its effect on society is undoubtedly pernicious, encouraging violence and intolerance as it does.
Speaking to Frontline, the well-known political scientist Biswanath Chakraborty said: “The BJP still does not have an organisational base to boast of in Bengal. Dilip Ghosh’s ploy through such statements is to keep the BJP in the news and thereby establish that it is the main opposition to the Trinamool. Also, by keeping himself in the news he is forcefully asserting his position in the party and keeping any challenge at bay. This is an effective tactic to divert issues which he feels he is not able to logically refute.”
Ghosh himself said, after being re-elected president of the State BJP: “Many of my comments have sparked controversies… Those who indulge in raking up these issues cannot accept a BJP leader talking with such aggression.”