Sourav Ganguly, former Indian cricket captain, chief of the powerful Board of Cricket Control India (BCCI) and beloved son of West Bengal suffered a heart attack and underwent an angioplasty last week.
Ganguly’s illness has caused huge heartbreak in the BJP where Amit Shah, union home minister has been relentlessly wooing Ganguly to be the party’s face. It is Shah’s dream to win Bengal for the Sangh and even in the days of lockdown he had several zoom meetings with Ganguly.
On his very frequent trips to Bengal he made it a point to meet Ganguly and push to project BJP face against the formidable Mamata Banerjee, incumbent chief minister who is locked in a do or die battle with Shah for the state elections.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to a convalescing Ganguly yesterday and wished him a swift recovery. Banerjee went to the hospital and met Ganguly.
The other factor in these elections is money. BJP now ruthlessly and quite simply outspends its opponents. In terms of funding elections, the party is in another league. For Bengal, Shah has opened the floodgates. The TMC is reeling
Last piece of the puzzle
Ganguly is the essential last piece of the puzzle which Shah needed to complete his Bengal puzzle. Shah relentlessly wooed erstwhile key Banerjee lieutenant Suvendu Adhikari. Shah had made a similar move earlier on Mukul Roy who joined the BJP.
But, in public perception both Adhikari and Roy remain turncoats who dumped the TMC for greener pastures. If Shah had managed to persuade Ganguly he would have been in a different league — cricketers specially aggressive captains — are demigods in India.
Till date the battle for Bengal has been so fraught that it is likely to be India’s most contested and violent elections.
The violence is not by chance. Both the parties in the fray Banerjee led-TMC and BJP are out to intimidate one another. The TMC is relying totally on Banerjee and a campaign of regional pride — “outsiders versus insiders” dreamt by ideology-agnostic political consultant Prashant Kishor who is the mastermind of the TMC campaign.
For Kishor it is personal. He was dislodged by Shah after he ran Modi’s 2014 prime ministerial campaign. Apparently Kishor asked Shah what after May? Essentially Kishor was asking what job will he get in the Modi PMO. Shah replied “June” and basically ejected him from the BJP.
Kishor has neither forgiven nor forgotten and Bengal is a high stakes grudge match. Kishor has publicly challenged Shah to ensure that if the BJP won’t touch double figures (99 seats), vowing to quit political consultancy if they do.
Hope of power is the glue
As Shah opens the doors of the BJP to every TMC leader, rumblings are evident in the Bengal BJP with leaders like Dilip Ghosh questioning the entry and awards to outsiders. But, the grumbles are sotto voce and nobody dares to take on Shah publicly. The hope of power is the glue that is sticking the faction ridden BJP together.
The other factor in these elections is money. BJP now ruthlessly and quite simply outspends its opponents. In terms of funding elections, the party is in another league. For Bengal, Shah has opened the floodgates. The TMC is reeling.
Says a senior TMC leader “they are poaching our leaders, have unleashed all the central investigative agencies against us and are trying to intimidate the all India cadre officials of the IPS and IAS. Yet we are still standing”.
Banerjee has now reached out to old friend Sharad Pawar for help and apparently he has agreed. Both leaders realise the threat a resurgent BJP holds for regional parties. So the state of play currently is fierce.
Keep reading SWAT analysis for the big fight in Bengal.