Kolkata: He has termed foreign cows “aunties”, claimed Indian cows provide gold-infused milk, asked party workers to beat up police personnel and called intellectuals opposing India’s revised citizenship law “devils”, and “parasites”. Observers say when it comes to stirring up controversies and making provocative statements, Bharatiya Janata Party’s Bengal chief Dilip Ghosh has few equals in Indian politics.
The man, who once seemed to equate himself with Hindi cinema’s most famous villain ‘Gabbar Singh’ in a cryptic public speech, has emerged as a tough challenger for the state’s ruling Trinamool Congress.
Ghosh, who joined the BJP from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in 2014, has swiftly become the party’s linchpin in West Bengal. In 2015, he was made the state unit president and was reappointed to the post this month by the central leadership. “Senior leaders in Delhi know that without Dilip da, it would be challenging for the party to take on the Trinamool in the coming municipal polls and the crucial 2021 assembly elections in Bengal,” a senior BJP leader, who wished to remain anonymous, said.
After his reappointment on January 16, Ghosh, popularly known as ‘Naru da’, has started working for the Kolkata civic body polls likely to be held in April. Sources say he has asked party workers to connect with the people in all the 144 wards of the municipal corporation with a clear narrative that the BJP can run the body more effectively than the ruling Trinamool Congress.
“I left home when I was about 20 years old, and started working for the RSS,” Ghosh told News18. “Then, veteran Sangh leader Keshav Dixit ji used to visit our Gopiballavpur home in Paschim Medinipur district. My father, Bholanath Ghosh, was a social worker and he along with my mother, Puspalata Ghosh, allowed me to work for the RSS in 1984. I was very impressed with the Sangh’s work, and after that there was no looking back. Then I was given the charge of the Sangh in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Later, the BJP thought that I should work for them and I agreed. Tomorrow, if they ask me to work somewhere else, I will follow the instructions.”
The 55-year-old is now a key component of the party, largely due to his personality and oratorical skills, even if controversial at times. His latest incendiary statement that anti-CAA protesters “were shot like dogs” in some BJP-ruled states was criticised by even some party colleagues like central minister Babul Supriyo. Responding to this, Ghosh said, “There are people in the party who have their own agenda.”
After he became the state unit president in 2015, the BJP in Bengal witnessed a meteoric rise in its fortunes under his leadership. In last year’s Lok Sabha polls, the party’s vote share went up to 42% from 17% in 2014.
From 2011 to 2018, the state’s tribal-dominated Jangalmahal region comprising the districts of Jhargram, Bankura, Purulia, Paschim Medinipur and Birbhum was a bastion of the ruling TMC. But with the 2018 panchayat elections and last year’s parliamentary polls, the BJP expanded its footprints considerably in these areas.
In 2014, Jhargram was won by Trinamool’s Uma Soren, who wrested the seat from Pulin Bihari Baske of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), ending the Left’s 42-year domination. However, in 2019, the TMC’s Beerbaha Soren lost here to the BJP’s Kunar Hembram. According to election Commission of India data, though the BJP lost to Trinamool in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the vote percentage of the saffron party shot up to 20% in the Jangalmahal districts. Similarly, in the 2018 panchayat elections, the BJP increased its vote share by 27% in these areas.
“My biggest weapon is, I don’t have any expectations from anyone in the party and around it,” said Ghosh. “I have no regrets in life because I got more than what I deserve. I never asked for anything from anyone. I accept things the way they come to me. I was reappointed party president and I know the challenges ahead will be difficult, but I am confident that people will see change in Bengal.”
Ghosh’s leadership skills will be tested next in the Kolkata Municipal Corporation polls. In 2015, the TMC won 114 of the 144 wards, the Left got 15, followed by the BJP at seven and the Congress five. However, the BJP’s hopes have risen after studying its performance in these wards during the 2019 parliamentary polls.
“During the last Lok Sabha elections, the polling trend shows that we were leading in almost 50 KMC wards and some of the areas belong to big TMC leaders,” said Ghosh. “This shows that people lost faith in the ruling TMC. We have already started working for the KMC polls and also for upcoming civic polls in other municipalities in Bengal.”
When contacted, Atin Ghosh, deputy mayor of KMC, said, “We should not link the Lok Sabha voting trend with civic poll pattern. Both are completely different. Lok Sabha elections are for choosing the prime minister of India while civic polls are fought on local issues. In the upcoming KMC polls, people will vote on the basis of work we have done. We are confident that this time we are going to secure more seats than last time.”
In the 2016 assembly polls, Ghosh won the Kharagpur Sadar constituency in Paschim Medinipur district by defeating Congress’s Gyan Singh Sohanpal. This was significant because Sohanpal had won the seat seven times in a row from 1982 to 2011. In 2019, he won the Medinipur Lok Sabha constituency by a margin of 88,952 votes and a vote share of 48.62%, defeating TMC heavyweight and former Congress leader Manas Bhunia.
Asked whether the issues of National Register of Citizens and Citizenship Amendment Act would be a disadvantage for the BJP in Bengal, Ghosh said, “Not at all. Trinamool is misleading the people. We are clearing the misconception among the masses and we are hopeful that by 2021 there will be no confusion among them.”
Ghosh has been guiding his party’s forays into Bengal, gradually making deeper inroads. However, he has also kept courting controversies. On August 27, 2019, at Mecheda in Purba Medinipur, he hit out at a senior police officer, saying no one would be able to find his body and his family would not be able to perform his last rites if he continued to harass BJP workers in the district. He also attacked intellectuals for having beef at roadside stalls and asked them to consume “dog meat” at their homes.
Last month, he said his party allows people to create trouble because the media looks for news. “I am ready to take on any challenges to free Bengal from Mamata Banerjee’s TMC,” he added.