TT, Calcutta, April 14: Union home minister Rajnath Singh today said the BJP would form the next government in Bengal but refrained from attacking the Mamata Banerjee dispensation, causing disappointment among the party's state leaders.
Singh, the tallest of the 40 national leaders the BJP has decided to send to Bengal for pepping up the state unit after the electoral sweep in Uttar Pradesh, conducted closed-door meetings with the functionaries of the organisation here this afternoon.
He lauded the BJP's performance in the Contai South bypoll in which the party had come second. The minister said the BJP was the principal opposition force in the state.
Asked about the BJP's chances in Bengal at a news conference, Singh said: " Agli bar, BJP sarkar (the next time, a BJP government)."
The former national president of the BJP evaded attacks on the Trinamul Congress and Mamata Banerjee at the party meetings and the news conference, although there were ample provocations to be derisive of the chief minister and her government.
"He did talk about the need for vast improvement in electoral performance in the panchayat polls next year, Lok Sabha elections of 2019 and the Assembly polls of 2021, but not once was his tone sternly anti-Mamata. He did not even bring her up. Not once did he mention her name," said a BJP source.
"The Union home minister was brought to bolster the state leadership's stand. For that, a strong stand against the ruling party and its leader was a must. Instead, he went philosophical on the need for introspection and self improvement," he added.
At the very start of his news conference, Singh said he was not going to answer questions that would divide people on the basis of "religion, caste, or creed", as his government believed in working without bias or prejudice.
Asked about repeated allegations from Mamata that the BJP-RSS parivar was trying to divide people to gain political mileage, Singh said his party wanted to run the country with "justice and humanity".
"The Centre would extend all cooperation to the states in containing violence. But the states, too, must take an initiative as law and order is a state subject," he added, specifically ruling out the possibility of a central intervention in Bengal, as suggested by the party's national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya last week.
Asked what he thought of the armed processions the BJP had taken out in Bengal on Ram Navami and the controversy it had generated, Singh shied away from a direct response. "I can tell you that it is a state government's duty to provide security to processions and events of all religions," he said.
Sources in the state BJP leadership said instead of boosting confidence, Singh had "demoralised" the Bengal unit today.
"When asked about issues such as Saradha and Narada, he said the law would take its own course. When we asked him about the alleged BJP-Trinamul bonhomie, which is a major headache for us, he said we should do our work without paying heed to rumours," said another BJP leader who didn't want to be named.
According to him, there was no assurance from Singh of a free hand from the national leadership for the state unit to go all out in its attack on Mamata and her party.
"This probably stems from the good ties he has always shared personally with the Trinamul chief. But personal relations have nothing to do with politics," he added.
A senior south Calcutta district leader said even Union minister of water resources and Ganga rejuvenation Uma Bharati, who was also in Bengal today, was relatively more critical of the Trinamul establishment.
"There was a lot of hope and hype over Rajnathji's visit, especially after Uttar Pradesh. At the end of the day, there was disappointment," he said.
Sources said Mamata had sent a box of sweets to Singh through state urban development minister Firhad Hakim.
"This was a gesture of basic decency on the eve of the Bengali New Year.... There is no politics in this," said a Trinamul source. "The box had many kinds of sandesh, besides other sweets," he added.