Days after quitting as West Bengal’s transport minister, senior All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Suvendu Adhikari said at a rally on November 29 that people will have the last word amid speculation of his next political move. Adhikari’s statement came at a time when the West Bengal Legislative Assembly elections are less than six months away.
Speculation is rife that disgruntled Adhikari may quit TMC altogether and float his own political outfit, which may hurt the ruling party’s prospects in the upcoming assembly polls. Leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is pulling all stops to try and defeat the TMC in this election, has reportedly said it’s ready to welcome Adhikari into the party fold.
Making the right noises?
While addressing a rally, his first after quitting Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s Cabinet, Adhikari refrained from making any political statement and focussed on the history of East Midnapore – his home district. He spoke about how the people of the district had contributed to the struggle for Independence.
"We will organise nationalist programmes and remember the sacrifices made by the people of Tamluk against the British rule. We will remember founders of our Constitution who believed in the principle of 'For the People, Of the People, By the People'," Adhikari said. The Tamralipta Janakalyan Samity – an organisation headed by Adhikari – will organise a number of programmes in December to commemorate the 1942 freedom struggle in Tamluk.
Adhikari, a Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) from Tamluk, maintained that preparation of his rally had been underway for a long time and had nothing to do with his recent resignation. "I believe people will say the last word," Adhikari said, without elaborating.
A day before quitting as a minister in the state government, the 49-year-old had resigned as the chairman of the Hooghly River Bridge Commissioners (HRBC). Political observers say that Adhikari has been distancing himself from the TMC for quite some time. Earlier, he had addressed rallies without the TMC banner and criticised the Banerjee-led party.
News reports have emerged suggesting that Adhikari was unhappy with the organisational rejig effected a few months ago and was also not comfortable with the idea of scrapping the post of the district observer as he was TMC’s in-charge in various districts.
What it means for Trinamool Congress
The Adhikari family has been an important component of the Trinamool Congress and holds clout in certain regions of West Bengal. Suvendu’s father Sisir and brother Dibyendu are TMC Members of Parliament (MPs) from Tamluk and Kanthi Lok Sabha constituencies, respectively. Sisir was also the union minister of state for rural development in the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. If Adhikari quits TMC, his family members may also follow suit.
Apart from East Midnapore district where he hails from, Adhikari is believed to have considerable influence in about 35-40 assembly constituencies of West Midnapore, Bankura, Jhargram and Purulia districts which fall in the tribal Jangal Mahal area, and parts of Birbhum district.
On October 31, Adhikari had commented that he has come up through hard work and was not parachuted or helped to move up the ladder. The comment was reportedly not liked by the party high command. "I have neither been parachuted nor have I come up through lift. I have come up the hard way. Those who were inducted into the party by me are now conspiring against me," Adhikari said during an event in Purulia.
In an apparent jibe at Adhikari, Lok Sabha MP and the chief minister’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee on November 29 said that the TMC is a grassroots party and nobody has been able to parachute down or use a lift to rise within it.
The TMC and its supremo Mamata Banerjee is like a "mother to her children", Abhishek Banerjee said. "The mother who has given her children the opportunity to work for the people and rise through its steps is Mamata Banerjee."
"Mamata Banerjee created the Trinamool Congress, which means the 'grassroots' party. No one has been able to land on top of it with a parachute or use a lift to rise," Abhishek, who is also the TMC’s youth wing chief, said at a rally in Adhikari’s turf of East Midnapore.
While Adhikari was holding a rally on November 29, state ministers Rajib Banerjee and Sujit Bose were also leading their own gathering of TMC's youth wing around 10 kilometres away in Haldia. "Those who are trying to destabilise Bengal will not succeed. Our leader is Mamata Banerjee who led the Singur and Nandigram movements. She is the true leader of the people," Bose said.
But, despite the indirect confrontation, TMC has reportedly opened backchannel talks with Adhikari and is trying to address his grievances to retain him in the party. Senior party MPs Sougata Roy and Sudip Bandopadhyay have been assigned to talk to Adhikari, reports suggest.
West Bengal will head for assembly polls in April-May 2021. The state has seen the dramatic rise of the BJP over the last few years. This saffron surge is the main hurdle for CM Banerjee who is seeking a third consecutive chief ministerial term.
The BJP’s efforts on the ground led to the party winning 18 of Bengal’s 42 parliamentary seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, up from just two in 2014. This rise came at the cost of not only the TMC, which saw its tally fall from 34 to 22, but also the Congress and the Left Front. The BJP’s vote share in the state soared to 40.6 percent in the 2019 general election from about 17 percent in 2014. This brought the saffron party’s vote share close to TMC’s 43.6 percent. Thus, Adhikari forming his own party or joining a competitor would make matters worse for the TMC.