Why TMC MLA Suvendu Adhikari is a big catch for BJP before elections?

In 2009, Suvendu was elected to the Lok Sabha from Tamluk, defeating CPI-M strongman Lakshman Seth by 172,000 votes. Photo: Shutterstock
The Narcotics, Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act is one reason why the Trinamool Congress (TMC) MLA from Nandigram, Suvendu Adhikari, would resign from the party and his seat in the West Bengal Assembly to probably join the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), possibly later this week.

 

There are many others.

 

He had the option of forming a party after he fell out of favour with TMC chief and CM Mamata Banerjee, but the NDPS Act is the favoured weapon of choice of the West Bengal government against political opponents. And Adhikari fears thousands of his supporters could be thrown into jail by the state government if he did not have the central government’s protection. With his exit, the TMC will lose a crucial, politically influential vote catcher in the Junglemahal region and areas in minority-dominated Murshidabad, and the BJP will get a face it badly needs, especially in rural Bengal.

 

How Suvendu Adhikari became the go-to man in the politics of south Bengal is well documented. His father, Sisir Adhikari, a Congressman, was a force to reckon with and was a minister in the Manmohan Singh government. In a region dominated by the Left, Contai and Tamluk flew the Congress flag defiantly. As the Left empire crumbled, Nandigram hastened its collapse and it was Suvendu Adhikari who led the protest against the Left’s “land grabbing”. Recognising his potential, Mamata made him president of the TMC youth wing and the party’s observer for the Jangalmahals, at the time in the grips of Maoist groups. In a space of fewer than five years, the TMC was able to gouge political space from both the Congress and the Left, as well as regain the trust of young men in the region who were drifting into Left-wing extremism.

 

His rise was impressive. In 2009, Suvendu was elected to the Lok Sabha from Tamluk, defeating CPI-M strongman Lakshman Seth by 172,000 votes. He retained the Tamluk parliamentary constituency by defeating the CPI-M’s Ibrahim Ali in 2014. In 2016, the TMC fielded him in the Assembly election from Nandigram. He was pitted against Abdul Kadir Sheikh, joint candidate of the Left Front and the Congress. Suvendu won the contest, getting over 67 per cent votes. After his spectacular win, Mamata made him minister of transport. In 2018, he was also given the charge of environment.

 

But Mamata was getting wary of his rise. Besides, she had her own succession plan and it did not involve Suvendu. But she could not ignore his proven political work either, so a parallel organisation, TMC Juba, was created and her nephew Abhishek was chosen to head it. Later, she dissolved the TMC Juba and the TMC’s youth wing was resurrected: Once again under Abhishek.

 

Suvendu was used to grow the party — but he was never allowed into Mamata’s inner circle. Nor did he particularly want to be counted as a courtier: As an MLA, he made it a point never to spend the night in Kolkata. He would drive 200 km every day from his constituency to the state capital, sometimes reaching home at 1 am and leaving early morning again to go to work. The trust deficit between the CM and her most important minister was evident. He once observed: “I was transport minister, but Mamata ran the ministry”.

 

Suvendu Adhikari
July 21 every year is remembered in Nandigram as martyrs’ day. Initially, the TMC observed this with great fanfare. But now, the ritual of remembering those who died defending their land in firing ordered by the Left Front has fallen into disuse: Except Suvendu who still follows it scrupulously. This year, it was observed online. On July 23, the TMC held its core committee meeting. There Mamata announced all observers’ posts now stood abolished. This affected Suvendu the most; it signalled his work in the Jangalmahals was over and he must stay confined to his constituency.

 

Other slights followed. A cyclone hit Bengal earlier this year. East Midnapore was badly hit, but rehabilitation was the slowest there and the focus was in South 24 Parganas. After Covid-19 spread in Bengal, the CM interacted and drew up plans with every minister, except Suvendu.

 

After Durga Puja, it seemed differences were irreconcilable. Posters came up all over Suvendu’s constituency at programmes he sponsored. They said: “Dadar anugami (follower of Dada).” Officially, Suvendu denied all knowledge. But there were no TMC banner or picture of Mamata at these meetings. In the meantime, sensing he was on the brink, TMC leaders travelled to Nandigram and held a meeting where he was dubbed “Mir Jaffer”.

 

Efforts are now on at reconciliation. But Suvendu will not be able to accept the leadership of Abhishek —which is what it all boils down to. His defection to the BJP could be a gamechanger in Bengal politics.

 



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