Notwithstanding the protestations of Mamata Banerjee, the West Bengal Chief Minister and head of the Trinamool Congress, that there is no trouble in her party, the exodus from it continues unabated. On Tuesday, Sports Minister Laxmiratan Shukla quit the Mamata Banerjee cabinet. Not unlike other Trinamool ministers, MLAs and leaders who have quit to join the BJP, Shukla, a former cricketer, too was said to be headed to the saffron party.
Announcing his resignation from the government on Tuesday, Shukla, however, decided to retain his membership of the assembly for now. A key figure in the ruling party set-up in Howrah district, Shukla is said to have acted in concert with a few of his colleagues in the party. It is speculated that the late cricket administrator Jagmohan Dalmiya’s MLA daughter, Baishali Dalmiya, who represents Bally constituency in Howrah district, too might quit the TMC ahead of the assembly poll due in the next couple of months.
Another minister, Rajib Banerjee, MLA from Domjur constituency in Howrah district, had earlier quit the government, protesting the ill-treatment of party workers 'as if they were the servants of party functionaries'. Notably, Suvendu Adhikari, a senior minister and key figure in the party, had recently quit, along with a number of supporters. With the BJP President J P Nadda scheduled to visit West Bengal soon, it is likely the fresh lot of TMC quitters might formally join the party with great fanfare at a public rally to be addressed by him.
Despite Mamata Banerjee hiring the services of the election strategist Prashant Kishore by paying a huge amount, there has been no stopping the exodus from the ruling party. Indeed, in several cases, those leaving the party have held Kishore and his hand-picked team of individual constituency surveyors responsible for their rebellion. Besides, the extra-constitutional role of Abhishek Banerjee, MP, has been cited as another major reason for them to turn their backs on the party.
Admittedly, none of deserters acknowledge that regardless of their grievances, they would have still stayed put in the party had there been no credible challenger in sight to take on the TMC in the coming poll. After the BJP won 18 seats in the last Lok Sabha poll, the party seems to have further consolidated its position in the State, emerging as the main challenger to the TMC, ahead of the fast shrinking Congress and the Left. Despite the Congress and the Left now entering an alliance for the forthcoming Assembly poll ---- in Kerala they will still fight against each other --- it is the BJP which poses the biggest threat to the TMC.
Poor on governance and delivery, Mamata Banerjee is now reduced to playing the outsider card against the BJP's laying proprietorial claim to some of the cultural and literary greats of Bengal to the exclusion of the rest of the country. This may not work to keep the BJP threat at bay, especially if a section of the 30-plus percentage of Muslim vote gets divided, as it will, considering that Asaduddin Owaisi has now decided to contest the coming state poll.
The All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen leader was in Kolkata recently to meet local Muslim leaders. His meeting with Abbas Siddiqui, an influential Muslim leader who has turned against Mamata Banerjee and is now determined to defeat her, has spread panic in the TMC ranks. For, the TMC was banking on the solid support of the Muslim minority by fuelling the anti-BJP phobia, but in case Siddiqui and Owaisi team up to contest the poll, things could definitely become dicey for Mamata Banerjee.
The AIMIM leader has rejected the Mamata Banerjee charge that the AIMIM was a vote-spoiler for the BJP, arguing that he did not contest the parliamentary poll and still the TMC leader failed to stop the rise of the BJP which won as many as 18 seats. The point is, with each desertion from the TMC, the impression gaining ground is that Mamata Banerjee’s fortress is crumbling. Hopefully, she will retain her equanimity when the things heat up further, closer to polling day.