Update: This article was first published on November 1. Since then there have been several developments including Adhikari's resignation as the West Bengal Transport Minister on November 27. Additional details have thus been added.
Intra-party conflicts and factionalism seem to be the current theme in Bengal’s electoral politics as major parties, both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC), are appearing to deal with feuds within their ranks, months away from the 2021 West Bengal Legislative Assembly election.
When the Bengal BJP is fraught with several lobbies within its unit and rife with rumours of dissent against its president Dilip Ghosh, the TMC is seemingly dealing with a ‘one-man-revolt’ led by a prominent minister, Subhendu Adhikari.
In this piece, The Free Press Journal dissects the contention over the reported intra-party feud within TMC:
Who is Subhendu Adhikari?
Subhendu Adhikari is a TMC leader and the former Minister in Charge of Transport, Irrigation and Water resource in the Mamata Banerjee-led Government of West Bengal. A member of the 15th and the 16th Lok Sabha, he was elected from the Tamluk constituency.
On November 27, he wrote to the Chief Minister and Governor resigning from his post. Not only that, over the last few days, Adhikari has also resigned as the chairman of the Hooghly River Bridge Commissioners and as the Chairman of Haldia Development Authority.
For all intents and purposes, Subhendu Adhikari still remains notable for having played a vital role in TMC's Nandigram movement in 2007 which helped the party snatch power from the Left Front.
Since he was an MLA from the Kanthi Dakshin constituency at the time, Adhikari was central to galvanizing the people of Nandigram under the umbrella of the Bhumi Uchhed Pratirodh Committee against the Left Front regime, at a time when the land movement was picking up steam following outrage over a chemical hub in the region.
When the Left’s iron hand seemed invincible, it was Subhendu Adhikari who managed to defeat CPI(M)’s notorious strongman Lakshman Seth, also consolidating the TMC’s base in the infamous ‘Jangal Mahal’ region i.e. Paschim Medinipur, Purulia, and the Bankura districts.
Why is he influential?
In addition to him being one of the most popular mass leaders of TMC in the Midnapore Jangal Mahal region, it is to be noted that Subhendu is a member of the powerful Adhikari family of the East Midnapore district.
His father Sisir Adhikari and younger brother Dibyendu Adhikari are TMC MPs from Tamluk and the Kanthi Lok Sabha constituencies respectively. Sisir Adhikari was also the former Union Minister of State for Rural Development in the Manmohan Singh government.
According to TMC sources, Subhendu Adhikari is an immensely popular leader in East Midnapore, holding sway over 35 Assembly seats, spanning West Midnapore, Bankura, Purulia, Jhargram and parts of Birbhum.
What seems to be the contention?
Subhendu Adhikari on Saturday (October 31) said that he has come up through hard work and has not been parachuted or helped to move up the rungs - a comment which did not go down well with the party's top brass.
"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 while addressing a programme in Purulia.
According to TMC sources, Adhikari, who holds the portfolio of the state transport department, has been maintaining a distance with the party's leaders and has given several important party meetings a miss.
"He did not attend several party meetings, both online and in person. We are apprehensive about his future move. Only time will tell what he is up to," a senior state TMC leader had said.
BJP jumps in
Although the BJP had initially declined to comment on the development, it was reported that the saffron camp would be keen to have a "mass leader" like Adhikari who holds sway over various assembly seats in the tribal Jangalmahal districts of Purulia, Bankura and West Midnapore districts in its camp. A day later, BJYM state president Saumitra Khan had invited the transport minister to join the BJP.
The BJP MP also said that the TMC had "no place for honest and hardworking people", and only the saffron party could give him a platform to work freely.
"There is no place for hardworking and honest people in the TMC. Mass leaders like Suvendu Adhikari will be sidelined to pave the way for a particular MP. He should resign from the TMC and join the BJP. He will have the freedom to work in a democratic party like the BJP," Khan told reporters in Kolkata.
In the past, too, state BJP president Dilip Ghosh had, on several occasions, lauded Adhikari for his "strong connect with the masses".
Following his resignation as a Minister on Friday, BJP National Secretary Anupam Hazra raised several eyebrows as he took to Twitter hailing Adhikari's resignation as a "welcome step".
The TMC leadership, however, has criticised the saffron camp for trying to split the party and said that Adhikari was one of its "assets". Reacting to Khan's comment, senior TMC leader and MP Saugato Roy alleged that the BJP was trying to engineer defections in his party.
"Suvendu is an asset of the TMC. The BJP is well aware that they can't do anything on their own so they are trying to engineer defections in the party. That is the only thing they are good at," he had said.
A senior TMC leader said that reconciliation efforts were underway, and the party has opened communication channels with Adhikari and his loyalists. "We will try our best to ensure he stays in the party. The rest is up to him," the senior TMC leader said.
In mid-November, the Trinamool Congress had opened back channel talks with the rebellious minister and made attempts to address his grievances.
Banners with 'Dadar Anugami' (followers of dada) written on them were seen in various parts of East Midnapore district in the last two months.
Speculation was rife that Adhikari might float his own outfit, ahead of the 2021 Assembly elections.
Adhikari, a popular leader in East Midnapore, holds sway over 35 Assembly seats, spanning West Midnapore, Bankura, Purulia, Jhargram and parts of Birbhum, the TMC sources said.
(With inputs from PTI)