Kolkata: On Saturday (December 19), while welcoming Suvendu Adhikari, a former Trinamool Congress (TMC) heavyweight, into the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at a rally in West Midnapore district, Union home minister Amit Shah said that a string of desertions henceforth would leave Mamata Banerjee all alone by the time the 2021 assembly elections take place.
The TMC reacted immediately, saying that the desertions of a few leaders did not matter to the party because it depended on workers and support from the masses, who look only up to Mamata and nobody else.
“In 2016, Mamata Banerjee had said that she was the party’s candidate in all 294 seats. She said that even in Nandigram, the constituency of Suvendu Adhikari, who at that time did not have the courage to object and say that he was the actual candidate,” said TMC Lok Sabha MP Kalyan Banerjee, a part of the TMC’s seven-member steering committee of which Adhikari too was a part until the beginning of this week.
Political observers, however, do not write off Adhikari as just another TMC leader. He was known to have his own follower base across different districts. In addition, Mukul Roy and Adhikari were the two TMC leaders who engineered most of the defections to the TMC from the Congress and Left parties.
Roy has already played his role in getting disgruntled TMC leaders to join the BJP and now, with Adhikari boarding the same boat, the duo could make it difficult for the TMC to keep other leaders and members in line.
Indicating that Adhikari’s loss will not merely be the loss of one leader, TMC’s Contai MLA Banashri Maiti, Monteshwar MLA Saikat Panja, Kalna MLA Biswajit Kundu and Gajole MLA Deepali Biswas have followed Adhikari into the BJP, along with the TMC’s Burdwan East MP Sunil Kumar Mandal.
Two other TMC MLAs switched camp, along with two Left MLAs and one Congress MLA, a former TMC Lok Sabha MP and a former TMC minister.
There were several other district-level leaders, including elected public representatives in panchayat and municipal bodies, who joined the saffron camp.
According to political analyst Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhuri, a professor of political science at Rabindra Bharati University in Kolkata, the recent rebellions in the TMC are a result of the party’s reorganisation from the bottom to the top levels, during which many leaders saw their influence reduced.
“The recent reorganisation was done on the basis of Prashant Kishor’s team’s surveys on the grassroots-level image of TMC leaders in the districts. Those who had their influence reduced had, in many cases, a poor public image, public relations or organisational capabilities. It can’t be said that every leader joining the BJP will bring the party good fortune,” Basu Ray Chaudhuri said.
He said that rumours had been doing the rounds for over a year that a good number of the TMC’s sitting MLAs would not get a ticket in the upcoming elections. “This apprehension might lead several other TMC leaders to jump ship,” he said.
Here we take a look at some of the leaders who joined the BJP, and current standing in the TMC.
Sunil Mandal had won the 2011 assembly elections on a Forward Bloc ticket but switched over to the TMC ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, courtesy Mukul Roy. He was elected from the Burdwan East Lok Sabha constituency on a TMC ticket in 2014 and 2019. In end 2019, Mamata had entrusted him with the revival of the party’s cell for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities. However, dissatisfied with his performance, the party later took the charge away from him. Over the past few months, he had been less active in the party’s organisational affairs.
The MLA from Gajole in Malda district won the 2016 assembly elections on a Communist Party of India (Marxist) ticket but joined the TMC soon after. Her husband, Ranjit Biswas, also became a TMC leader. However, in the recent reorganisation of the party, her husband lost the post of TMC’s Gajole block unit president and was appointed as Malda district unit general secretary, a less powerful position. Suvendu Adhikari had brought Dipali to the TMC and Malda’s TMC leadership was suspicious about her next moves, since Adhikari made his exit very clear.
The Monteshwar MLA from East Burdwan district had been at the centre of infighting within the party since getting elected in a November 2016 by-election following the death of his father, then sitting MLA Sajal Panja. The TMC’s local leadership found it difficult to get along the new MLA and earlier this year, a section of the TMC’s Monteshwar block leadership even decided to boycott the MLA altogether. Over the past few months, Panja had remained inactive and had said in early November that he had lost all interest in the TMC.
Biswajit Kundu, the Kalna MLA since 2011, too was facing internal rivalry, with the majority of Kalna’s TMC leadership, including Kalna II block president Pranab Roy and Kalna’s municipal chairman Deb Prasad Bag, failing to get along with him. He has been inactive since October, after the party’s reorganisation in September saw his influence waning. He did not participate in the block-level conferences of the party and, by the end of October, TMC’s East Burdwan district unit leadership was sure he was on his way out. The block-level conferences in Kalna were held in early November without Kundu’s presence.
Known as a Mukul Roy-loyalist, the Barrackpore MLA from North 24-Parganas district had become inactive and stayed away from party activities for more than a year. Months ago, he had announced that he will no longer be contesting on a TMC ticket and had removed himself from all activities of the party for the 2021 elections.
The surprise element among those joining the BJP was an MLA from Nagrakata in Jalpaiguri district of north Bengal. Sukra Munda had been actively participating in the party’s activities till the beginning of last week, and had been praising chief minister Mamata Banerjee. He even attended Mamata’s meeting with the leadership of Alipurduar and Jalpaiguri districts on December 14. He was, a few months ago, appointed vice-president of the Jalpaiguri district unit.
The Contai North MLA has been representing the constituency since 2011. Banashree Maiti had been active in the party’s organisational work till October, but started distancing herself from November. Known as a Suvendu Adhikari loyalist, she did not attend Mamata’s rally in West Midnapore district on December 7.
Dasharath Tirkey won the 2011 assembly elections on a Revolutionary Socialist Party ticket but switched over to the TMC ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. He went on to become the Alipurduars MP. However, he lost in 2019 to the BJP candidate. He was enjoying organisational importance in the TMC. Some BJP workers took out protest rallies in Alipurduar’s on Saturday against Tirkey’s induction into the party.
Shyamapada Mukherjee, a minister in Mamata’s cabinet between 2011 and 2016, lost the 2016 assembly elections but continued as the chairman of Bishnupur municipality. His importance in the TMC had reduced of late. He, however, is unlikely to have a smooth entry in his new party, as BJP workers had already staged demonstrations in Bankura district after news broke out that Mukherjee might be joining the BJP. Local BJP leaders of Bishnupur alleged that it is against Mukherjee’s ‘misdeeds’ that they build their movement in the area.
The Cooch Behar Dakshin MLA, who joined the BJP in November, had been disgruntled over the reorganisation in the block and district-level leadership, as he felt his influence had been reduced. Party local leaders said despite his clean image, he had not been giving time to organisational work and that was why more active leaders were given greater responsibilities. Goswami was unhappy that Prashant Kishor’s organisation had all the say in these changes, as the Kolkata leadership backed Kishor’s team’s suggestions, and that Mamata took no initiative in restoring the respect old-timers like him should have received.
Snigdhendu Bhattacharya is a journalist and author based in Kolkata.