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Why Suvendu Adhikari, who quit TMC and will likely join BJP, matters in West Bengal politics

Mamata Banerjee’s trusted lieutenant Suvendu Adhikari has dumped the West Bengal Chief Minister months ahead of next year’s assembly polls.
|| Shivani Shukla

Suvendu, credited with strengthening the All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) in rural West Bengal resigned as an MLA from Nandigram on December 16. He resigned as state transport minister last month.

While the suspense continues over his future plans, Suvendu is reportedly just a step away from joining the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), along with other rebels from the TMC.

The hype his political maneuvers has generated is a testament to the importance that the 50-year-old leader enjoys in the politics of West Bengal.

The powerful Adhikaris of East Midnapore

Suvendu comes from the political family of Adhikaris of East Midnapore district who were with the Congress before joining the TMC when it was founded in 1998. Since then, the family has dominated the politics in the region by consistently winning the Lok Sabha and assembly seats and thus strengthening the TMC in the district and adjoining areas.

It is said that the Adhikaris hold sway in at least 63 assembly seats in East Midnapore and neighbouring districts – nearly one-fifth of the 294 assembly seats in West Bengal.

Suvendu’s father Sisir Adhikari, 79, a former Congress MLA from Kanthi Dakshin (1982), is one of the founding members of the TMC. A former Union Minister of State in the UPA-II, Sisir is a three-term MP from Kanthi. Suvendu’s two other brothers are also in politics – Dibyendu Adhikari is the MP from Tamluk and Soumyendu Adhikari is the chairman of the Contai municipality.

Suvendu is considered mascot of Nandigram agitation against land acquisition in 2007 when he was an MLA. The movement is often cited to have helped the TMC storm to power in the state in 2011, ending the 34-year-long rule of the Left Front government.

It is said that the Adhikaris hold sway in at least 63 assembly seats in East Midnapore and neighbouring districts – NEARLY ONE-FIFTH OF THE 294 ASSEMBLY SEATS IN WEST BENGAL.

Suvendu won Tamluk seat in 2009 Lok Sabha elections and retained it in 2014. In 2016, however, he won the Nandigram assembly seat and was made transport minister in the Manata Banerjee’s cabinet.

Significance in West Bengal politics

After Mukul Roy’s exit in 2017, Suvendu became the de facto number 2 in the TMC after Mamata. He is hailed as a grassroots leader who connects with people in rural Bengal through his speeches in chaste Bengali.

It is said that the anti-land acquisition movement that he led had turned East Midnapore district into a TMC bastion. The TMC also enjoys support in Bankura, Purulia, and West Midnapore districts. The four districts together make up for 63 assembly seats, and Suvendu is said to influence at least 30 of them.

Suvendhu was made the TMC in-charge of Assembly bypolls after the BJP won 18 of the 42 seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The TMC won all the three bypolls including in Kharagpur Sadar, the constituency of West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh.

Mamata Banerjee

Why did he desert the TMC?

Many reports said Suvendu has been at odds with the TMC and Mamata because of the rise of Abhishek Banerjee, party MP and Mamata’s nephew.

He has been upset especially after Abhishek was entrusted with many key responsibilities in the party. Before announcing his resignation, Suvendu had been skipping party events and cabinet meetings since August this year.

He, however, took part in private programmes in Jhargram. Many also believe that he is not happy with political strategist Prashant Kishor working with the TMC.

Impact on the TMC

Suvendu is a TMC heavyweight. It will be difficult for the TMC to find a replacement with a few months before next year’s state assembly polls. His absence will definitely hurt the TMC in East Midnapore, at least. Besides, it will also affect the poll strategising for the party since he has been Mamata’s key lietenant since Mukul Roy left in 2017.

More importantly, Suvendu’s resignation, it seems, has turned into a tide. TMC MLA Jitendra Kulkarni stepped down as chief of Asansol Municipal Corporation soon after Suvendu’s resignation. Many other leaders are said to be sitting on the fence.

Should he join the BJP, it will obviously strengthen the saffron party which wants the fight to be the BJP Vs the TMC, sidelining the Congress and the Left.

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