Suvendu Adhikari, Trinamool Congress heavyweight, quits Mamata Banerjee’s Cabinet, BJP says its doors are open

Published : November 27, 2020 21:12 IST

Suvendu Adhikari. Photo: ASHOKE CHAKRABARTY

In a major political development ahead of the 2021 Assembly elections in West Bengal, Suvendu Adhikari, Trinamool Congress heavyweight and a Minister, resigned from Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s Cabinet on November 27. Mihir Goswami, another influential Trinamool leader from north Bengal and MLA from Cooch Behar Dakshin constituency, joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the same day.

Adhikari’s resignation does not bode well for the Trinamool Congress. Political observers see it as a prelude to his severing ties with the party completely. He is one of the tallest political leaders in south Bengal and wields considerable clout in several districts besides Purbo Medinipur, his home district. In a tersely worded letter addressed to the Chief Minister, he wrote: “I do hereby tender my resignation from my office as Minister. Steps may be taken for its immediate acceptance. I am simultaneously [sending] by e-mail, this to His Excellency, Governor of West Bengal, for doing the needful at his end. I thank you for giving me an opportunity to serve the people of the State, which I did all through with commitment, dedication and sincerity.”

Suvendu Adhikari came into prominence as the main political figure in the prolonged and violent agitation in Nandigram against the forcible land acquisition by the then Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front government. The Nandigram movement, which was triggered off when 14 villagers were killed in police firing on March 14, 2007, was one of the most important political movements that paved the way for Mamata Banerjee’s ascent to power in the State in 2011. Nandigram is also a symbol of her party’s resistance against the CPI(M), and if Suvendu Adhikari leaves the Trinamool Congress, it will be very difficult for her to retain the region electorally.

Adhikari, who was the Minister in charge of Transport, Irrigation, and Water Resources Investigation and Development, has also resigned from his positions as Chairman of the Haldia Development Authority and Chairman of the Hooghly River Bridge Commission. However, he has neither quit the party nor resigned from his MLA seat so far. Soon after his resignation, Mamata Banerjee held an emergency meeting with the top party leadership at her residence in south Kolkata.

Sougata Roy, senior Trinamool leader and Lok Sabha MP, who has been assigned by the party to hold talks with Suvendu Adhikari, said: “As long has he is with the party, I will continue to hope and continue to try. This is what I have been instructed by the party…. This is not the final step. The final step is leaving the party. When that happens, there is no scope for talks.” In the meantime, important Trinamool leaders such as Kalyan Banerjee, Lok Sabha MP, and Firhad Hakim, Minister of Urban Development and Municipal Affairs, have been consistently attacking Adhikari.

The BJP said its doors were open for Suvendu Adhikari. There is a feeling in the saffron party, which has emerged as a serious contender in the coming Assembly elections, that the recent developments are a huge setback for Mamata Banerjee. Joyprakash Majumdar, vice president of the BJP in Bengal and head of the party’s political analysis department, told Frontline: “Suvendu Adhikari is the only other mass leader in the Trinamool. If he leaves the Trinamool, it is expected to trigger a large-scale exodus from among the ranks of the Trinamool leadership. The Adhikari family has a wide area of political influence and this will hit the Trinamool hard electorally.” Though Suvendu Adhikari has not yet said that he will be joining the BJP, “it is the next logical step for him to take,” said Joyprakash Majumdar.

Biswanth Chakraborty, the well-known psephologist and professor of political science at Rabindra Bharati University, said: “This is the biggest political development ahead of the 2021 Assembly elections in Bengal. This can lead to a division of Trinamool in such a way that it will make it very difficult for the ruling party to withstand the impact. If a crowd-puller leader like Suvendu Adhikari joins the BJP, then it will have a pronounced advantage over Trinamool before the elections.”

For several months, speculation was rife about Adhikari’s exit as differences between him and the Trinamool leadership came to the fore. Posters of Adhikari without any mention of the Trinamool began to appear in different parts of south Bengal, much to the chagrin of the party leadership who began to react with harsh statements. Adhikari himself took a swipe at Abhishek Banerjee, Mamata Banerjee’s nephew and Lok Sabha MP who is also widely believed to be the heir to the party leadership, saying: “I neither came down by a parachute, nor went up by an elevator. I climbed each and every step up the political staircase.”