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West Bengal: Suvendu Adhikari Not to Join BJP... For Now At Least

Last night’s meeting was one of the many steps taken by the TMC to try to retain Suvendu Adhikari in the party.

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What was looking like a sixer for the BJP against the Trinamool Congress has not quite materialised. “All outstanding issues have been sorted out,” said TMC Stalwart Saugata Roy after a two-hour-long meeting with Suvendu Adhikari which also saw the presence of party MPs Sudip Bandopadhyay, Abhishek Banerjee and political strategist Prashant Kishor.

Roy told The Quint that the meeting in North Kolkata was a “success” where they “chatted, and resolved the outstanding issues with him.”

Adhikari, who had been holding independent rallies outside the TMC banner, recently resigned from his post as West Bengal’s transport minister on 27 November, hinting at a possible move to the BJP. 
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He had even taken a subtle dig at Abhishek Banerjee in his rally in Nandigram where he said:

“I have neither arrived here by parachute nor come up by an elevator. I have reached here by climbing the stairs, step by step by step.”
Suvendu Adhikari, TMC MLA

Roy further told The Quint that the differences that Adhikari had with Banerjee and Kishore “have been discussed in the meeting as they were there yesterday, and all those issues have been resolved.”

Why is Suvendu Adhikari Important?

Adhikari is one of those leaders in the TMC with a strong grassroots connect. He was instrumental in the 2007 anti-land acquisition protests (which eventually saw the fall of the Left government in 2011), taking over the Jangalmahal area (then a CPI(M) bastion), and also making significant inroads for the TMC in Malda and Murshidabad.

Trouble With Abhishek And The Advent Of Prashant Kishor

In July 2019, Abhishek Banerjee was instrumental in bringing onboard political strategist Prashant Kishor and his consultancy firm I-PAC to run the Trinamool's 2021 campaign.

"The party is now run by three people - Mamata, Abhishek and PK. Of these three, PK and Abhishek are one team," said a senior party leader who did not wish to be named.

Kishor's "clean-up" drive within the party meant that dissenters who were looking for more power and status, like Suvendu, were increasingly sidelined. Organisational power within the party also slipped away.

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Last night’s news might have come as a sigh of relief for the TMC after CM Mamata Banerjee was put on speakerphone for the good news, responding to which she expressed the urge to fight the upcoming elections on a united front.  

Saugata Roy To Ease Tension

While Roy did not take any credit in retaining Adhikari and said “it was a role assigned to me”, one can always argue that a senior leader acting as the interlocutor and repeatedly trying to talk to Adhikari sends a clear message that the TMC did not want this to issue to blow up, ahead of the elections.

The TMC had been for a while trying to retain Adhikari and also minimise the damage in the event of his departure from the party.

It All Started After His Rally at Nandigram

Prior to his resignation, Adhikari delivered speeches at two rallies in Nandigram and Ramnagar, and there was an evident tonal difference in the two. While the Nandigram rally, which came first had him take evident swipes against Banerjee who had been gaining more clout in the party while he was being sidelined, to a more subtle tone in the Ramnagar rally where he said:

“I’m the primary member of a party. I’m a minister in the Cabinet. The chief minister has made me a minister. She has not fired me and I have not left on my own”
Suvendu Adhikari, TMC MLA
What happened between the two rallies? Apparently, Kishor drove down to the Adhikari residence in Midnapore’s Kanthi in order to seek a meeting with Suvendu. He reportedly could only meet his father Shishir Adhikari who has been with Mamata since TMC was conceived. 
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A source in I-PAC also said that his exit (if it happens) will be of “little consequence” as no one in the party stood by him as he rebelled.

Pressure Tactics From The Party

Pressure tactics were used to tame Adhikari and his men’s rebellion. A day after the Nandigram rally, the state government withdrew security cover of three of his close aides namely Abu Taher, Meghnad Pal and Murshidabad “Zilla Sabhadiparti” Mohsharaf Hossain. Sources close to the party said that a senior TMC leader asserted that it was meant to serve as a message to anyone who aligned themselves with a dissident leader. The state administration, however, said that it was simply a routine process.

Where Do Things Stand Now?

Sources close to the party who know what transpired at the meeting say that TMC has managed to stop Adhikari from jumping ship. However, issues within the party remain and he is unlikely to go back to the TMC with the same position and clout that he had previously.

Local media also reported that Adhikari sent a WhatsApp message to Roy shortly after their meeting expressing his “discomfort”. The text read:

“My issues have not been resolved and conclusions are being drawn regardless. I was supposed to hold a press conference on 6th December where I would’ve given my opinion on the issues. But you informed the press before that. It will be difficult for us to work together. Please forgive me.”

With Roy declining to give more details about what transpired in the two-hour-long meeting, and what is the plan of action, all eyes are on Suvendu Adhikari who has been silent but is slated to address the public soon.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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