In The Suvendu Story, Picture Abhi Baaki Hai
The Trinamool has finally woken up to the possibility of their leader’s exit.
"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", roared Suvendu Adhikari at a rally in Ramnagar in West Bengal's East Midnapore district.
The rally, like many that Adhikari, Transport Minister in the West Bengal government, and a senior Trinamool Congress leader, has been organising since May, was without any party motifs or logos or Chief Minister Banerjee's face.
This rally too, like all of Suvendu's recent rallies had the politically-inquisitive and the media speculating a "big announcement". A possible move to the BJP, or atleast a formal resignation from the Trinamool, were the bets placed for this one, amidst months of reports on a growing rift between the minister and his party.
Being Suvendu Adhikari
"In all the posts I hold, I have been elected, not selected or nominated", said Suvendu at the rally, adding that there are certain things he cannot say while he's still an active member of a political party.
On 10 November, Suvendu Adhikari held a similar "independent" rally in Nandigram on the occasion of Nandigram Dibas, an annual commemoration by the Trinamool to pay homage to the 14 civilians killed in police firing during the protests against the Left government in 2007.
"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", in an evident swipe against Mamata Banerjee's nephew, and presently Trinamool's man no. 2, Abhishek Banerjee.
Suvendu wasn't lying about truly moving up the political ladder. Son of a Congressman, Shishir Adhikari, who has been with Mamata since she started the Trinamool, Suvendu started as a municipal councillor before being elected MLA from Dakshin Kanthi in East Midnapore in 2006.
In 2007, he was instrumental in the Nandigram anti-land acquisition protests, which ultimately was one of the key reasons for the downfall of the Left government in 2011.
Suvendu then went on to win the Lok Sabha elections from the Tamluk constituency in 2009, and was subsequently made in-charge of the Maoist riddle Jangalmahal area, then a CPI(M) bastion.
In 2011, when Mamata Banerjee beat the Left with a resounding margin, "Pahar hasche, Jangalmahal hasche" (Hills are smiling, Jangalmahal is smiling) became a Trinamool war cry. Clearly, Suvendu has delivered.
Thereafter he also made significant inroads for the Trinamool in Malda and Murshidabad, increasing his clout and importance in the party.
However, tensions started simmering when Abhishek replaced Suvendu as the Trinamool Youth Wing President in 2015.
That notwithstanding, though, he was made minister after being elected from Nandigram in 2016, and was still known as one of Mamata's top lieutenants. His relationship with Abhishek, who was slowly being inducted to the top wrungs of the party, remained testy.
In 2018, before Lok Sabha, Mamata gave additional responsibility to the Young Turks of the party, Abhishek and Suvendu included.
After the elections, and the BJP winning 18 seats, both had their wings clipped by Mamata.
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.
This was an interesting time in Trinamool power politics. Mukul Roy had made his exit and after the Lok Sabha debacle, there was no clear number 2.
For Kishor, this was also his first tryst working on an extensive two-year contract with a ruling party. Over the next few months, Kishor and IPAC developed tight control over the happenings in Trinamool as well as the Bengal government, ruffling many feathers in the process.
With this, Abhishek Banerjee's clout also increased.
"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. More organisational power within the party also slipped away.
Party insiders say that with the elections coming close, IPAC is likely to not go with Suvendu's choice of candidates for approximately 65 seats spread across Midnapore and adjoining districts over which he holds influence. As organisational changes were made in the party in the last few months, many of Suvendu's main men were given less control.
On 12 November, 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.
"He is too ambitious and Prashant thinks such a person will not work for the party", said a source in I-PAC. When asked if they're apprehensive of losing Suvendu's massive influence if he were to quit before the elections, the source said that his exit "will be of little consequence".
"Our strategy is to make it a Mamata vs Modi battle. Individual leaders will not be on the ballot, it will be Mamata", they said.
The party, however, seems to have woken up to Suvendu's exit being a possibility after his recent acts of revolt. Senior party MPs have met Adhikari, who has, in no unclear terms, expressed his displeasure with Abhishek and Kishor.
Where Do Things Stand Now?
As of now, Suvendu has his own band of supporters, concentrated in the Midnapore district, who call themselves 'Dadar Anugami', or followers of Dada.
These supporters have, in the past, put up posters in support of Adhikari, declaring him their supreme leader.
The BJP, soures say, have reached out to Adhikari but are waiting to see how things unfold before making aggressive efforts.
In the meanwhile, Suvendu continues to be missing from cabinet meetings, party meetings and operates independent of the TMC.
Talks are on at top levels of the party to dissuade Suvendu from public displays of dissent. Clearly till the elections come around, picture baaki hai.
Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.