Why Suvendu Adhikari is the New Dada in Town
Suvendu Adhikari joining the BJP has sent Bengal politics into a tizzy.
(This story was first published on 20 November 2020 and is being rephrased and recontextualised in the event of Suvendu Adhikari joining the Bharatiya Janata Party on 19 December)
"When I had COVID-19, those who I toiled 21 years for did not call to ask how I was. Amit (Shah) ji checked on me twice", roared Suvendu Adhikari in a fiery speech as he formally joined the BJP at a rally by Shah in Adhikari's home turf of Midnapore.
Adhikari's exit from the party, given his former stature as the Trinamool Congress' man no. 2 has sent West Bengal politics in a tizzy. But why is Adhikari an important man in the scheme of things? Here's a look.
The New Dada in Town
"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 on 19 November.
The rally was, like many that Adhikari, then a Transport Minister in the West Bengal government, and a senior Trinamool Congress leader, had been organising since May. It was without any party motifs or logos or Chief Minister Banerjee's face.
This rally too, like all of Adhikari's recent rallies had the politically-inquisitive and the media speculating a "big announcement". A possible move to the BJP, or at least 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 the then minister 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", he said in an evident swipe against Mamata Banerjee's nephew, and presently Trinamool's man no. 2, Abhishek Banerjee.
Suvendu Adhikari wasn't lying about truly moving up the political ladder. Son of a Congressman, Shishir Adhikari, who has been with Banerjee 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.
Adhikari 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 Adhikari 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 rungs of the party, remained testy.
In 2018, before Lok Sabha polls, Mamata Banerjee 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 the CM.
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 I-PAC 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, I-PAC was 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.
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.
Posters in support of Adhikari have also surfaced across the state, including, very recently, in Kolkata as well.
However, critics point out that while the optics make Suvendu's exit a big deal, the TMC under him in 2019, lost all of Jangalmahal to the BJP. All eyes are now on whether the Trinamool strategy to brand Adhikari as a traitor will be enough to put an end to this episode.
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