Suvendu Adhikari, one of Trinamool Congress’ most prominent faces, joined the BJP along with a sitting MP and nine MLAs besides others at a public rally attended by Union Home Minister Amit Shah in Midnapore on Saturday.
The BJP hopes its precious catch in Bengal would lead an exodus from its principal political rival, bleeding the TMC dry, underscoring the indispensability of defection as a political weapon in Indian politics.
Welcoming Adhikari for leading the flood of leaders, Shah said the Saturday’s desertion was the beginning of the end of TMC. “By the time the elections come, you will be left alone in the party, Didi,” Shah said alluding to TMC chief Mamata Banerjee.
Many more leaders from other parties would join the BJP in the run up to the elections, BJP sources said, supplementing Shah’s remark.
Only the other day, senior state BJP leader Mukul Roy, a turncoat from the TMC himself, termed defection as an essential part of politics.
Of the nine MLAs who crossed the fence in Midnapore, six are from the TMC and one each from the CPI (M), CPI and the Congress. TMC MP Sunil Mondal also took over the BJP flag from Shah in the meeting.
Significantly for the BJP, 50-year-old Adhikari also managed to bring to the BJP’s kitty five prominent Muslim leaders from the state, including former legislator Parvez Rahman and general secretary of the TMC’s minority cell Kabirul Islam.
Muslims comprise over 27 per cent of the electorate in the state and play a crucial role in deciding the fate of candidates in at least 125 assembly seats out of 294. To win Bengal, the BJP knows it cannot afford to ignore this large section.
The party has already launched a minority outreach drive, setting a target to enroll 20 lakh members from the Muslim community by the year-end. Though the party has not succeeded in reaching the target so far, it has relatively toned down its diatribes against Muslims, even as ‘Jai Shree Ram’ slogans continue in the party’s meetings and programmes.
Joining of minority leaders, BJP expects would help change the party’s image among the community sections.
The TMC on its part refused to pay much importance to the development, stating the desertion of “opportunists” would not cause much damage to its prospect of returning to power in the 2021 assembly polls.
Notwithstanding such brave face, the desertion of its 40-odd members ranging from MP to lower-level functionaries is expected to severely hurt the TMC, particularly in its stronghold of South Bengal.
One of the architects of TMC’s Nandigram movement that propelled the party to power in 2011, Adhikari was a major force of the TMC’s ground-level organization and has his loyalists in almost every district in Bengal. The “joining ceremony” demonstrated his influence.
Before joining the BJP, Adhikari quit as Nandigram MLA and also relinquished his ministerial portfolio, raising speculation about his political future.
TMC sources in private said that Adhikari could influence results in about 40 assembly seats. To regain the ground, Mamata Banerjee is planning to tour Nandigram next month.
Launching a scathing attack on his one-time mentor and Didi (elder sister), Adhikari gave a call to “Tolabaaj bhaipo hatao (get rid of extortionist nephew)” in an oblique reference to chief minister’s nephew and TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee.
Before joining the saffron party, responding to the call of his self-proclaimed ‘elder brother’ Amit Shah, Adhikari wrote an emotional letter to TMC members alleging the party had been ignoring those who had built it from scratch.
He also said the party was transformed into a fief, an allegation the TMC found most ironic coming from Adhikari, whose father and a brother were TMC MPs, while another brother is a municipality chairman.
“When he talked about fiefdom, did he refer to his family?” TMC leader Saugata Roy asked.
The BJP, on the other hand, said the TMC did not have any moral rights to question defection politics. “I want to ask Mamata didi, was TMC your original party?” Shah said in the rally.
True, it was the TMC which started defection politics in Bengal. After coming to power, it had engineered several splits in the Congress and the Left Front. The TMC adversaries say the BJP is merely paying it back in its own coin.
In the past, the defection politics benefitted the TMC, but there is now a possibility of history repeating itself, this time to BJP’s advantage.