Turf war deepens in Bengal; TMC, BJP try to put house in order
Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee (R) is planning to hold a rally on December 29 in Birbhum where BJP leader and Union Home Minister Amit Shah held a roadshow on December 20. Image: Prathap Ravishankar

Turf war deepens in Bengal; TMC, BJP try to put house in order

The BJP has started cracking the whip to curb rebellion in the party over the entry of ‘outsiders’ while a besieged Trinamool Congress has launched a counterthrust to defend its turf.

This comes amidst politics of one-upmanship in poll-bound West Bengal getting murkier to the extent of even dividing a family.

Less than a week ago, the BJP engineered almost a political coup in the state, roping in from opponent camps 10 legislators, including a heavyweight minister, a sitting parliamentarian, a former MP and a host of other leaders of various ranks.

Entry of turncoats sparks revolt in BJP camp

The success, however, did not come without a sting in the tail. The indiscriminate entry into the party of those who were hitherto regarded as sworn enemies sparked resentments among many old guards.

In districts like North 24 Parganas, West Midnapore, Bankura, Malda and Alipurduar among others, old guards have started protesting import of deserters from other parties, particularly the ruling TMC, triggering among party leaders the fear of a full-blown rebellion.

In various places, posters were put up, allegedly by old guards, questioning the party’s decision to embrace “scam-tainted” leaders and those accused of unleashing violence against BJP members. In many places two factions clashed with each other.

To avert a full-scale revolt, the BJP swung into action, issuing show-cause notices to state general secretary Sayantan Basu, Mahila Morcha’s state unit president Agnimitra Paul, Alipurduar district president Ganga Prasad Sharma and the party’s Nagrakata mandal president Santosh Hati.

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Sharma and Hati were ticked off ostensibly for opposing the inclusion of former minister Dasarath Tirkey and TMC Nagrakata MLA Sukra Munda into the party. BJP workers in the district held demonstration with black flags against the entry of the TMC duo.

Basu and Paul had publicly opposed the possible induction of Pandeveswar TMC MLA Jitendra Tiwari in the BJP. Union Minister Babul Supriyo had also opposed Tiwari’s possible entry into the party. Their objection had forced the party to rethink about Tiwari even though the latter had resigned from all posts in the TMC.

The BJP leadership, party sources said, had accommodated wishes of the dissenters, thinking it was just a one-off protest. The party leaderships were soon proved wrong as the December 19 induction of turncoats evoked adverse reactions in many districts, threatening to upset the BJP’s game plan of strengthening its organisational base by bringing into its fold popular leaders from other parties, particularly the ruling TMC.

The BJP sources said many more TMC leaders were likely to join the party during senior BJP leader Amit Shah’s next visit to the state, tentatively scheduled on January 12.

State BJP vice-president Pratap Banerjee said the show-cause notice was sent to Paul on Wednesday (December 23) for “derogatory and anti-party statements, reflecting severe anti-organisation sentiments, which go directly against decisions taken by the party.”

She had been asked to give a reply within seven days. The fashion designer-turned politician refused to comment on the notice saying it was internal matter of the party.

The other leaders were also served the notices for airing their views in public going against the party line.

Basu has already regretted his comments. It is learnt that other leaders too have fallen in line though Sharma had reacted angrily after receiving the notice on Tuesday. He had even contemplated quitting the party.

The notices, the BJP insiders said, were served following instructions from the central leadership. This was done to reassure the TMC dissidents that the BJP would go to any extent to accommodate them if they decide to join the party, sources in the saffron party said.

“The party rules and discipline are same for the old guards and new comers. All will have to follow and back the party decision,” BJP state president Dilip Ghosh said.

TMC on damage-control mode

To keep its flock together, the TMC is reaching out to its sulking leaders holding out an olive branch. District units have also been instructed to sort out differences among the leaders to put up a united fight during the elections. The party has also decided to rejig its district and block-level organisations.

TMC sources claimed that after several rounds of meeting, party secretary general Partha Chatterjee on Wednesday managed to persuade disgruntled forest minister Rajib Banerjee to stay in the party.

Banerjee, the MLA from Domjur, had been striking discordant notes over the past few weeks and had even skipped a crucial cabinet meeting on Tuesday (December 22). He had been vocal against what he claimed growing nepotism and sycophancy in the party.

The BJP, however, is still hopeful of netting him sooner or later. The BJP leaders in private claim that at least a dozen of TMC MLAs, including three ministers, are willing to defect to the saffron camp.

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To the TMC’s dismay, its two Lok Sabha MPs Sisir Kumar Adhikari and Dibyendu Adhikar— father and brother of BJP’s nascent prized catch and former TMC minister Suvendu Adhikari— were absent in the ruling party’s show-of-strength meeting on Wednesday at Kanthi, the home turf of Adhikaris.

Dibyendu had only a couple of days ago had said he would not take the “reckless decision” of quitting the TMC.  But his absence raised speculations of him joining the BJP, emulating his elder brother.

Sisir Adhikari, the patriarch of the family, claimed he could not attend the party’s meeting due to “ill health.” He is also the TMC’s East Midnapore district unit president.

The TMC leaders said the party was going ahead with its plans and programmes discounting the Adhikaris.  TMC chief Mamata Banerjee will hold a meeting at Nandigram on January 7.  Suvendu before joining the BJP had vacated the Nandigram legislative seat. He was the face of the anti-land acquisition movement in Nandigram that helped the TMC gain power in 2011.

Just before joining the BJP Suvendu in November had organised a massive rally in Nandigram.

“We are not going to let an inch of our turf without a stiff fight. Didi’s meeting will prove that people of the constituency are with us,” said TMC leader Sheikh Sufian.

In a similar reciprocal programme, Banerjee also announced to hold a rally on December 29 in Birbhum where Amit Shah held a roadshow on December 20. One likely attraction at the chief minister’s rally will be the presence of Baul singer (mystic minstrel) Basudeb Das at whose residence Shah had luncheon on Sunday (December 20).

Das said he was happy to host Shah at his residence but was upset for not getting a chance to speak to the home minister. He had wanted to apprise Shah the financial constrain he was facing to fund his daughter’s higher education, who has recently passed MA.

TMC Birbhum district chief Anubrata Mondal has promised him financial help.

There are more such instances of politics of one-upmanship unfolding in the state in the past one week of high-pitched political drama. The most dramatical among them was BJP MP and state youth president Saumitra Khan’s wife Sujata Mondal Khan joining the TMC, prompting the BJP leader to send a divorce notice to his spouse.

Husband and wife sporting colours of rival parties, however, is not new in the state in this time when politics of defection is in vogue.

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Last year in August former Kolkata Mayor Sovan Chatterjee joined the BJP along with his close friend and confidante Baisakhi Banerjee. Following his switch over to the BJP, the TMC entrusted his wife Ratna Chatterjee to handle party affairs in her husband’s assembly segment.

Chatterjee had left the party after he was forced to step down as Kolkata mayor because his alleged affairs with Baisakhi were creating discomfort for his party.

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