Kolkata: There is growing dissent in the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC) in West Bengal, triggered primarily by veteran leader Suvendu Adhikari quitting the state cabinet, with the revolt putting the ruling party in a spot months before crucial assembly elections.
While Adhikari, the former transport minister, remains in the TMC for now, he skipped Mamata’s Monday rally at his home turf West Midnapore, prompting the chief minister to accuse the BJP of attempting to break her party.
Adhikari, however, isn’t the only senior leader openly taking on the TMC top brass. An increasing number of TMC veterans are now publicly expressing displeasure about being “sidelined” or for being asked to “toe the line set by outsiders and professional management agencies”.
The TMC has hired poll strategist Prashant Kishor and his Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC) to formulate its strategy for the elections.
While some leaders such as Cooch Behar MLA Mihir Goswami recently switched sides to the BJP, there are others who are now considering “other options” or are “waiting for the right time to make their move”.
So far, at least eight senior Trinamool leaders including MPs, MLAs and a minister, have alleged that they are not “being heard” within the party.
Feud out in public
Factional feuds are nothing new for the Trinamool Congress but they have been largely restricted to local turfs, according to party insiders. None of it was ever made public.
All that has now changed.
Over the past five months, apart from Adhikari who has spoken about leadership issues, a number of other leaders have also publicly expressed their grouses with the party.
Addressing a public meeting Sunday, Forest Minister Rajib Banerjee accused the party top brass of not addressing the reasons behind the anger or anxiety of some senior leaders.
Stating that Suvendu’s departure would create a void, he said, “All senior leaders with political ability are being sidelined. People who only keep praising get brownie points. My position is not good because I cannot do that.”
Another senior leader Atin Ghosh, the former deputy mayor of Kolkata Municipal Corporation, had said many senior leaders were being “deprived” of an audience. Ghosh, however, later clarified that he was still with the Trinamool Congress and that he believed in Mamata Banerjee.
Silbhadra Dutta, the veteran TMC MLA from Barrackpore in North 24 Parganas district, had put out a Facebook post, seen as a veiled attack on Prashant Kishor.
“We never wanted to speak against the party. We are only expressing our views,” he told ThePrint. “We tried to say these things inside party forums as well but none heard us. I have not criticised the party leadership, I have just said that we would not be able to work under an outsider organisation. They are forcing their decisions on us. A political party cannot run like this.”
Dutta, however, reiterated that he did not think of leaving party.
Mihir Goswami, the MLA who quit Trinamool and joined the BJP last week, had similar views. “We had been with Didi for over three decades, even before the Trinamool came to existence. We never doubted her,” he told ThePrint. “But the power has become centralised in Kolkata. Some senior leaders turned ministers of South Kolkata call the shots. We cannot meet Didi. Leaders like Suvendu Adhikari leaving his position is a bad sign.”
A veteran MP, who did not want to be named, said, “It is true that the space for patient hearing has shrunk. Mamata Banerjee is our leader but we also need to be heard. There are issues which we want to put forward. But those honest leaders are ignored.”
Trinamool Congress leaders, however, term such criticism as being “unjustified and unwarranted”.
“I have heard what some senior leaders are saying in public. Their criticism is unjustified. Many of them are criticising I-PAC’s role,” Trinamool MP Sougata Roy told ThePrint. “They (I-PAC members) are not leaders. They are election strategists. They are here to professionalise certain political inputs. They are on hire.”
Stating that I-PAC helped so many parties “including BJP, Congress, AAP and now DMK”, Roy said: “They don’t take decisions, form committees or decide on candidature. They are giving some real good ideas that are helping the government and the party.”
He also questioned the timing of the dissent. “This is not right time to express discontent. We are approaching a crucial election. Five months before the elections, some senior leaders are speaking about issues that should have remained inside the party.”
Political observers, however, feel some of the disgruntled Trinamool leaders are speaking out now after weighing the party’s electoral prospects.
“Politicians only comment against the party when they find the electoral prospect of their party is poor. Moreover, internal democracy has touched a low inside Trinamool Congress,” said Professor Partha Pratim Biswas, a political analyst.
“Many veterans do not find space in the party. It does not mean that all of them are hand in glove with BJP, some of them are genuinely honest. But they are sidelined.”