Kolkata: In the biggest display of the BJP’s strength in election-bound West Bengal, Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s rally in Midnapore Saturday saw a bevy of Trinamool Congress leaders switching over to the party, including Mamata Banerjee’s once trusted aide Suvendu Adhikari.
A total of 10 MLAs — 7 from ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC), and one each from the CPI, CPM, and Congress — a TMC MP, a former TMC MP and one former TMC minister, joined the BJP in presence of Shah.
This apart, at least two dozen functionaries, mostly from TMC, including six Muslim leaders from district and block levels, also jumped ship.
Hitting out at Chief Minister Banerjee for calling the defectors “traitors”, Shah said at the rally that she herself broke away from the Congress and formed Trinamool. “Should she be called a traitor?” questioned Shah.
Emboldened by a stage full of Trinamool defectors and a rally teeming with cheering crowds, Shah said the chief minister would be left alone soon.
Flanked by Shah, Suvendu said he would now work as a “soldier” of PM Modi and would fulfil his dream of seeing West Bengal politically aligned with the Centre.
Reacting to the “traitor” comments made by TMC leaders, Suvendu said he remained a “bachelor” to work for the party, stayed silent for so many years to support the party and make them win. “How dare they call me a traitor?” he added.
He further added his only aim now is to remove “Tolabaj Bhaipo” (extortionist nephew), referring to Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee.
TMC MP Kalyan Banerjee, meanwhile, termed Suvendu’s statements a “garbage of lies” at a press conference late evening.
Suvendu didn’t betray his party, says Shah
Calling Suvendu “bhai”, Shah said he will “strengthen the party’s structure”.
“He did not betray his party. He protested against the corruption in Trinamool and chose to work for Bengal’s upliftment. The leaders who joined us today, all of them fought with you Didi (Mamata). But they left you. Your party’s slogan had a meaning. But now, from Ma, Mati Manush (mother, soil and human), it has become extortion, appeasement and nepotism. At this rate, till elections, you will be left alone,” said Shah.
Raising the issue of political violence, he read out the names of BJP ‘martyrs’ across districts.
The home minister, meanwhile, visited Swami Vivekananda’s and freedom fighter Khudiram Bose’s ancestral houses in Kolkata and Midnapore, respectively, Saturday, apart from some temples in the two districts.
‘Suvendu joining BJP a shot in the arm of BJP’
Political experts said Suvendu’s departure from the TMC could play a significant role in shaping up TMC’s and BJP’s future prospects in Bengal.
“It is not about the numbers of senior Trinamool functionaries and MLAs leaving the party. It is about building a perception of the ruling party’s managerial issues,” said political analyst, professor Samir Das.
“In Bengal politics, poaching is almost a decade-old formula, introduced by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and it has been followed by the BJP in every possible way,” he added.
Suvendu’s decision to join the BJP cannot be equated with other defections as he was followed by 9 MLAs, an MP and a former MP to the BJP fold. Most importantly, he mobilised thousands of his followers, and prompted panchayat and civic body head and members to also quit the party.
This shake-up at the grassroot level across districts, including East and West Midnapore, Bankura, Purulia, Burdwan, North 24 Parganas, Malda and Murshidabad, could affect Trinamool’s electoral prospects.
“Bringing a dozen senior leaders on the stage, and Suvendu being one of the main speakers of BJP, immediately after joining the party may be a part of political optics. If the power of mobilisation, which Suvendu has, is any indication, his joining is surely a shot in the arm of the saffron brigade,” said another senior political analyst, professor Biswanath Chakraborti.
Suvendu had been Mamata’s trusted aide in East Midnapore and her pointsman for the entire Jangalmahal area that consists of three districts — West Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura. He was the party in-charge of four districts that together have nine Lok Sabha seats and 63 assembly segments.
Political observers feel that Suvendu may influence over 100 assembly constituencies across south and western part of Bengal, where he worked as an organiser before the 2016 assembly elections.
He was assigned to consolidate Trinamool’s base in the most difficult districts like Malda and Murshidabad before the 2016 election, and he successfully delivered it. The TMC had won most of the 38 assembly seats in Murshidabad and Malda districts after Suvendu took charge of them.
Jitendra Tiwari’s U-turn
Meanwhile, Jitendra Tiwari, Trinamool MLA from Burdwan’s Pandaveswar assembly seat and former mayor of Asansol, who quit the party Thursday, said late Friday night that he would stay in the party. He also said he would apologise to the chief minister for his actions.
The development came after state BJP leaders and union minister Babul Supriyo, who is an MP from Asansol, resisted Tiwari’s entry to the party. Supriyo in a video message said Tiwari had assaulted many BJP workers in Asansol.
State BJP chief Dilip Ghosh and party general secretary Sayantan Bose also supported Supriyo. BJP sources said it was after opposition from state leaders that the central leadership refused to induct Tiwari.
Addressing the media Friday, Tiwari said he would remain with the Trinamool and apologise to Banerjee.
“I committed a blunder. There were certain issues for which I became a bit emotional and took some wrong steps. I never wanted to hurt Didi. I will apologise to her,” he said.