Senior Trinamool Congress leader Suvendu Adhikari, who has been distancing himself from the ruling party for several months now, has tendered his resignation as West Bengal transport minister. On November 10, he held a rally in Nandigram during which no party banner was displayed, and he was not referred to either as a Trinamool leader or as the Transport Minister. In a cryptic message to the party leadership, Adhikari said, “See you in the battlefield. See you on a political stage. I am not scared.”
All this has fuelled speculation about his possible exit from the party, either by floating his own party or by defecting to the BJP. Who is Suvendu Adhikari?
Formerly a Congress family, the Adhikaris of East Midnapore joined the Trinamool Congress after Mamata formed the party in 1998. Suvendu is the son of three-term MP Sisir Adhikari, who was Union Minister of State for Rural Development in UPA-2. Suvendu himself has been an MP in UPA-1 and UPA-2. In 2007, Suvendu, then an MLA, spearheaded the anti-land-acquisition movement in Nandigram that eventually helped the Trinamool Congress dislodge the 34-year Left Front government in 2011.
In 2009, Suvendu Adhikari defeated CPM strongman Lakshman Seth in Tamluk by 1.73 lakh votes. In 2014, he was re-elected to Lok Sabha. In 2016, he won the Nandigram Assembly seat and was made Transport Minister.
In September 2014, the CBI interrogated Adhikari in the Saradha chit fund scam. He was also seen in purported footage of the Narada scam. 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram
Adhikari is a grassroots leader who connects with the people in rural Bengal, helped by his straightforward speeches with a rural Bengali accent. The people’s movement he led turned East Midnapore into a Trinamool bastion. He plays a key role for the party in 16 Assembly seats in East Midnapore, and also in seats in West Midnapore, Bankura, Purulia, Murshidabad and Malda districts. As party observer for Murshidabad and Malda districts, he has weakened the Congress by causing defections and helped capture civic bodies one by one.
Following the BJP’s victories in 18 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal in 2019, Adhikari was made the Trinamool Congress in-charge of Assembly bypolls a few months later. He helped secure victory in all three bypolls including in Kharagpur Sadar, West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh’s constituency.
Trinamool leaders said Adhikari has started distancing himself from the party on account of the rise of Abhishek Banerjee, party MP and Mamata’s nephew. Abhishek has been given more responsibilities in party management, which has reportedly upset Adhikari who had scripted the party’s growth in several districts. Adhikari has been skipping party programmes and Cabinet meetings — a Trinamool organisational meeting in Kolkata in March, and a government programme on International Indigenous People’s Day in Jhargram on August 9, when he was participating instead in a private programme in the same district.
On October 19, Adhikari spoke at a programme in Netai, Jhargram, and stressed that more attention needs to be given to the people’s concerns. “When I came here, many villagers told me they are unhappy. Villagers spoke about non-cooperation from a section of elected representatives. I will look into whether the allegation is true or false,” he said.
If Adhikari remains inactive in the run-up to the 2021 Assembly polls, the Trinamool Congress will face a challenge in many seats where he wields his influence. The party will also struggle to find a replacement for Adhikari in East Midnapore.
No one outside the Adhikari family can match Suvendu’s charisma. Suvendu’s father Sisir Adhikari is in his third term as MP. Two other sons are in politics — Dibyendu Adhikari is the MP from Tamluk and Soumyendu Adhikari is the chairman of the Contai municipality. The Adhikaris also chair various committees and workers’ unions. Any weakening of the Trinamool base in East Midnapore will provide the BJP with a new opportunity to make inroads in the Trinamool bastion.
Adhikari’s absence from party activities in Murshidabad and Malda, on the other hand, can potentially divide Muslim votes, which are traditionally behind the Trinamool. This too can only help the BJP.
Adhikari’s absence will also hurt the Trinamool Congress in strategising for the elections. Since the exit of Mukul Roy in 2017, Suvendu has been the Trinamool’s go-to man during elections.
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