The rebellion by Trinamool Congress’s Suvendu Adhikari, which was followed by party MLA Mihir Goswami crossing over to the BJP, spotlights the porosity of politics in West Bengal — which allows seemingly irreconcilable ideological adversaries to switch sides to ally with whoever appears to them to have the upper hand at a particular moment.
While the politics of defection — Adhikari’s plans are still not clear but not many expect him to stay on — seems to be benefitting the BJP and hurting the Trinamool currently, the latter had gained significantly from it after it first came to power in the state a decade ago.
2011-16: Trinamool’s first term in power
In 2011, an Opposition alliance led by the TMC ended the Left Front’s 34-year rule, winning a three-fourths majority of 227 seats in the 294-member Assembly. The TMC, which had fought the election along with the Congress and Socialist Unity Centre of India (Communist), won a near two-thirds majority of 184 seats on its own.
However, after coming to power, the TMC started to engineer defections from the Congress. It began with two Congress MLAs walking across soon after the election, and several leaders and workers subsequently switched to the TMC. In September 2012, Mamata withdrew support to the UPA government at the Centre, protesting against FDI in retail, increase in the price of diesel, and the limits on the number of subsidised cooking gas cylinders for households.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the TMC won 34 of the state’s 42 seats, setting off another wave of movement of leaders and workers from both the CPM and Congress to its ranks.
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After 2016: A flood of defections
Despite an aggressive campaign by the CPM and Congress in 2016, the TMC roared back to power for a second term, increasing its seats in the West Bengal Assembly to 211. The widening of its support base acted as the trigger for yet another round of defections from the Opposition parties. The Left parties saw a massive erosion in their support bases, with most of their rank and file moving en masse to the TMC. The TMC also began to capture civic bodies controlled by the Opposition parties by causing massive defections.
Among the several Congress MLAs who joined the party in 2016 was Manas Bhunia, a former president of the West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee, who is now a TMC Rajya Sabha member. Since the 2016 Assembly polls, 17 out of the Congress’s 44 MLAs have joined the TMC, and the ruling party has continued to win Assembly byelections.
The first blow: Mukul Roy and others
The first time the TMC was administered a dose of its own bitter medicine was when Mamata’s second in command and trusted lieutenant Mukul Roy defected to the BJP in November 2017. Roy was the biggest prize for the BJP, which had its eyes set firmly on West Bengal’s large chunk of Lok Sabha seats and power in Kolkata. Roy’s defection is considered a watershed moment in the recent politics of West Bengal.
After Roy switched, several senior TMC leaders including Saumitra Khan — who had won the Bishnupur Lok Sabha seat for the TMC in 2014 and retained it for the BJP in 2019 — and Anupam Hazra, the TMC’s Lok Sabha MP from Bolpur, followed him to the BJP. 📣 Follow Express Explained on Telegram
2019: The BJP’s massive surge in Bengal
The first half of 2019 witnessed an upheaval in the political landscape of West Bengal, paving the way for the BJP to emerge as the main challenger of the ruling Trinamool Congress in the state, relegating the Congress and once-powerful Left Front to the fringes.
The Lok Sabha elections saw the saffron party making massive electoral gains. The BJP, which had won two seats five years ago, won 18 of the 42 parliamentary constituencies, its vote share rising to 40.30 per cent, just 3 per cent less than the TMC’s, and scooping up seats all the way from North Bengal to Jangalmahal.
With the BJP out shopping aggressively for TMC leaders, a series of desertions followed. A string of TMC MLAs joined the BJP, including the heavyweight Sovan Chatterjee, MLA from Behala Purba in Kolkata, and a former Mayor of Kolkata Municipal Corporation.
The BJP also got hold of six civic bodies in North 24-Parganas district — Bhatpara, Kanchrapara, Naihati, Halisahar, Garulia and Bongaon — after engineering defections. The BJP’s coup d’état in the Trinamool-run civic bodies, did not, however, last, as the TMC later successfully took power in all of them.
Ahead of the Assembly elections of 2021
Since the beginning of October, the BJP has launched an aggressive campaign against the TMC. The mega push through protest movements has seen the saffron camp garner massive support from the people as well as from disgruntled TMC leaders and fence-sitters.
MLA Mihir Goswami was the first to express his displeasure at the functioning of the party, and targeted election strategist Prashant Kishor. Suvendu Adhikari began holding political programmes independently from the party in order to mobilise support in his favour. Adhikari has given away his ministerial posts, and most political observers believe that his induction into the BJP is a matter of when and not if.
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