For many, Nandigram was the beginning of the end of 34 years of Left Front rule in West Bengal. As fierce protests broke out against land acquisition in the area, at the forefront was Mamata Banerjee, who broke away from the Congress in 1998. Behind the scenes, but not quite, was the Bhumi Ucched Pratirodh Committee (BUPC), formed in September 2007, which rallied support in the villages and created a powerful momentum.
Sisir Adhikari, former Congressman who had joined Trinamool Congress with Banerjee in 1998 and went on to be a Union minister in the UPA government, was the convenor of BUPC. But one of the most important cogs in the committee, the man who knew every member of the organisation, stood by Banerjee’s side as he galvanised support was a young, single-term MLA: Suvendu Adhikari.
Four years later, Mamata Banerjee became the West Bengal Chief Minister.
Thirteen years later, Suvendu Adhikari is the man the BJP hopes will bring them to power.
Even as TMC leaders put on a brave face, downplaying Adhikari’s exit, privately many cannot deny this is a blow. “Adhikari has excellent organisational skills,” a senior TMC leader said. “In the Nandigram movement, he was Mamata Banerjee’s most enthusiastic lieutenant – he did all the running around. When violence was at its peak, he was in touch with all villages. People came to him for help, he remembered all their names, and that in turn strengthened the TMC.
“Of course, Mamata was the leader, the emotional fountainhead. But Suvendu was the man on the ground, and he never let that influence in the area wane.”
Since 2007, as Adhikari grew from MLA to multi-term MLA, to state transport minister, the influence of his family in the region has never withered. His father is a sitting MP, as his his younger brother Dibyendu, while another brother is chief of the municipal corporation of Kanthi Municipal Corporation.
“It is ironical that he left ostensibly because he feels TMC is turning into a family organisation, basically a grouse with Abhishek Banerjee (Mamata’s nephew). But there is no place in Bengal that is quite like a family fiefdom as Medinipur is,” a TMC leader said.
Since Adhikari began giving signals of a possible exit from TMC, with supporters putting up banners and posters of “Dadar Anugami (brother’s followers)”, a direct juxtaposition with the moniker of “Didi” that Mamata Banerjee carries, there has been much debate within TMC and outside of the extent of his sway in the state. Numbers like influence over 35, 65 or even over a hundred Assembly seats have been bandied about. A senior TMC leader, however, said, that the test of his popularity will come now. “Thus far, his organisational skills, with Mamata Banerjee’s popularity as the face of Bengal, was a powerful combination,” this leader said. “But Mamata is a powerful symbol for Bengal. You do not win 211 seats without that. Even in Nandigram, now it will be Suvendu Adhikari versus Mamata Banerjee. That is a completely different dynamic.”
Saugata Roy, multi-term MP from the TMC told The Sunday Express that Adhikari had left “absolutely out of personal ambition” and wanted “sway over a number of MLA seats” that the party ultimately decided against.
Trinamool Rajya Sabha MP Sukhendu Sekhar Ray argued that there is no face yet to take on Banerjee in Bengal.
Even as BJP made vast inroads into Bengal in 2019 Lok Sabha elections, what it found in Adhikari is a powerful face, one that signals its intent to not just fight the 2021 Assembly polls, but win.
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