The animosity between Suvendu Adhikari and Abhishek Banerjee is well known in West Bengal’s political circles. It is certainly one of the main reasons because of which, Suvendu, the one-time apple of TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee’s eye, jumped ship to the rival BJP and has become its de-facto leader in the state since.
Ahead of panchayat polls in the state, that fight has intensified into an open verbal war, with BJP strongman Suvendu and TMC’s second-in-command Abhishek taking on each other on their respective home turfs.
At a rally on December 3 in Abhishek’s Lok Sabha constituency, Diamond Harbour in South 24 Parganas district, Suvendu attacked Mamata’s nephew. The same day, Abhishek took a dig at Suvendu in Kanthi, just 100 metres away from Shanti Kunj, the Adhikari family residence. Sources in both the BJP and the TMC predict that as the panchayat polls near, this fight is bound to intensify.
Addressing the rally in Diamond Harbour, Suvendu asked BJP workers to be prepared for a “big battle”, with an eye on the panchayat polls due early next year. Alleging that BJP candidates were not allowed to file their nominations in the 2018 panchayat polls, he warned them that this time around, the “game” will be played differently. “You decide the names of candidates from the villages, and we’ll ensure that they are able to file their nominations,” he told BJP workers, adding, “I’ll hold a huge rally in this district again, later this month.”
Not to be outdone, Abhishek soon called Suvendu a ‘RAC’ Leader of Opposition, alluding to the railway’s Reservation Against Cancellation rule for reserved seats. Abhishek added that Suvendu’s victory over Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in last year’s Assembly elections from Nandigram was under a legal challenge.
Abhishek alleged that Adhikari had won the election by “unfair means” and claimed that he would be defeated in a fresh election. He said, “He [Suvendu] claims to have defeated the CM. He calls her a compartmental CM (alluding to school-leaving board exam results). Before name-calling Mamata Banerjee, he must realise that he is himself a RAC Opposition Leader. He is the only MLA in India whose victory is still under trial.”
Abhishek further added, “The media had already reported victory for Mamata Banerjee. You took to ‘load shedding’ (power blackout) to win the Nandigram election… Take it from me that if there is a fresh election in Nandigram, people here will give a befitting reply.”
Their rivalry picked up in 2014, after Abhishek started being given prominence within the TMC, following his was election as MP from Diamond Harbour for the first time. Mamata hinted to party leaders that Abhishek would soon become her No 2. This was an existential threat to Suvendu, the then Youth TMC president, who had been enjoying the de facto No. 2 position in the party along with Mukul Roy.
The jitters got bigger after Mamata promoted Abhishek as the TMC’s youth president, taking the role away from Suvendu. A senior TMC leader said, “After Mamata picked Abhishek as TMC’s “youth icon”, Suvendu realised that his importance in the eyes of Mamata Banerjee was waning, and that she would only hand over the baton to her nephew. Suvendu’s battle with Abhishek began from that point, even as he was still within the TMC, then as the MP of Kanthi. Understanding that she had a problem at hand, Mamata gave him a ticket in the 2016 Assembly election, followed by the important Transport and Environment ministry. But Suvendu was not happy, as he had wanted the PWD ministry.”
According to TMC sources, the mutual sniping picked up thereafter, and not even Mamata was able to keep it under wraps. After Suvendu joined the BJP just before the 2021 Assembly elections, Abhishek became the unquestionable No 2 in the party. As their personal battle could now be given an ideological makeover, the fight only intensified.
In October this year, in the middle of months-long ED-IT raids on several TMC leaders across the state, Suvendu suddenly told the press that the state’s biggest thief would be arrested by December 15. In retaliation, the TMC announced they would be sending a rose and a “Get Well Soon” card to Suvendu’s home every day. A senior BJP leader said, “When Suvendu announced that after December 15, the biggest thief in the state would be arrested, the TMC hierarchy probably thought the hint was Abhishek Banerjee. So they intensified their attacks on Suvendu. Luckily, whichever leader TMC attacks will ultimately benefit us politically.”
The CPI(M), which is trying to find its way back in West Bengal politics, and is ideologically opposed to both the TMC and the BJP, maintains that this is nothing but a ‘shadow fight’ bereft of politics. CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty said, “There is no political point in it, so we’re not giving it any importance. Once Mukul Roy was against Abhishek. Now he is back in TMC. Both parties are trying to supress real political issues by foregrounding the Suvendu-Abhishek fight in the media. We will stick to fighting corruption and anti-people policies of both the BJP and the TMC.”