Once they were in the same party. Then, they became arch rivals. They fought bitterly against each other, electorally and on the airwaves. On Friday, when Suvendu Adhikari, now in the BJP, and Mamata Banerjee, the TMC chief, met on the sidelines of a West Bengal legislative Assembly session, the question on everyone’s mind was: what exactly had happened that melted the ice between these two leaders?
In 1998, when Mamata Banerjee quit the Congress and formed her own outfit, the Trinamool Congress, Sisir Adhikari and his son Suvendu did not join the newly launched TMC, choosing to remain in the Congress. But after the 2001 Assembly elections, both father and son jumped ship.
Cut to 2006. During the Nandigram protests, Suvendu came close to Banerjee. He led the Nandigram movement that propelled Banerjee to the centrestage of Bengal politics. In 2011, when Banerjee became the Chief Minister, Suvendu was one of her closest lieutenants.
But, after the 2016 Assembly elections, when Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek gradually started getting promoted as the No. 2 in the party, Suvendu started distance himself from the supremo, along with another close aide and veteran leader Mukul Roy. In 2019, Roy joined BJP. In December, 2020, Suvendu followed suit.
Not only that, Suvendu also fought against Mamata Banerjee in Nandigram and defeated the Chief Minister the seat by around 1,900 votes. After that, Suvendu and Mamata never met each other.
Earlier today, the Leader of Opposition in the West Bengal Legislative Assembly Suvendu Adhikari suddenly went to meet the Chief Minister at her chamber, along with MLAs Ashok Lahiri, Agnimitra Paul and BJP Chief Whip Manoj Tigga. This was the first time Suvendu had entered Banerjee’s chamber in the Assembly since he became the Leader of the Opposition in 2021. They were in the CM’s chamber for around five minutes.
Later, in her speech in the Assembly, the Chief Minister also referred to Suvendu as his brother. However, none openly spoke of what exactly had transpired in the CM’s chamber. Suvendu only said, “It was a courtesy visit.” And West Bengal Chief Minister said after the meeting, “I called Suvendu for a cup of tea.”
Just two days ago, Adhikari had skipped the oath taking ceremony of the newly appointed Governor C V Ananda Bose and alleged that the Chief Minister had deliberately arranged his seat next to two MLAs who had been elected on BJP tickets, but later joined the TMC.
However, after today’s meeting, Suvendu said, “There is courtesy in parliamentary democracy. So I went to meet the Chief Minister. But I will not say what was discussed. This should not be done in a parliamentary democracy.” Suvendu further said that the Chief Minister asked them all to have cup of tea. But they did not have tea due to their hurry for the Assembly session.
On Friday morning, before meeting the Chief Minister, Suvendu had said in his speech on Constitution Day, “This government is of the party, for the party and by the party.” Later, after the meeting, Banerjee said, “Suvendu is like my brother. I told him the government should be for the people, of the people, by the people, but our central government is for the agency, by the agency and of the agency.”
However, Banerjee did not attack Suvendu or other BJP leaders in her speech. Rather, she praised the Adhikari family, saying, “You (Suvendu Adhikari) were in the Congress. Later you joined TMC. Your father is a very senior leader. I always respect him.”
Speaker of the Assembly Biman Banerjee welcomed the meeting. He said, “Chief Minister sees him (Suvendu) that way (brother). Sisir Babu is seen with respect. I also respect him.” He added, “I don’t think personal relations should be sacrificed just by changing the party. Everyone should use moderate language.”
A senior TMC leader said, “Mamata Banerjee is now desperately seeking money for the state. Otherwise, she will not be able to manage the state’s terrible finances. On December 5, she will go Delhi and there, she wants to meet the Prime Minister for this reason. Before that, diplomatically she set the relation with Suvendu right, so that a positive message goes to BJP’s central leadership.”
BJP leaders too hinted that the money-factor is the main reason behind the courtesy call. A senior BJP leader said, “She is now in a severe crisis. Government employees are on the street. The school-job scam has tarnished the government’s image. Mamata Banerjee has no other way but to extend a hand of friendship to Suvendu.”
On the surface,though, both parties maintained their enmity after the meeting.
BJP state president Sukanta Majumder said, “It is good that Mamata Banerjee is learning what democracy is all about.” TMC leader Kunal Ghosh said, “I heard that Adhikari had gone to the Chief Minister’s chamber. So, the Chief Minister didn’t approach him. He went to meet her. I have always said Suvendu is not a tiger, but a cat in tiger’s clothing.”
BJP leader Dilip Ghosh said, “Someone can have a personal relationship with another person. Assembly is a place of courtesy. Constitutional traditions have to be maintained there. Everyone sits and talks. I didn’t think anything was wrong. I myself have been courteous to them.” He added, “They have an old relationship. Many people come to Kalighat to pay obeisance. He did it there. It is not a public matter, it is a private matter.”
The CPI(M) labelled this meeting as “setting” between BJP and TMC. CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty said, “It is unsurprising that the Leader of the Opposition goes to the chamber of the Leader of the House. But it became news because they had made their relation such. Maybe his [Suvendu Adhikari’s] Delhi leaders asked him to maintain close relations, just like they maintain close relations with her [Mamata Banerjee].”