It took the leadership of the Bengal unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party over a month to pull up its socks and get its act together since the results of the state polls were announced on May 2. And even then, it wasn’t a full house.
There were notable absentees – the likes of Mukul Roy and Rajib Banerjee – from the state review meeting chaired by the party’s state president Dilip Ghosh on Tuesday, June 7, in Kolkata. But what was perhaps more interesting were the developments taking place elsewhere, in the national capital.
A day ahead of the state meeting, the party’s MLA Suvendu Adhikari flew to Delhi. Besides visiting union ministers Mansukh Mandaviya, Dharmendra Pradhan and Narendra Singh Tomar, he also met BJP president JP Nadda and Prime Minister Narendra Modi one-on-one during his stay in the national capital. He met home minister Amit Shah twice in two days.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) June 9, 2021
Interestingly, the BJP’s top brass in Bengal seemed to have had little clue about what Adhikari’s clearly well-planned trip was all about. “I am not aware why Suvendu Adhikari has gone to Delhi. Our central leaders would be in a better position to say why he is there,” said Ghosh at the end of the party meeting on Tuesday that Adhikari skipped.
What’s more interesting is two BJP MPs who were present in that state meeting in Kolkata, Arjun Singh and Saumitra Khan, took the evening flight out of the city and joined Adhikari in Delhi alongside a third party MP from north Bengal, Nisith Pramanik. All three leaders had jumped ship from the Trinamool Congress ahead of the 2019 general elections. And all three admitted to having received calls from Adhikari to join him on short notice.
On the face of it, these developments hint towards Adhikari’s attempts to cement his position for a role much larger than what he is currently and formally assigned with: leader of opposition in the state assembly. Political observers indicate Adhikari wants to establish himself as a natural choice for the party’s face in Bengal— with Delhi’s blessings, of course.
After all, it was Adhikari’s victory over chief minister Mamata Banerjee, his former mentor, in Nandigram that gave the BJP something substantial to take back home from the high-pitched battle for Bengal that was decisively won by the Trinamool Congress.
Indications are clear that following the BJP’s unexpected results in Bengal, the Centre could come down heavily on the Mamata Banerjee government with drastic steps sooner rather than later, especially in the wake of the alleged large-scale post-poll violence in the state with thousands of BJP workers purportedly at the receiving end. And Adhikari’s current activities in Delhi minus the official state leadership by his side have only stoked the clamour about his desire to lead that charge and claim credit.
It may not be a coincidence that Adhikari’s heightened activities follow the national responsibilities that have been only recently assigned to his arch-rival in the Trinamool Congress, Abhishek Banerjee.
Adhikari also has other worries to take care of. The Kolkata police recently arrested one of his close aides, Rakhal Bera, in connection with a job racket case while another co-accused remains at large. The Bengal police have registered an FIR against Suvendu and his brother Soumendu in the Contai police station in East Midnapore in a case of tarpaulin theft from the local municipality and have already arrested another accused. Adhikari needs to ensure that in the current acrimonious political atmosphere in Bengal, the state doesn’t get to lay its hands on him.
There are those who believe that Adhikari’s trip to Delhi could also be meant to pre-empt that possibility.
Whatever be the reasons, Bengal’s leader of opposition has a job at hand. In the midst of prominent BJP leaders like Mukul Roy maintaining a distance from the party’s state unit, his son Subhrangshu and former minister Rajib Banerjee among many others who are clearly out of sync with the party’s official line, and recent turncoats like Sonali Guha and Dipendu Biswas keen to get back to the Trinamool, that job is not an easy one. Adhikari needs to prove his prowess as an organiser for his party in the run-up to the next general elections. He needs to wield effective power in his party unit and to do that his formal designation may not be enough.
If trips like these to Delhi get followed up by affirmative action, ones to Adhikari’s desire, he could just get there sooner than expected.