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Hullabaloo Over Suvendu Adhikari Quitting Bengal Govt, But is He Really a Heavyweight or All Hype?

File photo of Subhendu Adhikary.

File photo of Subhendu Adhikary.

In all the areas regarded as the former MP’s bastion, the Trinamool Congress failed to score well in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

Sujit Nath

While the Bharatiya Janata Party is upbeat at Trinamool Congress leader Suvendu Adhikari quitting the Mamata Banerjee government on Friday, the situation on the ground shows that the TMC lost nine Lok Sabha seats out of the 13 in the region where he is known as a mass leader and believed to have significant clout among the people in Purulia, Jhargram, Murshidabad, Malda, East Midnapore, West Midnapore, Bankura and Bishnupur.

There is one Lok Sabha and nine assembly seats in Purulia, while in Murshidabad there are three Lok Sabha and 19 assembly seats. In Malda, there are two Lok Sabha and 12 assembly seats and in East Midnapore there are two Lok Sabha and 15 assembly seats.

In Bankura and in Bishnupur (combined) there are two Lok Sabha and 12 assembly seats, while in West Midnapore, there are two Lok Sabha and 15 assembly seats. In Jhargram, there is one Lok Sabha and four assembly seats. In total, there are 13 Lok Sabha seats and 86 assembly seats in Purulia, Murshidabad, Malda, West Midnapore, Jhargram, East Midnapore, Bankura and Bishnupur where Suvendu Adhikari is believed to be an excellent taskmaster in booth management.

However, going by the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, except four seats - which are Kanthi (won by Suvendu’s father Sishir Adhikari on a TMC ticket, but BJP gained a 33.54 per cent vote share while Sishir lost a 3.82 per cent vote share), Tamluk (won by Suvendu’s brother Dibyendu on a TMC ticket, but BJP gained a 30.54 per cent vote share while Dibyendu lost a 3.52 per cent vote share), Jangipur (won by TMC’s Khalilur Rahman who defeated BJP’s Mafuja Khatun), and Murshidabad (won by TMC’s Abu Taher Khan) – the rest were lost by the ruling TMC.

The BJP on its own managed to win a significant seven out of 13 seats (two seats including Berhampur and Malda South went to the Congress) and made deep inroads into these districts which are supposedly Suvendu Adhikari’s bastion.

A closer look at individual seats revealed that in Purulia, BJP’s Jyotirmoy Singh Mahato not only won the seat but also defeated TMC’s Mriganka Mahato by 2,04,732 votes. There was an increase of 42.15 per cent in vote share for the BJP in Purulia, while TMC lost its vote share by 4.68 per cent.

In Bankura too, BJP’s Subhash Sarkar (with 28.92 per cent increased vote share) defeated TMC’s Subrata Mukherjee by 1,74,333 votes. In Bishnupur, BJP’s Saumitra Khan (with a 32.14 per cent rise in vote share) defeated TMC’s Shyamal Santra by 78,047 votes.

In West Midnapore, except Ghatal (which was won by TMC leader and actor Deepak Adhikari, popularly known as Dev, against BJP’s Bharati Ghosh by 1,07,973 votes), BJP’s Dilip Ghosh managed to secure the Midnapore seat (in West Midnapore).

Though Dev won the seat, his vote share fell by 2.48 per cent (despite the Keshpur factor where a majority of Muslims voted for the actor), while the vote share of Bharati Ghosh increased to 30.04 per cent. In Midnapore, BJP state president Dilip Ghosh defeated TMC’s Manas Ranjan Bhunia by 88,952 votes. Like Ghatal, here also there was a 34.36 per cent increase in BJP’s vote share.

And finally, in the Jhargram Lok Sabha seat, BJP’s Kunar Hembram defeated TMC’s Birbaha Soren by 11,767 votes and, like in Midnapore, here too the saffron party’s vote share rose by 34.83 per cent. So out of the 13 Lok Sabha seats in the region, the TMC won only four seats (two went to the Congress), and except Jangipur and Murshidabad, in all the seats its vote share fell significantly, while the BJP’s rose to nearly 29-30 per cent.

“Yes it is a fact that the BJP all alone did extremely well in these seats (Purulia, Jhargram, Murshidabad, Malda, East Midnapore, West Midnapore, Bankura and Bishnupur) in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Most of the seats were won by us due to the hard work of our dedicated party workers. Most importantly, in those seats where we have lost, the BJP has managed to increase its vote share significantly,” BJP state vice president Pratap Banerjee said.

On why there is so much hullabaloo over Suvendu Adhikari, he said, “There is no hullabaloo. All we have maintained throughout the recent years is that those who want to leave the TMC can join the BJP. This is nothing new. This happens in politics. More than joining the BJP, the question is why people are leaving the TMC. This means party leaders are not happy with the way the TMC is functioning. We want to form the government in West Bengal. So we have kept our doors open for all. Let people realise that the BJP can only bring change in Bengal.”

This poll arithmetic didn’t go unnoticed among political experts who said the commotion over Suvendu in the BJP camp should be seen as a poll gimmick ahead of the 2021 assembly polls in the state.

Speaking to News18, political expert, Kapil Thakur, said, “It is a fact that in all the areas said to be Suvendu’s bastion, the TMC failed to score well in the last Lok Sabha polls. It has lost most of the seats and now Suvendu through rallies (without the Trinamool flag and banner) is trying to create a hype that he is a big leader. There is only one leader in the TMC and her name is Mamata Banerjee. The people vote for the TMC because of Mamata Banerjee. He is trying to brand himself to continue his political career and to bargain effectively with the BJP, if at all he joins the saffron party. I think he started believing that he is the natural successor of Mamata Banerjee and he suffered a setback when Abhishek Banerjee was given more responsibility in the party. It is too early to say what would be his future action but it will be interesting to see his performance in all these seats, supposedly his strongholds, in the coming state polls.”

For the past few months, Suvendu Adhikari has been seen addressing rallies without using the TMC symbol and flag. In all the rallies, a sea of people chanting, "Aamra Dadar Anugami" (we are elder brother’s followers), was seen marching behind Suvendu.

On Friday, hours before the TMC MLA from Cooch Behar South, Mihir Goswami, joined the BJP, Adhikari raised the political temperature by resigning from Mamata’s cabinet. He quit as minister for transport and irrigation but remains a Trinamool MLA as he has not resigned from the state assembly. The step is being viewed as the beginning of his exit from the party.

Suvendu was a key man behind Mamata Banerjee’s movement in Nandigram in East Midnapore in 2007 which helped her end the 34-year Left Front rule in Bengal. Over the years, Mamata also gave due respect to him and his family members for their dedication towards the party.

Since then, Suvendu has been known as one of the most powerful leaders in the party but insiders say that he was not happy with the "attitude" of a few TMC leaders but despite that he decided to work hard for the party only on "Mamata’s instructions" and no one else's. For the past few years, Suvendu had been missing from key party events and rallies. On April 21, 2017, he didn’t attend the TMC’s organisational meet at Netaji Indoor Stadium, reportedly citing health issues.

In March 2020, he was once again found absent from a party event at the same venue. Amid media reports over Suvendu’s situation in Trinamool, he once again put the party in an uncomfortable situation after he gave a miss to a government programme in Jhargram on August 9, 2020, to mark the International Day of World's Indigenous People. He was supposed to address an official meet along with state education minister and Trinamool secretary general Partha Chatterjee, but instead he attended another private event at nearby Sido Kanhu Hall at Sialgeria Maidan in the same district.

Suvendu’s absence from crucial party meetings has created discomfort in the party as many felt that such a gesture may go against them ahead of the assembly polls in the state in 2021. Recently, state BJP president Dilip Ghosh had said that Suvendu is a big leader and all are welcome in the party. However, it’s too early to speculate on the repercussions as TMC in recent months has managed to regain lost ground in many booths in Bengal through other young leaders like Mahua Moitra, Colonel Diptanshu Chaudhary (retd), Rajib Banerjee, Jitendra Tiwari (Asansol mayor), Partha Pratim Roy, and the 2021 polls are shaping up to be an exciting contest.

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