Suvendu Akhikari, the powerful rebel leader of Bengal’s Trinamool Congress, quit the party today ending weeks of speculation on the issue. There is a buzz that he would join the BJP over the weekend when Union Home Minister Amit Shah visits the state. An induction of the leader — who is said to have control over the local leaders in more than 50 seats in the western part of the state — will be the highlight of the visit of Mr Shah, who has set his heart on forming the next government in the state next year.
A second Trinamool leader, Asansol’s disgruntled MLA Jitendra Tiwari quit the party shortly after Mr Adhikari. Earlier today, Mr Tiwari had resigned his post in the town’s civic body after a meeting with Mr Adhikari. The meeting, where party MP Sunil Mondal was also present, took place last night.
Mr Adhikari had quit Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s cabinet last month after much bitterness over the induction and rapid rise of her nephew Abhishek Banerjee.
Without naming the young MP from Diamond Harbour, Mr Adhikari had spoken of leaders “arriving by parachute or lift” into the party, drawing retaliation from his target.
The disgruntled leader had left multiple signs along the way. Weeks before stepping down from the ministry, he skipped party and cabinet meetings and held numerous rallies where no flag or poster of Trinamool Congress was on display. Yesterday, he resigned his seat in the assembly.
Attempts to placate him had failed. After he quit the ministry, the party had rushed senior leader Sougata Roy to reason with him. Mr Roy had even managed to get Mr Adhikari to meet Abhishek Banerjee and poll strategist Prashant Kishor and termed the meeting a success. But the next day, Mr Adhikari texted Mr Roy to say “Excuse me, I cannot work like this anymore”.
The BJP had been quick to respond. Its state leaders sympathised with the 50-year-old, pointed out that he is an asset and indicated its doors were open.
Last week, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee indicated that a parting was imminent. “After profiting from the party for 10 years, after profiting from being part of the government, to hobnob with this and that party… I will not tolerate such people,” she said at a rally without naming anyone.
Mr Adhikari is the latest in a series of leader to quit the Trinamool over the last three years — an exodus that had started with Mukul Roy. Accused in the Narada sting operation case and the Sharada ponzi scam, Mr Roy had joined the BJP in 2017 and is seen as the architect of its spectacular results in last year’s Lok Sabha elections.
From having two of the state’s 42 parliamentary seats, the BJP had gone up to 18.
For next year’s assembly polls, Mr Shah has set his state unit a target to 200 of the state’s 247 seats.