Bengal polls: BJP finds “bhoomiputra” in Suvendu
Once upon a time in a small room in New Delhi….
Suvendu Adhikari, who has severed his links with the Trinamul Congress through multiple rounds of resignations, narrated a story to an audience at the Midnapore College and Collegiate Ground on Saturday.
“Amitji is like an elder brother to me…. In 2014, after Amitji had helped the BJP win the Lok Sabha polls and swept the Uttar Pradesh elections, then in a small room in the old BJP party office in Delhi, Amitji gave me darshan. The meeting was organised by Siddharth Nath Singh who is now the health minister in Uttar Pradesh,” Adhikari recounted.
Six years down the line —swifter than the bees saal Bollywood usually takes to reunite long-lost brothers —the darshan graduated into a full-blown embrace on the College Ground as Adhikari joined the BJP in the presence of Amit Shah.
Although Adhikari said that Shah had never told him to join the party, several BJP insiders said that Singh had set up the 2014 meeting to lay the ground for a switch.
As Adhikari did not join the BJP at a rally addressed by Shah in Burdwan in January 2015, a source said, Singh suffered a loss of face and told his colleagues that no one from the BJP would ever contact anyone in the Adhikari family.
Evidently, the BJP changed its mind, possibly driven by a desire to find a “bhoomiputra” more familiar to Bengal than its own home-grown faces.
Sources in the party said the BJP would be using Adhikari with two principal objectives. First, the former Nandigram MLA will be the counter to Trinamul’s narrative that the BJP is a party of “bohiragawto (outsiders)”.
The second objective is to attack chief minister Mamata Banerjee and her nephew Abhishek Banerjee, which will be the mainstay of the BJP’s campaign in the run-up to the Assembly polls in the summer of 2021.
Adhikari demonstrated that he had been briefed about the mandate, devoting considerable time to presenting his son-of-the-soil credentials by referring to his long political journey from a student leader in Midnapore to a state leader.
Delivering on the second mandate during his first address as a BJP politician, he launched an attack on the Trinamul leadership.
“My new slogan will be ‘tolabaaj bhaipo hatao (remove the extortionist nephew)’,” Adhikari said.
Several loyalists have maintained that Adhikari’s primary grouse against Mamata has been her decision to make Abhishek her political heir apparent. Although Adhikari joined the BJP only on Saturday, speculation about him deserting Trinamul has been doing the rounds since 2014.
In his address, Adhikari tried to justify his switch and respond to the “traitor” tag levelled at him by his former party colleagues.
“Where I can’t have any self-respect, where there is no faith, no respect... I will not stay. This is the pride of Midnapore,” Adhikari said in his 11-minute speech after Shah handed him the BJP flag.
It is not clear what Adhikari meant by “no respect”. He was one of the senior-most members in Mamata’s cabinet with charge of several key departments. His family has two MPs — father Sisir and brother Dibyendu — and a civic body chairman, brother Soumendu whose term ended recently.
The Trinamul narrative over the last month or so has been that the party gave Suvendu Adhikari enough importance but he deserted it ahead of the elections to fulfil his ambitions.
There have been murmurs in the BJP camp that Adhikari had tried to strike a hard bargain with the BJP central leaders for important posts for himself and his family members before quitting Trinamul.
But Adhikari took care to explain that he was joining the BJP as an ordinary worker who was willing to “work at the booth level” or “draw wall graffiti”.
Except for Adhikari, those who joined the BJP — 10 MLAs (including Suvendu), one MP, one former MP and one former minister, among others — at the Midnapore meeting on Saturday were political lightweights, sources in both the BJP and the Trinamul said.
The list included Sunil Mondal, Trinamul MP; Tapasi Mondal, CPM MLA; Ashoke Dinda, CPI MLA; and Sudip Mukherjee, Congress MLA.
The Trinamul MLAs were Saikat Panja, Shilbhadra Dutta, Dipali Biswas (from the CPM to Trinamul to the BJP), Sukra Munda, Biswajit Kundu and Banasri Maity.
“The defections will continue in phases,” said a source close to Suvendu.
Trinamul MP Kalyan Banerjee dared Adhikari to contest from Nandigram in 2021.
“We will show him.... Even the people of Midnapore could not have imagined that a traitor like him could be born in the land of Vidyasagar, Khudiram Bose and Matangini Hazra,” Banerjee said.