West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and her election strategist Prashant Kishor are trying to control rebel party heavyweight and transport minister Suvendu Adhikari and his aides in the districts through talks and pressure tactics.
Their efforts showed some apparent signs of success on Friday evening when the minister did not make controversial statements at the public programmes he attended.
Earlier this week, senior Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders told HT on condition of anonymity that Adhikari is unhappy with Banerjee’s nephew and Lok Sabha member Abhishek Banerjee and Kishor for making recent organizational changes and wants the party to field candidates of his choice at 65 assembly seats spread across several districts. This is unacceptable to the leadership.
Assembly polls in Bengal are due in about six months. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which won 18 of the state’s 42 Lok Sabha seats in 2019, has said that its doors are open for Adhikari if he is serious about switching sides. Many TMC leaders joined the BJP before and after the polls. Like some of them, the transport minister is also named in the CBI’s FIR in the Narada sting operation case.
Kishor, who was roped in by Banerjee after the Lok Sabha poll debacle, drove down from Kolkata to Adhikari’s home at Kanthi in East Midnapore district on Thursday evening. The minister, who threw a veiled challenge at the TMC from a huge rally on Tuesday, was not present at home. Kishor talked for more than two hours with his father Sisir Adhikari, the TMC’s most senior Lok Sabha member who represents the Kanthi constituency.
TMC leaders aware of the development said Kishor conveyed to Adhikari that the leadership might consider discussing the minister’s demand for assembly poll tickets for some of his followers if he stops acting against the party. In a parallel move, the chief minister called up district leaders and said nobody should make any statement against Adhikari or his family. Suvendu Adhikari’s brother Dibyendu is the Lok Sabha member from Tamluk while Soumendu, the youngest of the three siblings, is chairman of the Kanthi municipality.
The strategy apparently paid off within 24 hours. Adhikari did not say a word against the TMC while addressing people at the inauguration of some community Kali Pujas in Bankura district on Friday evening. The minister’s followers, however, had put up posters in his support in Bankura town. Similar posters, displaying Adhikari’s image sans any mention of the TMC, have appeared in several districts of south and north Bengal since last month.
“Kishor had a talk with Suvendu’s father. The differences, if any, will be sorted out,” said TMC Lok Sabha member and party spokesperson Saugata Roy. Suvendu Adhikari avoided the media.
The rift in the TMC came out in the open on Tuesday when the transport minister addressed a rally held by his supporters at Nandigram in East Midnapore in memory of party workers killed 13 years ago in a violent land agitation that helped Banerjee oust the Left Front government. There was not a single TMC flag or photograph of Banerjee at the venue. This made the leadership angry and urban development minister Firhad Hakim rushed to Nandigram the same day to address a counter rally. He referred to Adhikari as a traitor without taking his name.
“Journalists and political observers are waiting for me to announce my political programme. They want to hear me talk about the roadblocks I am facing and the path I am going to take. I will not announce my political programme from this sacred platform. I will speak from a political platform. I am not afraid of anyone. We will meet on the battlefield,” Adhikari said at Tuesday’s rally.
Leaving food for thought, he ended his short speech with the slogan “Bharat Mata Zindabad,” (long live motherland) which appeared to be an improvisation of the Hindi slogan BJP leaders raise. TMC leaders, including Banerjee, end their speech by saying “Jai Bangla” (victory for Bengal). Interestingly, Adhikari said this as well.