Why Suvendu Adhikari has pushed TMC into an existential crisis

TMC leaders, who have given their blood and soul to the party, are not happy with the rise of Abhishek Banerjee. The very loyal, ambitious, firebrand mass leaders like Suvendu Adhikari have openly declared rebellion.

 |  5-minute read |   08-12-2020
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Resignation of a state Cabinet minister with a portfolio such as transport, making it to the front page of all English Delhi dailies, is a bit unusual. But when Bengal's senior Trinamool Congress leader and state transport minister Suvendu Adhikari resigned from his ministerial post (not the party), it became a piece of front-page news. However, Adhikari has not clarified his stance yet. While months before the assembly election in West Bengal this is undoubtedly a big blow to the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress, the crisis of the party is much deeper: it is existential.

To understand the crisis, we will need to go back to the history of how Mamata Banerjee became the Chief Minister of West Bengal by defeating the Left Front which had ruled the state for 35 years. TMC, led by Mamata Banerjee, was the key opposition party of Bengal during the Left regime. The rise of TMC in power did not happen overnight, but the milestone of this rise was the anti-land acquisition agitation of Singur and Nandigram.

main_suvendu-adhikar_120820011313.jpgSuvendu Adhikari’s resignation from his ministerial post just months before the assembly election in West Bengal is undoubtedly a big blow to Trinamool Congress. (Photo: Facebook/ @srisuvendu.adhikari.71)

The Adhikari family of the West Midnapore, who have a stronghold in East Midnapore too, the district under which the Nandigram falls, was at the forefront while organising the agitation. Suvendu Adhikari and his father, veteran leader and MP Sisir Adhikari, were grassroots politicians and did not miss the pulse of the local people. They organised the agitation and Banerjee led the process.

The grassroots politicians played a very important role in the anti-CPI(M) agitation in rural Bengal, as those were generally a red bastion, including both Singur and Nandigram. At the same time, many social outfits, political outfits, and a section of civil society stood beside Banerjee, which helped her sweep the election and defeat the Left in Bengal.

If Banerjee wins the upcoming election, it will be her third term as the Chief Minister of West Bengal. Like many other regional parties, TMC is a supremo-based political party. The political decisions are completely under Banerjee and others do not have much say in the key political decisions. The TMC's strength is the charisma of Mamata Banerjee but nevertheless, a party cannot survive without its ground-level politicians.

Banerjee is a veteran in Indian politics and with time, she realised that creating a successor is very important for the survival of a party. But at the same time, like many supremo-centric political parties, she has kept her faith in the family. She has groomed her nephew and given him an important role in the party. Abhishek Banerjee, the nephew of the West Bengal Chief Minister, is also a youth leader and MP. We can understand that this faith is nothing new in India and party after party has done the same.

The crisis starts here. The mass leaders of the TMC, who have given their blood and soul to the party, are not happy with this decision and the rise of Abhishek Banerjee. The leaders who are not very ambitious are fine with it; the very ambitious leaders like Mukul Roy have already left the party and joined the BJP and lastly, the very loyal, ambitious, firebrand mass leaders like Suvendu Adhikari have openly declared rebellion.

The history of political successors is very significant in India. On one side, we have the example of the AIADMK, which is suffering from a massive leadership crisis after the sudden demise of its supremo Jayalalitha. Jayalalitha did not groom one single person from her party or her family as the successor, and therefore, a power tussle broke out between two members of her own family and the party is still suffering from it.

On the other hand, we have the Congress party and its highly questionable nepotistic structure. But at the same time, we also witnessed in the recent Bihar elections how veteran RJD patriarch Lalu Prasad Yadav's son Tejashwi Yadav appeared as a wonderful mass leader. From DMK to TRS to BJD to SAD to SP, the history of political nepotism is endless in India.

With all these examples, it is time for Mamata Banerjee to accept reality and be humble in dealing with her ground-level politicians. The BJP is in search of such leaders because they do not have booth-level connect. The more arrogant Banerjee becomes in dealing with internal unrest, the more powerful BJP will become.

If Mamata Banerjee wins this election, she will still have to deal with an Assembly which will be full of BJP MLAs. Managing such an Assembly is not an easy task. Ruling the state and managing the party will become a harder task for Banerjee. So the issues should be dealt with patience, humility, and foresight.

Superficially dealing with issues such as Suvendu Adhikari's unhappiness will just strengthen the BJP because they are the masters of political poaching, by using power, agencies, and money. "Shanto" in Bengali means the opposite of restless. So only if Mamata Banerjee can become a bit "shanto", "shanti" (peace) can prevail in the state. Else, Bengal will become the next Karnataka or Madhya Pradesh within a few months or a year.

Also read: When TMC is ousted from North Bengal, the hills will smile again


Sayantan Ghosh Sayantan Ghosh @sayantan_gh

The author is an associate research fellow with the Delhi Assembly Research Center.

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